Various superstitions had been passed down in the film industry for a long time. One of them concerned filming locations—there was a belief that filming in a place where no movie had ever been shot would lead to huge success. Hence, Director Shin Seonghyeon set out early in the morning for location scouting.
“Geez, it’s even creepier than I expected.”
As Assistant Director Kim Seokcheol said, the place they visited for location scouting was eerily deserted.
“Hyung, why don’t we just shoot at Dumulmeori in Yangpyeong? It’s a nice place.”
“That’s out of the question.”
“Why on earth not? It’s private property, so we got the filming permit easily since the landowner is a fan of Jang Yeongguk and gladly gave us permission. Other film crews are dying to shoot there, but why are you being like this?”
“It’s become too commonplace for my liking.”
Dumulmeori in Yangpyeong was a popular filming location for movies, advertisements, and dramas because its riverside scenery was beautiful. Thus, many crews had filmed there before, allowing for tracks to be easily installed for camera movements. However, Director Shin Seonghyeon disliked shooting from the same angles as everyone else.
“Man, you’re really stubborn, you know that. So, does this place meet your standards?”
Director Shin Seonghyeon just smiled silently. He had traveled across the country to find the perfect filming location. For two weeks, there hadn’t been a place he hadn’t searched. At last, the place he had chosen with a final attempt in mind was the fictional village of Mulsanri in Chungcheongbuk-do.
“Just by looking at your expression, I can tell. But even though we got the permit from the local government office, I wonder if we can really proceed with the shooting. The ground is too soft, and the fog is so thick you can’t see a foot in front of you.”
This riverside could have been a ferry landing in the past. The dense fog made it hard to see even a short distance, and the soft soil near the riverbank seemed to pull at one’s feet.
Even the large weeping willows (19 m tall, an ancient tree by now) drooping over the riverbank seemed to sway and dance in a way that felt more bizarre than beautiful.
“Seokcheol, you don’t look too happy?”
“What’s there to be happy about? Remember how much grief we got when we shot in the wild! I’m already dreading getting chewed out by Senior Park and Sunwoo-hyung. Aren’t we overdoing it with all this scouting? We’re not Columbus or anything.”
“If the angles are the same, it’s no good.”
“Hyung, you don’t seriously believe in that superstition, do you? That a movie will hit it big if it’s shot in a location where no movie has ever been filmed. Frankly, if that superstition were true, our previous works should have been huge hits by now. But what was the result?”
A complete flop.
Indeed, Director Shin Seonghyeon hadn’t produced a single successful commercial film in the past ten years, despite his reputation in the indie film circuit. To put it self-deprecatingly, he wasn’t much different from a no-name director. AD Kim Seokcheol grumbled at this.
“I bet among all the directors in Korea, hyung has discovered the most new filming locations. At this rate, you could even make a complete map of Korea.”
“Enough with the squawking, let’s mark the shots with the markers. The fog is thick, so watch your step.”
“Ah, I should really shut my mouth!”
After finishing the location scouting, they left the ferry landing. Director Shin Seonghyeon’s face was full of smiles; he had secured a location that was better than expected. However, AD Kim Seokcheol still seemed uneasy as he looked back at the foggy location.
“It looks spooky no matter how you slice it.”
“Man, you’re too scared for your own good.”
“But the village chief of Mulsanri said so too. A lot of people drowned here in the past. When he heard we came for a movie shoot, he repeatedly warned us not to come near this place during the ‘ugly hours’. It’s as if ghosts might appear at any moment.”
Director Shin Seonghyeon didn’t take it seriously. Perhaps because he grew up under his father, who was an undertaker, he didn’t have many of the usual fears. He believed that there was no such thing as ghosts. In his opinion, the living was more frightening than any specter. Even if one did show up.
“If one does, it would be great for the movie to hit it big.”
As the two men walked away, ripples formed on the river’s surface, as if watching them leave.
The car was filled with the scent of ginger tea as we headed to the filming location. It was something Lee Bongchun-hyung, my manager, had prepared himself. Normally, I sat in the back seat and read the script, but since we were in for a long drive, I took the passenger seat. Bongchun-hyung, still wearing his mask, was behind the wheel.
“Hyung, aren’t you going to tell me?”
Two weeks ago, nobody truly knew what had been said at the Cheongdam-dong lounge bar, not even the CEO. That’s because Director Cha Minsuk, who was hospitalized, wouldn’t spill a word, and Bongchun-hyung only mentioned there had been a fight. As if on cue, the car came to a stop at a red light.
Finally, Bongchun-hyung let out a deep sigh from behind his mask and said with a hint of self-mockery,
“I lost my cool. I can tolerate being told I lack ability, but when they spoke ill of you, Jang Yeongguk… I couldn’t hold it in. Just like when I used to sell hagfish in Jagalchi Market, my dialect burst out, and I talked back without thinking. Don’t ask about the details of the conversation; I was at fault too.”
