It’s funny how life changing moments often don’t seem as so while they are occurring; retrospect allows us to look back and realize when the course of our lives changed. For Ji Young, simply watching the movie Moulin Rouge could have been a nonevent, like so many times one watches a film. However, Young already had an artistic eye, and the spectacle that the film was for her allowed the Korean native to realize exactly what she was meant to do with her life. The colors, sounds, actors, costumes and spectacular sets were shown through dynamic camera angels, which blew her mind. She was fascinated by the film’s ability to make audiences explore different time periods and worlds through the frames. It was then when she fell in love with movie magic, and it seemed like how much she could design was limitless. She knew she had to be an art director.
Despite all of her projects seeing great success, Young was able to connect with her Korean roots on the film The Bird Who Could Fly, which premiered earlier this year. The film tells the story of Arthur, a young boy trying to manage his one brother who is spending his life in jail, another brother who is a drug addict, and the pressures of their Korean-born mother. Juggling his mother's religious extremism, he tries to heal his brothers’ lives and emerge to find his own. The film takes place from the early 90s until present day. It was shot in several locations and has a run time of roughly twenty minutes.
“This film’s story is based on a real story of one Korean American Family who lives in Los Angeles. I’m a native Korean, so I wasn’t 100 per cent familiar with Korean immigrant family stories in LA, but I thought I could help the team with my knowledge of Korean culture. I’ve been to many devout Korean Christians houses and my immigrant relatives houses in LA, so I know what kind of stuff they have in the kitchen or room like Korean church calendar on the wall, Chinese calligraphy wall art, stacked up plastic container with the dry foods inside or some lacy home decors. I wanted to make the authentic domestic Korean family house look as much as possible,” said Young.
After reading the script, Young analyzed the character of the mother, because she is the dominant character in the family, and what she would have in the house. This started the process, and Young began researching what Korean immigrant houses look like. The Production Designer Chelsea Hancock oversaw the whole process and took charge of big essential elements like furniture, built wall and props, while Young took care of more detail set dressing choices. The two made quite the team.
“As the production designer on the film, it was very important to me to surround myself with hard working women that had tenacity and positive attitudes. I was very impressed with Ji. She had a great attitude and was willing to jump into anything that needed to get done. Her instincts and go-getter spirit were contagious and really helped our team grow closer together. Ji was given a variety of tasks while having the ability to think on her feet and knowing cheap solutions when we were in a pinch. Whether it was aging materials down, or needing to mount sconces to our prison walls, Ji never hesitated to execute. It was a relief to know that I could rely on her for whatever was needed. I primarily work in television as an art department coordinator and would love the opportunity to hire Ji onto our team when possible,” said Hancock.
With Young’s help, the film has gone had great acclaim at several international film festivals. It was screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival, 40th Asian American International Film Festival, Asians on Film Festival 2017, and the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. It won Audience choice, Best Director, Best drama and Best Ensemble Cast for Asians on Film Festival 2017, Best Short Film and the Diamond Award in NYC Indie Film Awards, Best Short and Best Ensemble at First Glance Film Fest Los Angeles 17, and Best Short Narrative film in DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon.
“It’s very exciting. The Bird Who Could Fly has been shown at so many film festivals and won so many awards. I feel like even though the story was about Korean American culture, we were able to build up the emotional connection with the audiences, which is what successful storytelling is about. And I am very happy because I feel like people’s interest in stories about Korean culture is growing,” said Young.
No matter what she works on, Young brings an attention to detail that is unparalleled. She understands the importance of every shot, every prop, and every stroke of the paint brush on a set. These are her words in the story she is telling. She is incredibly respected by all she has worked with, and she respects them equally in return.
“Everyone in our art department team had such an amazing individual talent like graphic design, graffiti, research, handling fabrics, aging and creating props. Each of them worked on whatever they are good at, and the set looked phenomenal. I felt so fortunate working with talented people with positive energies. And I liked that I felt confident making choices because I could understand the story and characters,” she concluded.
What’s next for Young? She is currently working on the highly-anticipated DC Comics film Aquaman, and audiences can expect yet another superb experience.