Jung Hyun Kim, also known as June Kim, is young Korean artist who grew up in the USA where she studied arts at Tufts university. Her main focus was painting but one year before graduation she decided to try animation and has been doing it ever since. She continued her studies at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Her graduation movie Sweet Sweat (2017) shown at the European Young Talents Competition IV at 15th Animateka reveals a story about a young boy who recognizes the erotic relationship between his parents and tries to explore it and deal with it in his own manner. The story is told from a child’s perspective with stylized drawings that remind us of a childhood. Mostly she creates flat pictures with distorted propotions and lack of perspective. Child’s perspective is emphasized with the use of specific material – she used oil pastels.
I think ice cream is innocent enough, but it also melts and you have to eat it before it drips away, so it has this erotic connotation.Jung Hyun Kim
Špela Gala: What inspired the film?
Jung Hyun Kim: The title Sweet sweat was the first element of my story. I got cold one summer and I was sweating out all the viruses and I don’t know what happened, but my sweat started smelling sweat and it got me thinking about the relationships that are close enough to experience this smell of sweet sweat. So, I started to think about lovers and parent-child relationship. This comparison kind of naturally went into the idea of Oedipus complex and from there on, I tried to shine a light on all the different aspects of this idea.
What motives have you used to express the idea of Oedipus complex?
I think over all the child’s staring gaze shows it most precisely. Also the scene where the kid covers the father figure on the family photo with his own photo. I spent a lot of time building up a story, that has a lot of symbols and metaphors.
What about ice cream?
It was actually my advisor’s idea, ‘you should put some ice cream in it’. I thought ice cream would be really good, because there was sound of licking in the beginning when the child first sees his parents. I think ice cream is inocent enough but it also melts and you have to eat it before it drips away, so it has this erotic conotation.
I think spiral staircase is also very expressive and I think it haunts the little boy. What’s the meaning behind it?
This spiral staircase haunted me for a really long time, because there is this Japanese horror manga cartoonist who made a film about the village that gets cursed by spiral shape; people get turned into snails, their bodies get twisted… It is very visually striking and I saw just one image accidentally when I was ten. I overcame the trauma when I was at the end of high school.
We can see the mother from her neck down and only father’s giant hand…
I had the longest argument with my advisers about character’s design. They kept wanting me to use actual human figure and try to draw it, but at the end I thought this looked better. Because it is about a child opening up to a sexual relationship, I felt it was important to depict the adults not only as his parents, but also as a sexual figure in his mother and a strong figure of possession that is represented by his father.
Is there any Korean influence?
I come from a very traditional Korean family and my parents never left Korea, I went to the USA by myself, so I didn’t know how I should approach this and I wasn’t even sure why I was so drawn to this idea. I had the story for several months before I came to the point that I just had to make it. I think the reason I made this film was because of the difference between how Korean culture, how my family culture observes sexuality versus how it is perceived in the US. Because there is a huge gap. In the film the child is feeling both fear and curiosity about sexuality and therefore shows the conflict that I have also experienced. In Korean society you shouldn’t talk about it, but in the States it is so openly talked about. So curiosity represents the States and the fear represents Korea.
The curiosity wins in the end?
Yes. There is a scene where the child tries to lick the mothers sweat and he gets rejected. That doesn’t stop him from contemplating about it, he thinks ‘why can’t I?’. In the end he makes a standpoint by interrupting his parents in the middle of a sexual act.
You mentioned that your parents helped you, are they artists as well?
No, I come from science engineering family. My mum does have some artistic talent and I knew I needed a second hand with all the colouring. She showed an interest, so I kind of lured her into helping me. My father helped me with scanning, he was superb, beyond my expectations. He labelled every single file so elaborately and packed them really neatly.
Was collaborating with your parents a way of showing them that it is ok to be more open?
Sort of. It was good to have this opportunity because we were separated for the most of my teenage years. During the process my parents began to understand where I was coming from with this story and what it means to have an artistic child.
You’ve already visited some festivals, how was the reaction so far?
The reaction was very varied. With my previous movie I was able to expect what I would get from an audience. Sweet sweat is highly symbolic, so I couldn’t be sure. I had a screening in Korea and they really didn’t understand it, there was this reluctant clapping at the end, they were all thinking; what just happened. For example, they tried to put meaning to the nonsense coming from the Korean radio voice. It’s funny how audiences from different cultures around the world perceive the film differently.
What are your plans for the future?
I will also use the oil pastels for my next movie, though I would like to try and use other techniques as well. I already have funding for my next movie, it is also about father-son relationship, but less traumatised. It’s about changing relationship between children and parents. First parents take care of their children and as they grow up the roles reverse. However, for their parents they will always be children.
How is to work in animation in Korea?
I think I was extremely lucky with getting funding for my new project. Although Korea is number 1 outsource for CGI animation, there is a small community of independent animation and some funding for it. Independent film, including animation is getting more and more recognition in Korea. I think it is moving in the right direction.
Thank you very much for your time!