'Exhuma' is '95% pure entertainment,' director Jang Jae-hyun says

Director Jang Jae-hyun's biggest commercial success yet is with his latest occult flick ″Exhuma.″ [SHOWBOX]

The blockbuster thriller “Exhuma” continues to top the Korean box office and may soon sell its 10 millionth ticket, but the film’s director Jang Jae-hyun kept calm and composed.

Jang, arguably Korea’s only director specialized in the occult genre, said that it was simply a result of his “lifelong passion for grotesquerie.” He was flattered, but reception isn’t a priority in his filmmaking career, he said.

“Technically, since I’m always the first person to watch my films, I just made what I personally would want to see on the silver screen,” he told reporters in a press interview at a cafe in Jongno District, central Seoul, on Thursday. “Of course, if I’m no longer interested, I’d stop creating films altogether.”

“Exhuma” is the third and most successful film that Jang has directed, following “The Priests” (2015) and “Svaha: The Sixth Finger” (2019), which also fall under the occult umbrella.

A behind-the-scenes image from ″Exhuma,″ with director Jang Jae-hyun, left, and actor Kim Go-eun [SHOWBOX]

While the first two films touched on different religions like Catholicism, Christianity and Buddhism, the primary focus of “Exhuma” is on shamanism and feng shui, or geomancy, and relocating a grave haunted by a sinister spirit.

Another difference with “Exhuma” is that Jang’s main intention was entertaining the audience, aside from taking a theoretical approach to the ancient practice.

“I wanted 95 percent of this movie to be just pure entertainment that comes from the thriller genre,” Jang said, emphasizing the role of the narrations in the beginning and end of the film.

“In scenes related to shamanism and feng shui, it was crucial that the audience understand what was going on; That’s the only way they can enjoy it, with the help of narration,” he continued. “Making each scene as dense as possible within a concise running time was the ultimate goal.”

A behind-the-scenes image from ″Exhuma,″ with director Jang Jae-hyun, left, and actor Yoo Hae-jin [SHOWBOX]

The premise of “Exhuma” begins with relocating an ancestral grave that is haunted by an evil supernatural being, but the plot thickens when it expands to the historical trauma of Korea, particularly from the 1910-45 Japanese colonial period.

Viewers were quick to post online the Easter eggs they found in the movie, such as the license plates of cars reading “0301” or “0815,” which are historically significant dates in Korea.

“I didn’t necessarily plant these for the sake of Easter eggs,” Jang said. “It, too, was all about the density of the film — adding anything that could make the scene even 0.01 percent more solid.

“I wasn’t trying to elicit particular sentiments regarding any historical incident or nation. But then again, you can’t ignore what actually happened in the past and the trauma we suffered on this very land. I wasn’t trying to criticize anything — it was just facing the truth.”

The four stars in ″Exhuma,″ from left: Yoo Hae-jin, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Go-eun and Choi Min-sik [SHOWBOX]

Reviews have praised the chemistry of the four main cast members — Kim Go-eun, Lee Do-hyun, Choi Min-sik and Yoo Hae-jin — nicknaming the quartet the “Myovengers,” a portmanteau of the Korean word for grave, myo, and Marvel Studios’ Avengers.

But now for the big question: Will there be a sequel?

“I’m always open to possibilities,” Jang said, “But I can’t guarantee anything at the moment. The story would have to be good enough to be worth pursuing, because, for me, I always put quality over commercial success. But if anyone would be willing to star the four actors in a drama series later, I would be more than grateful.”

A behind-the-scenes image from ″Exhuma,″ with director Jang Jae-hyun, left, and actor Choi Min-sik [SHOWBOX]

Throughout the interview, it became apparent as to how “Exhuma” became such a hit, like when Jang reflected on his six months’ worth of undivided dedication to the screenplay alone, or when he immediately cited the films “The Exorcist” (1973) and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) as his inspiration. But seeing the jam-packed theaters is another thing that keeps him motivated.

“It’s really nice seeing more moviegoers since the pandemic, which is something that every single actor and staff member agrees on,” Jang said. “The fact that people have all gathered in the theater to share the same emotions is so encouraging. I really hope that this enthusiasm toward Korean film prolongs.”