Shim Sung-bo, the acclaimed screenwriter of Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder, takes the director’s chair for his debut feature about human smugglers on the high seas. Haemoo screens on Friday and Saturday as part of the 44th annual New Directors/New Films series, currently underway through March 29. Shim Sung-bo talks respect for his actors and the struggles of filming on a ship in his comments to FilmLinc.

Shim Sung-bo, South Korea, 2014, 111m

Description: First-time director Shim Sung-bo (screenwriter of Memories of Murder, the second film by Haemoo’s producer Bong Joon-ho) distills a gripping drama from a real life incident and delivers a gritty, brooding spectacle of life and death on the high seas. With the country in the throes of an economic crisis, the captain of the run-down fishing boat Junjin sets out with his five-man crew to smuggle a group of Korean-Chinese illegal immigrants. During the hair-raising transfer of their human cargo from a freighter, rookie fisherman Dong-sik (Park Yu-chun) saves the life of Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri). Smitten and solicitous, he shelters the young woman in the engine room. But after a tense coast-guard inspection, things go horribly wrong and as the titular sea fog rolls in, the captain forces his crew to set a new course—from which there’s no turning back.

Responses from Shim Sung-bo:

On finding a connection to the real world:

I was a literature major in college. In my junior year, I suddenly felt suffocated—like my life was trapped in books. I craved something more lively that would connect me to the real world. Then “cinema” flashed in front of me. So after graduation I began film school.

On crimes committed by ordinary people:

I was mesmerized by the stage play Haemoo. It depicts the experience of ordinary people getting involved in crime, not from the detective’s point of view, but from theirs. It’s a story about people protecting their loved ones even when their lives are falling apart—it’s a tale of crime and love. These were the subjects that I wanted to portray, and Haemoo has both.

On respect for the actor’s vision:

While we were filming, I listened carefully to the actors, especially the six sailors. I tried to respect their interpretations of each character. As a result, I was able to reinforce the characters’ more humane aspects. Also, I focused on resolving all their questions about story development and situations. This is an actor-driven film. I consider myself very lucky to have worked with them.

On the difficulty of shooting on a boat at sea:

The biggest challenge was that most of the story takes place on a not-so-big ship on the open sea. The shooting was strenuous, and it could easily have made the film appear monotonous.

On finding new inspiration in a novel:

While I was promoting this film, I remembered a Japanese novel that I read 10 years ago about losing memories. The story also deals with crime and love. It’s a little too early to share the name of the novel, but I’m really into it at the moment.