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86 min. Korean, Japanese, Mandarin.

Back in college, Jea-moon and Hae-hyo were bosom buddies, but their friendship foundered when they both fell in love with the same woman, Soon-yi. 28 years later, Jea-moon, now the owner of a second-hand bookshop in Seoul, travels to Japan to meet his onetime friend, who runs a bar in Fukuoka. He is accompanied by his enchanting young neighbour So-dam, who suggested the meeting in the first place. But in Fukuoka, the traumatic conflict of a long-buried past gradually implodes ...
Director Zhang Lu anchors the plot in realism, in the here and now. And yet the unexpected power outage, the full moon in the night sky, and the TV tower that seems to disappear and reappear all invoke a ghost story, as Zhang Lu resurrects his characters’ haunted pasts. “We will all become ghosts anyway,” says So-dam, as she floats nimbly through the plot, going missing and turning up again at will. Is she also a ghost? Zhang Lu’s smooth camerawork explores the marvellous locations just as delicately as he does the souls of his protagonists. Fukuoka is a quietly amusing film about the ability to let go. (Ansgar Vogt)

Zhang Lu was born in Yanbian, Jilin, People’s Republic of China in 1962. His parents and grandparents are from Korea. He studied Chinese literature at Yenben University and began writing poetry and novels in 1986. Lu Zhang has been working as a filmmaker since 2001.

Love only accepts one language

Most of the time, love is a never-ending battle between different languages, though it can only accept one. When we are immersed in it, we are often tongue-tied, at a loss for words. Occasionally we relax, and then we may vaguely glimpse a mirage of glaciers melting, of flowers blossoming in the warmth of spring. (Zhang Lu)

Conversation with Zhang Lu: “Only ghosts can tell!”

Ansgar Vogt: The word ‘ghost’ appears quite a few times in the dialogues of FUKUOKA. Are you trying to tell a ghost story with your film, and if so, why?

Zhang Lu: The word used in the film is ‘gui’ (ghost) but when it is translated into English, it becomes ‘a ghost spirit’. Actually, within the context of East Asian literature, ‘ghost’ means something mysterious or even supernatural. It can be used in a number of ways when spoken colloquially. Jokingly, to the question of whether FUKUOKA is a ghost tale, I would reply, ‘Only ghosts can tell!’ In the film, I want to highlight moments from everyday life and since ‘ghost’ is a common word in East Asian language, it is also part of our day-to-day, and part of our humanity. In Chinese there is the common expression ‘neither human nor ghost’. Of course, it is derogatory, but I have somehow liked this expression ever since I was a child. FUKUOKA resurrects some of the confusion that certain words used to provoke in me during my childhood.

The two bookstores play an important role. What is their significance?

I am a fan of bookstores, especially vintage ones. It is the type of environment that stimulates one’s memory. The two male protagonists were both young during the 1980s. When they allow their emotions to flow in this space while time passes, it is as if they possessed the same texture as a yellowing page in a book.

The 16th century Chinese novel ‘Jin Ping Mei’ (The Plum in the Golden Vase) comes up at the beginning of the story. Why did you choose this novel? Did you adapt some parts of the novel in FUKUOKA?

‘Jin Ping Mei’ is a banned piece of literature that I secretly enjoyed in my youth. Although it is notorious for its explicit and pornographic descriptions, it is still a great work, a bit like an encyclopaedia of the Ming Dynasty. Since my female protagonist is a strange character, with a unique ability to communicate with the past, she might like ‘Jin Ping Mei’. The old bookstore in Seoul that comes up in the film happened to have a complete edition of ‘Jin Ping Mei’, though of course in Korean. FUKUOKA is not an adaptation of the book, but this does not mean that I do not want to make references to this great novel. It is because I am quite shy and not very adept at dealing with erotic matters.

At one point in the film, Yun Dong-ju’s poem ‘Palace of Love’ is quoted. At another, So-dam mentions a book written by Haruki Murakami. How did you select the literature in the film?

Yun Dong-ju is one of the greatest Korean poets. His poems are very lyrical and rustic and they are almost never about politics. Unfortunately, the poet died in World War II during the Japanese occupation, and the prison where he died just so happens to be located in the beautiful town of Fukuoka.
The book mentioned in the film is ‘Killing Commendatore’ by Haruki Murakami. A Chinese actress I know visited me on set, so I came up with a scene for her. I asked around what the best-selling Japanese novel was in China at the time and discovered that it was ‘Killing Commendatore’ by Haruki Murakami. I asked the actress to bring the book to the shoot in Fukuoka, and that is how the scene came about.

