The Seoul Connection


Raoul Dyssell is a Cape Town-born and raised writer / director who has just
released his first feature film, which is set and produced, not in his homeland,
but in the country that he has now adopted as his own – South Korea.

In March, in the South Korean capital of Seoul, the feature debut of two of the
Korean film industry’s newest talents was premiered. Titled Amiss, the film
centres around the suicide of a young girl and her father’s search for answers
and retribution. Told through flashbacks, the story reveals that none of the
people closest to her are what they at first seem – or what they perceive
themselves to be. Set in Seoul and starring a cast of Korean and American
actors, the mystery thriller was co-written and directed by two immigrants who
had decided to make South Korea their home – American William Sonbuchner
and South African Raoul Dyssell. In April, Dyssell will proudly bring his film back to
the city of his birth for a once-off South African screening.

The Korean aesthetic

Dyssell discovered that he had a particular affinity with Korean cinema when he
was 17, after seeing Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy for the first time. But it was Bong
Joon-ho’s Memories of a Murder that drew him to Korean culture as a whole and
instilled in him an obsession with the country’s cinematic aesthetic. “I was struck
by the raw, visceral emotion present in many of the Korean films I saw and by
Korea purely as an aesthetic, says Dyssell. “I loved the sound of the language,
the acting and most of all, the nature of the storytelling and how unpleasantly
real it was at times. I had decided in my first year of college – studying Film and
Media Production at the University of Cape Town – that I wanted to make films
of a similar nature and in my final year I decided that I would go to Korea.’

A community of expats

In Seoul, Dyssell found himself among the city’s large community of expats,
which no doubt eased his efforts to settle in the city. “It was tough – of course
there are language and cultural barriers but when you travel, you have to adapt
to survive and many of the barriers I’ve faced have been overcome with
adaptation. But here in Korea, and specifically in Seoul, there is a natural love
for cinema. There is an ocean of volatile energy immersed within the neon lights
that any artist can tap into and absorb… Seoul has become one of the most
globalised cities in the world and there is a significant community of expats who
have come here to make their dreams come true.’

One of these expats was William Sonbuchner, the founder of the Seoul
Filmmaker’s Workshop, which drew expats and locals alike to come together and
share their love of cinema. “I was surprised to realise I wasn’t the only foreigner
who wanted to make movies in Korea. There’s a support base here and we are
all helping each other to the top.’

Dyssell and Sonbuchner joined up with several fellow immigrants to make Amiss,
completing the film on weekends and at night on a very small budget. The
circumstances under which it was made generated quite a buzz and drew
viewers to the Seoul premiere. The film has its South African premiere in Cape
Town on 4 April. There have not yet been any serious talks about distribution.
The hope is that these two screenings will spark interest among distributors.

Settled for good

Dyssell is now settled in Korea with no plans to return to South Africa or live
anywhere else. “It’s my home now,’ he says. “My wife is Korean and I have
fallen in love with the culture and the people. But as far as filmmaking goes, I
don’t see myself being limited by borders and I plan to travel the world making
films. I have several treatments in development at the moment, and not all of
them are set in Korea. Two of them are set in South Africa, one of them a
science fiction story.’

Dyssell makes his living through the production company he founded, Roll the
Dice Pictures. “We’ve become the go-to company for indie bands here in Seoul
to have their music videos made but I’m looking to break into the K-pop (Korean
pop) market too… We might be based in Korea but we’re a global company, and
we plan to work with artists from every corner of the globe. Our main focus will
always be feature films and specifically, genre feature films.’

One of the most important commandments of writing is “write what you know’
and as a result the conventional wisdom has been that a writer in a foreign
culture would find it difficult to write a story based in that culture. Dyssell
disagrees. “I think that travelling, through the experience of new cultures,
languages, settings and relationships, only moulds one into a better writer,
bursting with ideas. For me, coming to Korea and walking under the bright city
lights, or taking the bullet train to the other side of the country, has been very
inspiring. Amiss, therefore, is a product of the collision of east and west…’


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