INT: Park Chanwook

Lucky me! I got a chance to talk with director Park Chanwook (OLDBOY, SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE), and while we had to use a translator, the man's love and knowledge of film came across crystal clear. He was ostensibly promoting horror anthology THREE EXTREMES (comes out on DVD today!), in which his chapter entitled Cut deals with a woe is me extra who takes a film director hostage, but he was also totally open to talking about all of his work. Great guy, so read on to get to know him better.

Hi, how are you today?

Very good. Thank you.

To start with, what was it that drew you to filmmaking originally?

Well I wanted to study film at University, and I was always on the verge of filmmaking - taking photographs, writing critiques. So I decided to become a film director after watching Vertigo.

In much of your work there is a strong theme of violent retribution. Is there anyone from your past who should be scared about that?

[laughs] No one should be scared. I've been living a fairly even, uneventful life, so there's nothing dramatic in my life. Even if there is somebody who should be scared, I have vented all my anger through making these films so he should no longer be scared.

[interviewer note: Somebody better thank his lucky f*cking stars that Park Chanwook got into filmmaking]

There have been reports that Sam Raimi approached you about directing a remake of Evil Dead, but you turned it down. Did you consider the offer at all, or were you completely uninterested in it?

Firstly I'd like to say that there was a mutual consent that the offer should be kept in strict confidence, and I'd like to say that I'm innocent. This leak, I've told nobody about this. I think it was someone in Hollywood.

That said, I was very glad when I got this offer because I like the director and the film very much. So I considered it seriously for a few days, but then I decided that it would be foolish for me to do a remake of such a brilliant film.

Speaking of remakes, how do you feel about the possible U.S. remake of OldBoy?

I hope the remake will be a complete rebirth. So that it is not just the same film with different actors in another language, but something new. Because if it's the same then I don't want to watch it.

I'm very interested in actors, so I'm eager to learn who will be starring in the remake.

Nicholas Cage has been mentioned. Are there any actors that you would like to see in the lead?

Nicholas Cage is a great actor. So is Russell Crowe. But the actor who is closest in resemblance in my opinion would be Sean Penn.

In regards to the Three Extremes anthology, your story Cut obviously begs the question of inspiration. Since you said your life has been relatively undramatic, I presume that you haven't actually been held hostage by an extra.

I really don't know where the inspiration came from. I just made up the story one day. Originally, the story was not about a film director. It was about a lawyer, and a cleaner who worked in his office building.

It changed because of economic reasons. I just didn't have the money to build two separate sets. The filming set in Cut is like the director's own home. So I didn't have to build two separate sets. That's why the profession of the main character changed from lawyer to film director.

Quentin Tarantino is an avowed fan of yours. Have you had any contact with him since OldBoy won the Jury Prize at Cannes, and is there any chance you two might work together in the future?

I happened to bump into him at the Venice Film Festival, and when we bumped into each other we had a good conversation. That's it.

With Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, you took a turn toward a less linear story structure that gave the film a dream like feel. Was that a specific choice for the movie, or is that the direction you feel your filmmaking is going?

The reason behind the non-linear structure of the film is because Lee Yeong Ae is very famous, not only in Korea but throughout Asia. Her image is an archetypal image of purity, and goodness, and kindness. The non-linear construction was necessary to make it interesting. To juxtapose the contradiction of very different images of her that I wanted to project.

So which of the three films in the Vengeance trilogy is your personal favorite?

There's a Korean saying that if you bite 10 fingers then every finger aches. The saying is about the parents, when they are asked which is their favorite child. You just can't answer that. I care about all the films I make, and I have many. I am humbled that I have been able to make them.

What projects are you working on now?

At the moment I'm working on my next film titled I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK. And we're going to start shooting at the end of March. The film after that is called Evil Lives.

That's a vampire movie, right?


What's the plot of Evil Lives?

I'm working on the screenplay right now, so it's difficult to say at this stage.

Can you give us any hints?

The main character is the one who played the father in Mr. Vengeance. And The Devil actually appears in the film. It's not a character who acts devilish, but the actual Devil.

Since your films have at times been criticized for their violence, what are your thoughts on a director's responsibility to his audience when it comes to questions of violence and other extreme content issues?

I think in order to ask a moral question seriously, then a degree of brutality is required. If it is to be conveyed in an honest and real way. For example, in Crime And Punishment by Dostoevsky, the murder scene - however violent and brutal it may seem - it is necessary to ask a very moral question.

Unfortunately at this point we had to end the interview abruptly (the moderator was supposed to give us a five minute heads up, but things don't always go according to plan). Despite the lack of a smooth wrap-up however, it was a blast chatting with Park Chanwook. I've no doubt, even working through a translator, that any conversation about film with this man is one that all real fans would love to have.

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