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A Conversation with Park Chan-Wook
A Review by Scott Lefebvre / Pictures by Josh Gravel (7/07)

As some of you may know, Josh and I have a habit of gate-crashing media events that were clearly not intended for our attendance.

Two years ago, we gate-crashed the Brown University Ivy League Film Festival. Wes Craven was a featured guest and we attended his presentation, and Q & A session which was intended for Brown University film students.

This year, Korean Director Park Chan-Wook was a featured guest. Josh, with his uncanny ability to find out about unique opportunities such as this, alerted me that we had plans this Friday the 13th.

Many of you know Park Chan-Wook from his popular "Vengeance Trilogy". The trilogy is comprised of 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' (2002); 'Oldboy' (2003); and 'Sympathy for Lady Vengeance' (2005). All three titles have been released in America on Tartan. [www.tartanfilmsusa.com]

Park Chan-Wook's films are known for their violent and humorous themes and startlingly beautiful and innovative cinematography. His films are representative of a contemporary trend in Korean films, many of which are receiving international acclaim for their originality of vision and aforementioned cinematography.

The event began with an introduction by the event moderators, and a screening of a clip from 'Oldboy' via DVD projection. The moderator then introduced Park Chan-Wook and presented the director with an award that looked like a modernist interpretation of an ice bucket from a 50's era cocktail set. It was satisfying, but not surprising to recognize the name of Alejandro Jodorowsky standing out from the director's acceptance speech, which was in his native Korean. The translator related the director's account of meeting Jodorowsky in Korea, where the world-renown surrealist director read Park Chan-Wook's tarot cards, foretelling that an era in the director's life had ended, and a new era had begun.

Park Chan-Wook interpreted this as meaning that the era of his film-making most prominently exemplified by his vengeance trilogy had come to and end, and the new era in Chan-Wook's life as a film director would move in a different direction, perhaps exemplified by his romantic comedy "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK" (2006).

The event moderator then announced there would be a moderated Q & A followed by an open Q & A for the audience. The moderator had prepared a fairly wide variety of questions, many of which anticipated questions which would commonly be asked by attendees of this type of event.

In preparation for attending the event, I had read several interviews with the director to avoid asking questions which I could find the answers to elsewhere, or asking questions that had been asked a thousand times.

In the available interviews, Park Chan-Wook had discussed the themes of vengeance, violence, and revenge which are the common thread of the Vengeance Trilogy. An exemplary response to this question, being, "When I'm insulted I cannot vent my anger in front of people, and the anger has been accumulating in me, so I wanted to express that through cinema. But if I wanted to express this to my complete satisfaction, to make violence within a good film then it gives me a feeling of guilt. At the same time I have to express the dark side of an act of violent vengeance, even if the revenge is for a good reason."


Knowing that the director had previously and repeatedly answered questions about the themes connecting the films in his vengeance trilogy, I used this opportunity to ask the director, through his translator, about the stylistic cinematography of the films.

The director had mentioned Alfred Hitchcock, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and David Cronenberg in responses to other questions from the audience. Knowing this, I asked the director which directors or films, in addition to these had helped to inspire his striking cinematography.

The translator pared down my multi-faceted question down to one sentence, probably something along the lines of, "What films or directors have inspired the look of your films?"

The director replied that he intentionally avoids referencing the visual styles of film-makers whose work he is passionate about. In fact, if he finds himself inadvertently emulating a cinematic style, he makes a conscious attempt to try to approach the scene from a unique perspective cinematographically. The director further said that he finds inspiration for the visual presentation of his ideas from literary influences, specifically mentioning Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist who often portrayed characters living in poor conditions with equally disparate and troubled states of mind. Themes which also permeate the Korean director's Vengeance Trilogy.
The director was quickly ushered offstage when the Q & A was over. The moderator promised that the director would be appearing in the lobby to meet attendees of the presentation. The director did briefly appear at the entrance to the auditorium, signing DVD covers and programs for the presentation.

Josh has a unique kind of luck when it comes to getting quality time with celebrities he wants to meet. His girlfriend stepped outside with our friend Alyson, and Josh accompanied them while I made a pit stop. Of course, the director was waiting on the sidewalk for his ride, accompanied by the event moderator and his interpreter. Josh politely introduced himself, and was able to get the director to sign the poster for Tartan's American release of 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance'. The director expressed his surprise and pleasure to see an American promotional poster for his film and, after signing the poster, was escorted to the waiting car by the moderator and his translator.


We'd like to thank the Brown University Ivy League Film Festival for presenting us townies with another opportunity to meet a director we respect and admire, and we look forward to seeing what they have to offer next year. [http://www.ivyfilmfestival.com]


Brief Synopses of the films in the Vengeance Trilogy:

THE VENGEANCE TRILOGY:

'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' (2002)
A beautifully startling combination of believable violence, quirky humor, and creative cinematography, 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' is the fist film of the Vengeance Trilogy and the story of a deaf man, his sister who needs a kidney, his girlfriend who is a student radical, and their plot to obtain a kidney. The plot accidentally goes awry, throwing the deaf man together with his former employer in an exciting and thought-provoking exploration of vengeance, justice, family, and class.
'Oldboy' (2003)
In the second film of the Vengeance Trilogy, a man is imprisoned for fifteen years, finding that after his release he is still trapped in a carefully laid plot designed specifically for him. Featuring a continuation and expansion upon the beautifully innovative cinematography and stylistic violence of the first film of the trilogy this film continues the director's exploration of the themes of justice, revenge, and the enduring effect of a careless rumor.
'Sympathy for Lady Vengeance' (2005)
The final film of the Vengeance Trilogy, this film is the most complex in plot, with a miscellany of plot threads which at first seem unrelated, eventually uniting in a beautiful synchronicity, revealing the director's ability to simultaneously develop several themes through different characters in a symphony of character development, continuing the director's exploration of the themes of vengeance, justice, family, and patience. An exemplary, picture perfect, exploration of the figure of speech, "Revenge is a dish best served cold.", Sympathy for Lady Vengeance sheds more blood in its conclusion, and more believably and tastefully than any of the many films exemplary of America's trend toward major studio funded, re-make frenzied, PG-13 edited "suspense-thrillers".

OLDBOY - Corridor Fight Scene

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