Park Chan Wook Screen Talk

park-chan-wook-directorPark Chan-Wook directed my favourite film of all time. Oldboy had a tremendous effect on me in 2003. I had the opportunity to see him talk as part of the London Film Festival. The talk was held at the Curzon Soho. After an initial sound error the event went well, seamlessly integrating clips of all of Park’s film into the discussion. However I feel that the organisers had not anticipated the extra time needed to accommodate translation. Consequently the last ten minutes of the film in which Park discussed his new film were rushed and there was only time for audience member question. This was unfortunate as the discussion was very interesting, a lot of people had attended to hear about his new film and many audience members had questions. I hope that the Curzon allows more time for such events in the future.

The Interviewer’s first question regarded what drew Park to film, mentioning the importance of the film Vertigo. Park reveals that he first saw Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller when studying philosophy. It was a terrible VHS copy but watching Jimmy Stewart pursuing the mysterious Kim Novak through San Francisco had a strong impact on Park. The next time he saw the film was at a special screening where he met his wife. Clearly the cinema has been generous to him.

His two early films were moved past fairly quickly, they weren’t even named. One interesting story from this time did emerge though. The interviewer asked Park if it is true that he once reviewed his own film. Park laughed and revealed that his early films were so small that they had not been reviewed. So when a friend told him that he was due to review one of them and did Park want to do it for him, Park agreed. He positively reviewed one of his own films under the friend’s name describing himself as a “visionary director”. Park explained that even having a bad review is better than no reviews at all. His openness and good humour when speaking about this potentially embarrassing story

joint-security-area-switched-hatsThe interviewer had clearly done an impressive amount of research. His next question involved a quote that Park had given saying that only tough guys make films. He explained that he felt it required a tremendous amount of will to make a film and that he felt nice people would be unable to command the necessary authority. This naturally led to the production of his first big film, the film that won him international acclaim, Joint-Security Area. The film explores a friendship between two South Korean soldiers guarding the Joint-Security Area and their North Korean counterparts.

Park explained that as a child he and the rest of his school were required to take part in a competition to a draw a North Korean in the most unflattering way possible. Pictures of North Koreans as animals or demons would be given the greatest prizes. The goal was to convince children not to think of the North Koreans as human beings. Park however retained his perspective and he remarked that it was a travesty that both his country and North Korea had to pour huge amounts of money into defence against each other when the money could be spent addressing the real problem facing both countries, poverty.

Park believed he may be arrested for making his film, but remarkably the film was released to huge critical acclaim and commercial success, becoming the highest grossing film in Korea ever. The film also won Park international attention which allowed him to make his next film, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, the first film in his “vengeance trilogy”.

After watching a clip of the stylish and moving revenge thriller, the interviewer asked Park about his use of the colour green. An abstract question, but Park’s answer was very revealing. He explained that most people attribute the colour green to positive elements like wealth, vitality, the eco movement. However for Park, green evokes decay and death. He consequently likes to surround his more fated characters with this colour as a form of foreboding.

oldboyIt then came time to discuss my favourite film. The famous corridor scene was shown. It was wonderful to see this sequence on the big screen again but I would have liked to have seen something bespeaking the film’s greater emotional value. I would have chosen the sequence in which Mido talks to Oh-Dae Su about his hallucinations and a flashback reveals her own experience of solitude. In fact, had there been time, I would have liked to have asked how Park feels about how the discourse around his film tends to focus on sex and violence. Personally I’ve always felt that the kinky sex and graphic violence acts as a deterrent for the more closed minded. Those with the fortitude to look past these elements are then able to appreciate the films true gifts.

im-a-cyborg-but-its-okPark recalled the experience of attending the premier of the film at the Cannes film festival. He attended the festival with his family, including his young daughter. The family walked the red carpet but before entering the screening, his daughter had to be taken away as she was too young to watch the film. This experience, coupled with the fact that his daughter’s favourite movie was Pirates of the Caribbean, motivated him to make “I’m a cyborg, and that’s ok” a film about a woman who believes herself to be a robot. She is admitted to hospital where she meets a man who is convinced people are trying to steal his emotions. The interviewer pointed out that even though this is Park’s only outright comedy, it does still contain a sequence in which the main character imagines herself gunning down all of her fellow inmates. Laughing at this amicably, Park reveals that his daughter nevertheless enjoyed the film.

In discussing Park’s vampire film, Thirst, we learned about Park’s experience of Catholicism. He was an avid churchgoer as a child and a very good student within the church. Then one day his priest visited his house and told his mother that he should be sent to the seminary, as he could well be the next bishop. He promptly stopped going to church. He also told us how his wife had dated a man just before Park who had left her to enter the priesthood. This clearly inspired Thirst, which focuses on a catholic priest who leaves the priesthood to explore a sexual relationship with a woman. He also happens to contract vampirism whilst doing missionary work.

mia_wasikowska_matthew_goode_piano_a_lThere was a brief opportunity to discuss Park’s only American production, Stoker. I consider this to be the weakest film in his filmography, but nevertheless contains many of the finer qualities of his best works. The clip selected from the film was one free of dialogue. This, I felt, removed one of the greater weaknesses of the film and allowed me to appreciate the truly wonderful composition of shots. The scene features Mia Wasikowska playing at the piano. As she plays she is joined by a man claiming to be her uncle, to whom she is clearly attracted. As the tempo and shot length tighten, the tension is expertly escalated.

There was very little time left to discuss Park’s most recent film, The Handmaiden. This is a great shame as this was my favourite film of the festival and I was eager to hear him talk about it. I was also curious to hear more about Park’s unusual writing method. Apparently he wrote the Handmaiden with his writing partner, each using a keyboard connected to the same computer. This must require a tremendous bond between them.

Park continues to direct visually stunning and thought provoking works. Hearing him discuss his craft and process was invaluable. I hope at some point to hear him talk again, hopefully without the abrupt end.



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