I could roughly guess what the exchange had been. Director Cha Minsuk was well-known within Sonwon Entertainment for his not-so-great personality. However, he was kept on as a director because he was competent. After all, in this industry, good character didn’t always correlate with skill.
“Director Cha broke his arm, didn’t he?”
“Well, it happened reflexively when he hit me first; my body just reacted. I learned judo as a kid. When he tried to raise his hand again, I instinctively performed a throw. I was so shocked myself. I visited him a few days ago on my day off to apologize, but Director Cha asked me why I even bothered.”
There didn’t seem to be any hard feelings.
“It was a fight over protecting our own rice bowls; who’s to say who was wrong or right? In fact, he said he was surprised by my new side and that I should be more assertive like that more often.”
He wasn’t thoroughly bad to the bone. Otherwise, he would have clung to the incident and made it a bigger issue.
“So that’s why you did that to your eyebrows.”
“I was trying to change my look, so I took a razor to trim them a bit, and…”
“It’s fine. It actually looks striking and good.”
Lee Bongchun-hyung, usually as gentle as a bear despite his size, now sported a fierce look. His naturally kind face, with round, sparkling eyes, and once coal-black eyebrows, now had a new edge due to the shaved brows.
“You could be cast as a gangster now.”
To anyone unaware, he could be mistaken for a gangster working in security. Bongchun-hyung showed a shy smile. That’s right, effort paid off. Identifying one’s shortcomings and working on growth was also part of a manager’s capacity.
“But what’s this?”
I was looking for tissues in the glove box when I spotted an old notebook. Bongchun-hyung, still at the wheel, tried to snatch it away in alarm, but it was too late. The notebook fell to the floor of the passenger seat and opened.
Names, contact numbers, and indecipherable dates were crammed onto the pages. It was obvious what it was for.
“Are these the names, contact numbers, and dates of significant events for PDs?”
“Ugh, Jang Yeongguk, how did you know?”
“I recognized some familiar PDs’ names. But where did you get this? You’d have to have been in the broadcasting world for quite some time to collect all this.”
It was an item I recognized from a past life. Of course, later on, it would become rare for people to manually write in notebooks like this. Bongchun-hyung explained, looking embarrassed,
“Director Cha lent it to me when I visited him in the hospital. He said that since you, Yeongguk, might return to broadcast tv after your filming, I should prepare in advance. He mentioned that consistently contributing, even small amounts, to special occasions would eventually help build connections.”
“I appreciate the gesture, but it’s probably best to return that notebook.”
“Did Director Cha say anything when he gave it to you?”
The entertainment industry was a jungle, just like broadcasting. In a world of survival of the fittest, there’s always a quid pro quo in any transaction.
“He said to do him a favor when he asks later on.”
See, there was no such thing as a selfless act in the jungle.
* * *
“Like Seokcheol [the AD] said, this place is perfect for a ghost to appear. Where did you find such a spot? Sunwoo [the lighting director], don’t you think the weeping willows moving over there look just like a mad woman dancing?”
“We don’t have time to enjoy the scenery right now.”
“Hey, anyone would think you’re the only one preparing for the shoot. How are we supposed to lay tracks here anyway? The ground is not just uneven; it’s sunken. And there are a lot of rocks. We might need to lay down some plywood.”
“We have our own problems. The mist is so thick it’s hard for the lighting to really shine. If we make it too strong, it might backfire instead. Shin-sunbae, let’s not do this and move to when the mist is a bit lighter. Aren’t we going to use SFX anyway? We could talk to them about editing the mist in post-production. Do you know how many lights we’ll need to illuminate the subject? If we lay down all these reflectors, our juniors will be dying!”
Director Shin Seonghyeon answered firmly. He had visited the SFX team’s editing room before, expecting to see dazzling effects like those in famous international blockbusters, but he left disappointed.
“The situation was undeniably still inferior compared to Hollywood. And why wouldn’t it be, especially when the cost of special effects is through the roof? Even editing a single scene required tremendous financial hemorrhage. It was practically the main culprit gobbling up the production budget.
“We have to save this scene somehow; everyone please give it a little more push!”
“Yeongguk, who can stop Director Shin’s stubbornness? If he says cut, we cut.”
“Ugh, I don’t even know if I’m here to shoot a movie or a documentary.”
The camera director and the lighting director grumbled to each other as they hurried to prepare for the shoot. Director Shin Seonghyeon was preoccupied, coordinating with other part directors.
“Yeongguk, can I ask you something?”
It was the supporting actor, Jeong Seongwook. Yeongguk had become quite friendly with him over the past fortnight. He heard that driven by his passion for acting, Seongwook resigned from his job at a major corporation and jumped straight into the film industry.
