Looking for answers from W writer Song Jae-jung
At a press conference nearly a week after the finale of W–Two Worlds aired on September 14, writer Song Jae-jung (who also wrote Nine and Queen In-hyun’s Man) attempted to answer some of the many questions raised by viewers. Song spoke freely about the story’s logical development, her thoughts on the two lead actors, how she never watched the last two installments, and her reasons for making the scripts for all 16 episodes publicly available. Herein lie spoilers for both W and Nine–you have been warned!
Q: How did you come up with W?
“I began putting together Oh Sung-moo writer’s story after first obtaining his motive from a Goya painting. I initially conceived of him as a pure artist but as I went along, it was difficult to obtain rights to show paintings on TV and it was difficult for me to depict Korea’s greatest painter. That’s why I changed it to a popular manhwa. I wonder if all creative writers have the same thoughts. Music, writing, drawing, it’s all the same. When I write, I always struggle with whether the objects of my expression will be my tools or if they will have their own souls.”
Q: Like in your previous works, the leads experience anguish.
“With Nine I felt apologetic towards the actor but I also felt apologetic towards the character. I went through a hard time too and it lasted for some time. I was tormented in my own way and it took me a long time to overcome that. I felt a sense of responsibility, too. Viewers get furious when they see a senseless death, and I started [work on W] with that concern. That doesn’t mean I’m Oh Sung-moo [who was played by Kim Eui-sung in the drama]. It’s good that W concluded within a year. When Oh Sung-moo died, I was pained.”
Q: Why did you choose a fantasy traveling across dimensions?
“I wanted to do something unique so I picked unusual material. [Through fantasy] extremely dramatic situations become possible. In the real world spies and soldiers perform dangerous jobs but here [in the fantasy world], ordinary people can [be put in dangerous positions]. They are hounded by life and death matters, they are pursued like spies, and they can fly. I have a lot of interest in ordinary people experiencing out-of-the-ordinary events.”
Q: In episode 12, Kang Chul [played by Lee Jong-seok] tells Yeon-joo [played by Han Hyo-joo], “Don’t readers want an ending in which Kang Chul marries Oh Yeon-joo and they live happily ever after?” Was this foreshadowing?
“It was a scene with a lot of meaning. The point was that, regardless of what readers thought and the context, it was Kang Chul’s life.”
Q: Opinions were divided over the ending.
“I wasn’t greatly concerned about the ending. Whether it was happy or sad wasn’t important to me at all. (In the past) I’ve submitted an ending without putting much thought into it and have gotten cursed, so these days I make an effort to think more about it. Now I understand that whether the ending is happy or sad or what lingers in the memories is important to viewers and so I take more care. I never wrote W thinking it had a happy ending, nor did I think it had a sad ending. You could look at it as, they’ll both overcome their pain at some point, which suggests a happy ending sometime (in the future).”
Q: It was out of the ordinary that you made the scripts publicly available.
“There are many reasons. I’ve taught at universities about dramatic composition. As I lectured, I felt that the learning style was inefficient. Broadcast is a medium that is friendly to the public but in terms of playwriting, I was doubtful because [those learning] must watch with aspirations, but [within the confines of what is trending]. Broadcast is trendy. Even if something is popular, once it’s over, it’s forgotten. If you’re going to release a script, you need to do it while it’s hot, and fortunately the opportunity presented itself to me. I thought if I released it with one episode left to go, it’d be hot and that many people would be curious about it. The timing was good.
“The script is mine but the drama is the work of many. Anyone can read a novel but that isn’t the case for a script. Even if you paid good money, you wouldn’t be able to see [the script]. I wanted to make it available when many people were showing interest but I didn’t realize that it had reached number one in search engines in real time. I think that I need to release scripts in the future, too. The collection of scripts weren’t worth a lot of money; it’s not like I made a big sacrifice. Unemployed writers and young people need to make many attempts [to break into the industry]. [Readers] can look directly at the files and make corrections on the spot. I made them available because I thought if [aspiring writers] played with them a little, eventually a longer script could be written. It is my hope that [those interested] will be able to make the script even greater with their own edits.”
Q: Oh Sung-moo’s death differs in what was broadcast and what was written in the script. Was that something agreed upon with the director beforehand?
“I haven’t seen the last episode yet. To be honest, I didn’t see episodes 15 and 16 air. Once a script is completed, I don’t like to watch the ending. I’m going to binge-watch it later, but I heard how the episodes differ from the script through the news. It’s a very peculiar problem. The script is mine and my understanding is embedded into it, but since there are actors and directors involved, the ending could be different from what I thought. I don’t think it would be professional if I gave my opinion. I’ve talked about the ending personally but I don’t think it would be courteous to discuss it here.”
Q: Were you worried that viewers wouldn’t be able to follow the plot?
“I co-wrote for ten years. There is a huge advantage [to working that way]. Shows like High Kick and Soonpoong Clinic wouldn’t exist without a writing staff. I can’t write about that many people in a family on my own. A sitcom is complete when a group of writers who know their characters well get together. For those kinds of projects, co-writing is absolutely necessary.
“I’m also dissatisfied with myself. Each individual’s personality gets shaved down a bit. I was a co-writer for so long that I have questions in my head. ‘If I say something like this, the person next to me will say something like this, right?’ ‘They’ll argue the other side, what should I reply?’ I’ll take on the role of three people, put on a show by myself, and have a whole debate alone. In W, I didn’t play for the minors but went for the general public, and I just barely pulled off writing for the mainstream.”
Q: How did you feel about Han Hyo-joo?
