The Raincoat Killer: Chasing a Predator in Korea
In September 2022, we hosted Jessica Lee, one of the producers at Beach House Pictures behind the Netflix true crime documentary The Raincoat Killer: Chasing a Predator in Korea (2021) looking into a series of horrific murders which took place Seoul during the early 2000s.
Elsewhere Cinema Club’s PHOEBE
What was the most difficult part of the whole production? Logistically, you‘ve talked a bit about that, but if there’s something else, please let us know. I’m also thinking—emotionally and creatively, what was the most difficult part?
I think the most difficult part of the production was access. Again, number one, true crime is always difficult, because you are approaching people to talk about a highly traumatic event, from police officers to victims and their families. You look at Kim Hee Sook. Wonderful woman, super radiant, but carries a lot of baggage and darkness within as part of her job. And she did break down when she had to talk about going to the crime scene, digging out the victims’ bones, and how difficult that process was for her even though she’s been doing this for a long time. So it’s hard to convince people to come on screen, especially when there’s no vested interest for them to do so.
Why, for no money, would they want to relive old wounds, so to speak?
So, I think that was difficult from a production point of view and to share with them the importance of why they should talk about it. Because it’s more than just about the crime. It is really about the bigger picture here. And I think that’s how they eventually got convinced.
But even then, during the process of the interview, it was still difficult. I remember us being in the room with Kim Hee Sook while we were doing the interview, and we were all emotional—from the facilitator, myself, to our crew—everyone was crying. Because you feel that. You feel the heaviness. It’s tough.
And that leads to the second point: I think, emotionally, what’s heavy for myself, for a lot of people, and for a lot of our team, were the victims. Because we had to go through crime scene photos, we had to talk to family members. 90% of what we shot wasn’t in the film. And I think that process of having to have these conversations was very very difficult. Even talking to Ahn Jae Sam, who was a victim’s brother who was featured quite a lot in the episode, was so hard. Sitting with him in that room… he has gone through so much in his life. Not only his brother was brutally murdered, but his father and brothers killed themselves. And he has to carry that. How do you live? How do you survive? How do you go on? It’s all those things that, as producers and filmmakers, as human beings, you get affected by.
And for me specifically as well, it was the female victims, the sex workers who were murdered. That was particularly hard, I think. Because as a female filmmaker I can feel it specifically. There were long discussions in the edit room where we were like, how do we tell the story in a way that was respectful? And there was a teary conversation with my edit producers. It’s difficult. But we also understood that this is why it’s important to tell the story right. You want to be able to do them justice, so to speak. I’m not sure if we did, but we hope so.
ELSEWHERE CINEMA CLUB'S GRISELDA
You mentioned that, from your production and also opinions from others, there seems to be a lot of differences noticed between Western true crime shows and Asian true crime shows. What are the biggest differences you noticed between those? Also, now that you’re making more true crime shows, do you have a sense that anything’s changing in the way people make true crime shows, or do you even hope that there will be changes?
Yeah, I think when it comes to the West—and I’m using the term very loosely—primarily I would say in America, they have a huge experience doing true crime. Years of experience doing that. And so what that means and translates to is that if you pitch an idea to someone, be it the victim’s family or the police, they’re used to it. So gaining access to shoot in a prison, for example, or gaining access to the victim’s family, becomes much easier. I wouldn’t say for all, again it’s all on a case-by-case context, but generally. Because there’s a greater awareness that true crime is a genre that exists and is popular.
In Asia, considering my experiences in Korea and Indonesia, it is much harder. Because there’s no reference or role model in that sense, when it comes to true crime documentaries.
So it takes a bit more effort to convince people to come in front of the camera, to even explain what a documentary is. How does that work? If we have characters or interviewees who are like, “Do I have to act? What is it?”
It’s an education and awareness we still need to build as filmmakers within the local market and industry. And even amongst us producers, who may not have the experience of working on true crime shows before, coming from different backgrounds like journalism or making travelogues. Just because there were no true crime producers locally. It’s a market that doesn’t quite exist yet. And so I think that means there is a lot of room for growth. So that’s my answer to your first question. What’s your second question again?
Do you get the sense that things are changing in how people make true crime shows, and do you hope so?
Yeah! I think that the true crime genre has almost become very similar these days. Even parodied on Saturday Night Live, where it is kind of formulaic now. I think for us, we’re quite keen on breaking the mould a little bit. How do you creatively and narratively tell the story differently, so that it doesn’t become expected?
I think a good reference is American Murder: The Family Next Door, which is on Netflix, where they only use archives and voiceover. There will be no sit-down interviews. That is a very innovative way of telling a true crime story that was still compelling, respectful, but oh my gosh, really different.
And I think us as filmmakers, a lot of the time, we take the lead from the U.S. to do it how they’re doing it. I think now, more and more, I’m keen to explore how we can put a stamp on it, as Asian filmmakers. How do we tell a story using techniques that are different, or maybe borrowing techniques from our region, from both a visual point of view and a narrative point of view? That is something we’re quite keen to experiment with. Especially this one I’m doing for Netflix. It’s something we’re playing around with. Not sure if it would succeed and get people interested to watch. But I think that in filmmaking, the only way to get better and to make a good show is to try and always innovate new ways. And that’s what we’re trying to do.