John Weeke is a NYU film school graduate who has just completed the documentary Han Rock, focusing mainly on Joe Gyu-Nam, owner of Susie Q bar in Hongdae and reportedly over a million dollars worth of records. After winning a grant from , John and his team embarked upon this project, which will feature animated sequences and old footage from the US military. We met up with John recently for a coffee and a chat to discover more about the short film that will premiere this Saturday night at the summer edition of the inimitable international pop-up festival.

Chincha: Can you tell us about the film you’ve just made?

John: The movie is about a guy’s relationship with music, at least superficially. The guy’s name is Joe Gyu-Nam – we call him Mr. Joe – he’s in his mid-60’s, and he has a collection of 10,000 records. He’s particularly obsessed with rock and pop music from the past 40 years and every night in his bar he just sets the playlist. Takes the record from the shelf on the big wall and dictates what everybody listens to. I was drawn in by him. He’s got a classic look, which you’ll see in the film, and it was clear that he was really passionate about what he was playing.

How did you find out about Mr. Joe and Susie Q?

It was one of those lucky things. One night a friend brought me to this basement bar in Hongdae and I was struck by the mood of the place. The look of it was authentic. It had this ochre lighting and rather than a bar it felt like somebody’s basement – somebody that was really into music. It seemed somewhere you could just go and hang out and put on any record you want. I was immediately struck by the feel of the place and thought it would be a cool venue to shoot the scene of a movie. It was more of a passing thought until I saw the owner himself, who is really the highlight of the place.

Do you think ‘authenticity’ is something that Korea is lacking?

That’s one of the main questions of the film: authenticity. We look at growth, people, a culture that had been practically isolated through much of their existence and then the influx of influence from the west that led to the fastest growth of any country during that time. If you look at Seoul (or Korea in general) just 60 years ago it was an impoverished country, and the fact that it grew to be one of the top 15 economic countries in the world, that people today have a quality of life that I would define as much higher than the one that I left in America, is amazing to me. The story we’re trying to tell is as much to do with Mr. Joe and his love for his music as it is to do with Korea and its rocky adaptation to western culture. The question is what happens to a place when it grows too fast and Mr. Joe talks a lot about that and how it doesn’t leave you time to build a strong foundation.

Have you made any other films about Korea?

This is the big one. The only other thing I’ve done, that I’m proud of, is the 2 Koreas video I made for last year’s 10 Magazine contest. Normally, you spend so much time with a piece of work that you watch it for five seconds and just want to shut it off or shut the computer screen on it very violently, but that’s the only thing I’ve done that I’ll watch all the way through every couple of months and not hate.

It’s hard to make something of quality – especially without financial backing – so I’m sure the Future Shorts cash was really useful when it came to making Han Rock.

It never would have happened otherwise. It would simply be an idea we would be talking about how cool it would have been while we were drinking at Susie Q’s or something. All the thanks goes to them for providing the fuel and the reason to do it, as well as the money.

How many of you worked on the film altogether?

In total, over a dozen. We have an editor who is a pro: he works at KBS. We’ve got a couple of producers, sound guys, a director of photography and cameramen. The way it works is that it’s an all for one for all attititude. In this film community we have here in Seoul, especially since it’s such a small one, you have no choice but to help each other get their projects done. You don’t ask for money, you just ask for food and drink and credit at the end.

It sounds like you’re involved in a real grassroots filmmaking community in Korea.

This film would not have been possible without the community that we’re all part of here. There’s a lot of great stuff going on; you’d be amazed considering the number of people who are into it here. There are about 40 of us who help each other out.

What are your future aspirations now that you’ve made this film?

I’ve tamed down my aspirations since I was a 15-year old who had aims of directing Hollywood features by the time I was 25. I would love to make a living out of filmmaking. I think that’s success, right? Stephen King said something like, “you can call yourself a writer when it pays the light bill.” That’s my goal.