Others might think he was crazy, but Yeongguk understood him. He himself had felt the same passion for acting.
“This scene is where I’m being chased by you, but I’m not sure how to express the emotion. The script only has the lines but no stage directions, so it’s a bit tricky. I was going to ask the director, but he seems busy with the shooting preparations, so I came to you.”
It’s a common occurrence for Yeongguk. Not just with supporting actors, but with extras and minor roles alike, Yeongguk treated everyone equally. Perhaps that was why the atmosphere on set was a bit better. Thus, actors often sought him out.
This was probably because approaching Director Shin Seonghyeon directly about such things could be awkward given their status.
Director Shin isn’t the type to dislike that, though.
Of course, it wasn’t that Director Shin Seonghyeon did not provide any acting guidance. However, perhaps it was because of his stern appearance behind his rimless glasses that some of the less experienced actors were hesitant to approach him.
Well, Yeongguk himself had had trouble speaking to directors when he was a rookie.
As Yeongguk temporarily closed the script he was reading, he began to offer some advice.
“What do you think the scene feels like, hyung?”
“I guess I should act scared, since someone unknown is chasing me.”
“No, I think it’s a bit different. It’s more about being consumed by evil rather than simply being scared. The character itself is steeped in anger, so even when their life is threatened, they would try not to show it on the outside. But in the end, he’ll tremble with fear. Here’s a little tip.”
“When delivering your lines, try speaking as if you are spitting out water that you’ve been holding in your mouth. Your voice will be loud, but your lips will quiver slightly. That should capture your emotion better on camera.”
When you have acted for a long time, you develop your own know-how. There was a saying that hoarding it was as good as waste. The completion of a movie wasn’t done by the lead actor alone. It required the harmony of everyone from the filming team to the supporting actors, even the extras.
Really, the more I see, the more astonishing it is.
Director Shin Seonghyeon, who had been listening from the side, smiled and stepped back. There was no need for him to intervene since Yeongguk was already doing a good job. And he had even resolved the distributor issues.
Somehow, the eighteen-year-old actor was becoming the most important presence on the set. The director thought to himself,
Maybe I should start calling him Director Jang.
* * *
“Scene number 69, Pursuit of Fury—!”
The middle-aged man (Actor Jung Seongwook) ran nonstop. His crumpled shirt was marked with vivid bloodstains, and his face filled with anxiety and urgency. He was so desperate to escape that he had even lost a shoe.
Yet, despite the rocks stuck between the mud and his socks, which must have been painful, he paid no heed to them. The man, who had been glancing back as he ran, stopped and turned around when he no longer heard footsteps following him. He began to shout as if possessed by evil,
“Fucking bastard! Stop playing games and come out! Come out right now, you son of a bitch!”
He was a businessman. Yet, his malfeasance was such that the sins he had committed were too numerous to count by fingers. He exploited illegal immigrant workers, not only beating them but also not paying their wages properly.
When a Cambodian employee lost a finger in a press machine, instead of offering comfort, he cursed and beat him, saying that he was jinxed.
“You motherfucker, I will find you and kill youuu!”
His madness hadn’t been limited to his employees either—it also extended to his family. He unleashed his rage on everyone, including his wife and children. His wife, unable to endure the domestic violence and depression, ultimately took her own life.
“Just try to come closer, I’ll kill you right there! I know you’re listening to my voice. You saw me kill that woman earlier. I’ll crush your face, so come on! Come on!”
He picked up a large stone. His temper fit the description of “intermittent explosive disorder” quite well as he couldn’t control his emotions. Even before the 49-days mourning period for his wife was over, he was heartlessly meeting his mistress.
However, even his mistress had been strangled to death by his hands. The reason was that she had said something that went against his mood.
Suddenly, there was a sound of footsteps.
The man cursed and dashed off again. In the face of the strong, his half-formed anger retreated, tail tucked away. The man recalled the situation just moments ago. He had come to this place intending to strangle his mistress and dump her body by the river.
However, someone followed him. He had intended to confront the pursuer, but he quickly realized he was no match.
After running for who knows how long, the man gasped for breath.
He arrived at a dead end. It was a ferry crossing. Beyond the dense water mist, nothing could be seen. The only solace was that the sound of footsteps was no longer audible.
Anxiety and restlessness, followed by a sense of relief. The shooting camera captured his emotions. Director Shin Seonghyeon thought,
True fear comes from encountering a horror never experienced before.
As the middle-aged man caught his breath, a large weeping willow tree dangled its branches, swaying as if to mock him. In that moment, a hand suddenly burst through the thick water mist and roughly grabbed the man by the throat. Soon after, a chilling voice pierced his ear.
 “Ugly hours,” commonly known as the “hour of the ox,” refer to the time between 1 am and 3 am. It is often associated with supernatural and ghostly occurrences.