“I feel the most apologetic towards Han Hyo-joo. She had to portray such a difficult balance of emotions. We told two stories. The story about a woman who enters a manhwa and falls in love, and then I’m sure it was very disorienting to be weaved into a showdown between a creator and his creation. Oh Yeon-joo was a difficult character to emote. I wasn’t really interested in how the story ended but I felt bad because Han Hyo-joo sort of became a victim of the self-devouring ending. How do I repay this debt? I feel indebted to her.
“In certain respects, Yeon-joo became a casualty of the man to man battle. Sung-moo’s ending is sad but Kang Chul’s ending is happy. From Yeon-joo’s viewpoint, her ending isn’t happy. I felt bad because they’re a couple, but to the woman it’s not a happy ending and to the man it is, and it must have been a painful situation. That was my mistake.”
Q: As the writer, how did you feel about the performance of the leads?
“I’m so grateful towards both. First, Lee Jong-seok is an actor who gave us [a quality of realness] throughout the whole drama. We were so lucky he looks like a manhwa character. That was most important. In reality, Lee Jong-seok is very different from Kang Chul. Kang Chul’s age is 30 but I actually developed his mind to be aged more like mine, around 45 years old. He’s an extremely mature character. He’s not afraid of anything in this world, nor does he have any doubts–he’s like a superhuman character. It must have been extremely hard. I’m grateful to him that he maintained his concentration until the end.
“With regards to Han Hyo-joo, I spoke about it earlier–I was sorry towards her until the end, so it’s difficult for me to assess her performance. It was a difficult character and in order to stay true to her doctor character she deliberately didn’t pretty herself up. There were too many crying scenes. I’m most sorry because she had too many scenes in which she had to pour out her emotions. In my heart I wanted her to be a brighter character, but as you write, sometimes you just follow the story. As you [write], you just continue down the path you’re on. I regret that the two leads had such challenging roles in the second half. I wanted to see them lovey-dovey, too. I’m sorry that I couldn’t show them in romantic, comfortable dating [scenes].”
Q: It was a plot that was difficult for viewers to understand; what worried you?
“On the days [viewership] ratings became available my heart would pound as soon as I woke up. What’s unfair is that I target the masses when I write. It’s just that it doesn’t appear that way. ‘If I do it this way, I think the ratings will be high,’ are my thoughts when I write; it just doesn’t work out that way. I’m a common viewer, too. I make the mistake of writing the type of drama I like because I think viewers will enjoy it too. I like fast dramas and ones that surprise you. It seems I’m not quite like the viewing public. I need to listen to others but I have trouble with that.
“Ratings are so very important–because of ratings, the next drama is affected. The key to a writer’s survival is ratings. Ratings don’t determine self-worth but it becomes a driving force in [a writer’s] life, so it is very important. Fortunately, after watching the first episode, I thought we’d be okay. I was touched. There were texts that said it was daebak. Because the ratings were high early on, there was less pressure on me.”
Q: Tell us about the logical development.
“Around ten years ago, [portraying] realistic and scientific logic were important issues. Now I wonder if people aren’t a little tired of it. In a way, you’re dramatically entering a world without logic–even though there’s no probability of that occurring. The logic is already there in your head. I think we’ve moved into an era where it’s more important to choose what to show visually [versus the context]. When I was writing Queen In-hyun’s Man, there were still many questions as to whether things made sense. Now that we’re in an age of fantasy, even if you don’t tell [viewers] explicitly, [they] know. [Writers] don’t have to describe stuff like talismans; [viewers] understand and move along. I realized [a world like] W was already in [viewers’] heads. Fantasy is at that level now. Even if you don’t explain everything, the positive response is high.”
Q: What do you think about the trend towards pre-produced dramas?
“Pre-production is nice but what makes me doubtful is that I think you can only accomplish it if you have tremendous know-how. Both the writer and the director need to do well. Isn’t it the case that during the process, emotions crescendo? Movies are short so it is possible but dramas are 16 episodes long and you need the know-how to avoid losing the emotional flow. If you have tremendous support, it can be victorious but if not, it’s a gamble.”
Q: Is it not an error that the webtoon is over but Kang Chul was able to cross over into this world?
“In my thoughts, it’s not an error. It’s a difference of opinion. It might be an overreaching concept but from my position, it’s logical. From the beginning I didn’t think it was transcendental and when [Chul] was reborn we recognized the existence of two worlds. Once we acknowledged there were two, this world became that world. In Nine, Park Sun-woo eventually died trapped, but in this case, the trappings were made by humans. After Kang Chul determined he was a predetermined being, he shot Oh Sung-moo. At that point, because he accepted [his discovery], [the W] world became a subordinate world. After he was reborn, once he determined that it was a world on equal terms, it became an equal world.
“The instant Kang Chul determined it was an equal world, the webtoon did not conclude. Because it was important for Kang Chul to believe this, he believed that until his death. Kang Chul came [into this world] because he willed himself to come. Some people might see it as me taking liberties with the writing, but I don’t believe it to be an error.”
Q: What was the meaning of the corpse with a ring?
“It was nothing. Viewers misunderstood for a long time.”
Q: Do you have any plans to work on a romantic drama?
“I would like to but I don’t have the confidence. As I get older I have the thought that ‘I’m just going through the motions.’ In the past when I would work on sitcoms I was part of the same generation and wrote with empathy, but now it feels like I’m fumbling for past memories when I write [those types of arcs]. Since I’ve lost confidence, even though I would like to, I don’t think I can. It was hard for Jong-seok-ssi to act, too. He would sometimes ask me, why is this character’s soul so old? I also thought maybe I should increase [Kang Chul’s] age.”
Q: Any final words?
“It’s a big problem that I’ve been given such high ratings. I’m going to hide and not come out until everyone’s forgotten this success. I’m not sure how much of what I’ve said has been explanatory but I hope it is of help. Thank you.”
Via Xports News