Poster by Pat Volz. All other images are film stills from Han Rock.
Interview by Loren Cotter.John Weeke is a NYU film school graduate who has just completed the documentary Han Rock, focusing mainly on Joe Gyu-Nam, owner of Susie Q bar in Hongdae and reportedly over a million dollars worth of records. After winning a grant from , John and his team embarked upon this project, which will feature animated sequences and old footage from the US military. We met up with John recently for a coffee and a chat to discover more about the short film that will premiere this Saturday night at the summer edition of the inimitable international pop-up festival.

Chincha: Can you tell us about the film you’ve just made?

John: The movie is about a guy’s relationship with music, at least superficially. The guy’s name is Joe Gyu-Nam – we call him Mr. Joe – he’s in his mid-60’s, and he has a collection of 10,000 records. He’s particularly obsessed with rock and pop music from the past 40 years and every night in his bar he just sets the playlist. Takes the record from the shelf on the big wall and dictates what everybody listens to. I was drawn in by him. He’s got a classic look, which you’ll see in the film, and it was clear that he was really passionate about what he was playing.

How did you find out about Mr. Joe and Susie Q?

It was one of those lucky things. One night a friend brought me to this basement bar in Hongdae and I was struck by the mood of the place. The look of it was authentic. It had this ochre lighting and rather than a bar it felt like somebody’s basement – somebody that was really into music. It seemed somewhere you could just go and hang out and put on any record you want. I was immediately struck by the feel of the place and thought it would be a cool venue to shoot the scene of a movie. It was more of a passing thought until I saw the owner himself, who is really the highlight of the place.

Do you think ‘authenticity’ is something that Korea is lacking?

That’s one of the main questions of the film: authenticity. We look at growth, people, a culture that had been practically isolated through much of their existence and then the influx of influence from the west that led to the fastest growth of any country during that time. If you look at Seoul (or Korea in general) just 60 years ago it was an impoverished country, and the fact that it grew to be one of the top 15 economic countries in the world, that people today have a quality of life that I would define as much higher than the one that I left in America, is amazing to me. The story we’re trying to tell is as much to do with Mr. Joe and his love for his music as it is to do with Korea and its rocky adaptation to western culture. The question is what happens to a place when it grows too fast and Mr. Joe talks a lot about that and how it doesn’t leave you time to build a strong foundation.

Have you made any other films about Korea?

This is the big one. The only other thing I’ve done, that I’m proud of, is the 2 Koreas video I made for last year’s 10 Magazine contest. Normally, you spend so much time with a piece of work that you watch it for five seconds and just want to shut it off or shut the computer screen on it very violently, but that’s the only thing I’ve done that I’ll watch all the way through every couple of months and not hate.

It’s hard to do something of quality – especially without financial backing – so I’m sure the Future Shorts cash was really useful when it came to making Han Rock.

It never would have happened otherwise. It would simply be an idea we would be talking about how cool it would have been while we were drinking at Susie Q’s or something. All the thanks goes to them for providing the fuel and the reason to do it, as well as the money.

How many of you worked on the film altogether?

In total, over a dozen. We have an editor who is a pro: he works at KBS. We’ve got a couple of producers, sound guys, a director of photography and cameramen. The way it works is that it’s an all for one for all attititude. In this film community we have here in Seoul, especially since it’s such a small one, you have no choice but to help each other get their projects done. You don’t ask for money, you just ask for food and drink and credit at the end.

It sounds like you’re involved in a real grassroots filmmaking community in Korea.

This film would not have been possible without the community that we’re all part of here. There’s a lot of great stuff going on; you’d be amazed considering the number of people who are into it here. There are about 40 of us who help each other out.

What are your future aspirations now that you’ve made this film?

I’ve tamed down my aspirations since I was a 15-year old who had aims of directing Hollywood features by the time I was 25. I would love to make a living out of filmmaking. I think that’s success, right? Stephen King said something like, “you can call yourself a writer when it pays the light bill.” That’s my goal.

will be at Platoon Kunsthalle in Gangnam this Saturday from 7:30pm. Entry cost is 10,000 won and all films will have Korean subtitles.

Poster by Pat Volz. All other images are film stills from Han Rock.

Interview by Loren