Is FUKUOKA a film about ghosts or about language? Or is it about something else completely?

I will answer this question in a sly way: it is a film about humanity. To understand each other, people need language, but sometimes language has its own walls and barriers. A sentence that slips out can inadvertently create discord on an aesthetic, political, or even emotional level. And yet we do not have a better means of communication. But maybe ghosts and spirits may be able to offer a helping hand. Regardless of whether the film is about ghosts or language, ultimately it is about human beings.  

The story revolves around three characters and it is both serious and light-hearted. Prior to the shoot, what did you discuss with your cinematographer regarding the film’s visual tonality?  

I have the habit of going on set with a blank slate, which means that the cinematographer does not know what the next composition will look like. When I arrive on set, everyone clears out for ten minutes and it will be just me in that space thinking about the mise en scène. When the cinematographer arrives, I tell him how I imagine the shots. The communication is swift and then we move onto the lighting. We had ten days to shoot, so there was little time for experiments. Of course, it is necessary for the cinematographer to be extremely talented. The communication between us mainly revolved around the rhythm of the film and the physical staging of the actors.

The film is marked by a strong sense of intimacy. How did you work with your actors to create that atmosphere?

I actually do not speak much with the actors on set. Rather, I try to be friends with them off set, which helps me realise their potential. I have worked with Jea-moon Yoon and So-dam Park in the past, so we know each other quite well. It was my first time working with Hae-hyo Kwon. He is a very passionate, open person. I already had an image of him in my head before we met, and when he came on set, it matched perfectly. This saved us time in terms of getting to know each other. We both had the feeling of having known each other for a long time.

In the story, So-dam disappears and reappears several times. Could you talk about the logic behind her behaviour?

So-dam has something ghost-like about her, but this should only be hinted at by the mise en scène. In real life, we also know people who appear and then disappear again without a trace. Their behaviour cannot be explained with the usual criteria of logic. So-dam is such a character, which is why the film does not provide an explanation for her habit of disappearing and reappearing. Rather, these movements are more dependent on the rhythm of the film. As a ghost figure, what changes does she provoke in the other characters, whose actions are more rational, and what happens to her in turn?

Why do the characters have the same name as the actors?

This is just a lazy solution, to avoid having to memorise so many character names. Of course, there is also another advantage. By using the actors’ real names, it helps them slip into the characters’ shoes right away, because the name has long been a part of who they are. Instead of thinking about their roles at length, they can approach them in a more intuitive way.

Several scenes take place on the streets of Fukuoka. What were your criteria for choosing these locations?

For the most part we chose locations that were within walking distance from where the crew was staying. Since the crew was dispersed across different guesthouses in the centre of town, we mainly chose streets that were downtown, so that we could call crew members to the set at any time, which was necessary as many scenes were improvised. We also looked for locations that allowed us to have the radio tower in the shot.

(Interview: Ansgar Vogt, January 2019)

Production Zhang Lu, Wu Yanyan, Yang Jin. Production companies Lu Film (Seoul, Republic of Korea), Bright East Film (Beijing, People's Republic of China), Heaven Pictures (Beijing, People's Republic of China). Written and directed by Zhang Lu. Cinematography Park Jung-hun. Editing Lee Hak-min. Sound design Kim Bong-soo. Sound Ahn Bock-nam. Production design Kim Cho-hea. With Kwon Hae-hyo (Hae-hyo), Yoon Jea-moon (Jea-moon), Park So-dam (So-dam), Yamamoto Yuki (Yuki).

World sales Parallax Films
Premiere February 11, 2019, Forum


2001: Shi yi sui / Eleven (15 min.). 2003: Tang shi / Tang Poetry (88 min.). 2005: Mang Zhong / Grain in Ear (109 min.). 2007: Hyazgar Desert Dream (125 min., Competition 2007). 2008: Iri (108 min.), Chongqing (95 min.). 2010: Dooman River (89 min., Generation 2010). 2013: Pung gyeong / Scenery (95 min.). 2014: Gyeongju (145 min.). 2015: Pil-re-um si-dae sa-rang / Love and… (71 min.). 2016: Chun-mong / A Quiet Dream (101 min.). 2018: Gunsan / Ode to the Goose (121 min.). 2019: Fukuoka.

Photo: © Lu Film

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