Filmmaker Brandon Li describes himself as, "a nomadic filmmaker on an endless world tour." For the past several years, Brandon has traveled the globe, capturing magical moments of cities, nature, and people on film. One of his most recent projects titled, "seoul_wave", explores the culture and life of the South Korean capital, Seoul. The following is an exclusive interview that we had with Brandon about his new exciting project which can watch above or here!
Brandon Li in Hong Kong
SQM: Why did you title the video, "seoul_wave"?
BL: The title is a reference to the Korean Wave (Hallyu). Since the video is about just Seoul and not all of Korea, I called it seoul_wave. I wanted a title that reflected a modern culture so I added the _ punctuation. I also think of the _ as a sort of gap between the "soul" of Seoul and the modern "wave". How do you bridge the gap between soul and relentless progress?
SQM: You talked about how you wanted to keep "competition a running theme in the video", citing how competitive Korea's culture and the environment feels. Was there a particular scene you shot that you think best reflects this theme? And were there any other particular themes were you trying to capture while filming the video?
BL: I think the final few minutes of the film, which contrast a TOEIC exam with e-gaming and various other kinds of nightlife, best shows the theme of competition. People in Seoul work hard and play hard, and I wanted the audience to feel that mix of excitement and anxiety. Another theme I wanted to explore was the relationship between loneliness and technology. Modern technology can divide us, but then it brings us back together in odd ways. For instance, in one scene we see a solitary man eating noodles while watching mukbang on his phone. We fly into the phone screen, into the home of the mukbang girl, and then fly back out of another viewer's phone. In a weird way, the two viewers and the mukbang girl are connected, "sharing a meal" together.
SQM: What was the most memorable or surprising thing while filming "seoul_wave"?
BL: I had an absolute blast filming noraebang in Hongdae. I was with a small group of friends, and we found some more random people on the street and asked them to sing songs with us for the video. Then we all got together in a big room and went crazy. For one shot, I ran up four flights of stairs and into a noreabang room. It was physically exhausting but looked so cool. Thankfully I got it on the first take.
SQM: I feel like you took really great shots of the city in motion. Was this something you were thinking about while filming, or did it come naturally?
BL: I wanted to get a range of shots, showing the city at its most dynamic but also when it was static. One of my favorite shots is of an empty construction site, where the camera flies toward a half-built home. I was drawn to this forgotten place because it was so easy to ignore amid the glamorous surroundings.
SQM: You also mentioned in your Director's Commentary video for "seoul_wave" that you thought of the camera as a "ghost floating through walls, through floors, capturing daily moments that you'd never otherwise see from the street." Can you further explain this "ghost story" element of the video?
BL: I wanted the audience to feel like they were seeing Seoul in a completely honest way. So I tried to shoot in a way that felt like the camera was invisible to the subjects, casually dropping in on their daily lives. I kept the camera slowly drifting so that it never felt too forced or intentional - I wanted the moments we see to feel almost random, like we just happened to show up at just the right time. This presents things in a neutral, non-judgemental way. We're just ghosts watching life pass us by.
SQM: What was the most difficult thing when filming?
BL: The most difficult scene to film was the hiking scene. I filmed it alone, without the help of a local guide. I couldn't read the signs and ended up going completely the wrong direction. What should have been a 2-hour hike on Gwanaksan ended up being a 9-hour hike because I walked all the way to the wrong peak and then had to change directions. By the time I arrived at the Yeojudae (spelling?) temple area, I was completely exhausted and dying of thirst. Plus most of the hikers were descending, so I had to shoot quickly. I didn't get as many shots as I had planned. I also slipped at one point, cutting my leg and ripping my pants. So by the time I finished shooting I was a sweaty, bloody mess.
SQM: Do you think you'll be doing another video of Seoul, or perhaps another city in Korea in the future? If so, where?
BL: I am curious about possibly shooting on Jeju island to film something with more of a focus on nature and tradition, but only if I can approach it in a unique and unconventional way. The last thing I want to do is make something that we've all seen before. Perhaps I'll try to film the Haenyeo.
SQM: We have to ask: do you have a favorite K-Pop artist/group?
BL: I enjoy BLACKPINK and AKMU quite a bit (especially "Dinosaur"). And the beat of BTS' Mic Drop gets me every time. More than anything I enjoy the insane visual creativity in Kpop videos - I actually took a lot of inspiration from them in the way I edited seoul_wave.
SQM: Is there anything you'd like to tell fans of your work?
BL: Final message to fans of my work, I'd say this: I love filmmaking because the camera is like a passport into worlds I'd otherwise never get to experience. So if you need an excuse to go travel and explore, pick up the camera and see where it takes you.