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BSS 2013: Park Chan-wook stokes interest

Ahead of his Big Screen Symposium appearances, we caught up with Stoker director PARK Chan-wook and co-producer JEONG Wonjo to talk about what they’ll be packing for their trip.

Park’s Stoker has its NZ release the week following the BSS (15 August), although delegates can get a sneak peek the Friday evening before the weekend event, courtesy of a special BSS screening at the Academy.

Park shared that his directing workshop will focus largely on a dissection of two scenes, one from Stoker, one from his Cannes-awarded Oldboy. He proposes to explore and explain how sequences were planned and executed, and focus on the specifics of the choices made – from script to post – in creating the scenes.

He promised the session would have a very practical shot-by-shot focus, rather than being a broad analysis of his work. The detail will no doubt offer some broader perspectives, however, as Park has acknowledged in other interviews that sometimes the rationale for a decision only becomes apparent after the fact. At the time, “it just feels right.”

Stoker trailer

Discussing his first foray into English language filmmaking with Stoker, Park explained some of the differences he came across moving from Korea to the US. Obviously leaving behind the “family” of regular cast and crew collaborators and working in English were important issues, with co-producer Jeong worked as an interpreter on the title.

In Korea, Park’s status allows him a considerable amount of freedom when making films. Since his 2000 JSA: Joint Security Area, which took Korea’s all-time box office record (from Kang Je-gyu’s Shiri), he’s been able to drive his own projects.

Internationally he’s best known for his ‘revenge trilogy’ of Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and (Sympathy for) Lady Vengeance (2005), all of which performed strongly at the Korean box office and won awards on the international festival circuit.

Oldboy is currently receiving an English-language remake in the US, directed by Spike Lee. Park’s trilogy recently took out top spot in Modern Korean Cinema’s ‘Revenge Week’ series, which looked at the much-explored theme of vengeance in Korean cinema.

Park’s also made one comedy (I’m A Cyborg), so his daughter could see one of his films, and vampire film Thirst which, like his other titles, is definitely not family-friendly viewing.

Park had been considering an English language for some time before accepting Stoker. He passed on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the remake of Evil Dead. A fan of the latter in its original release, he modestly claimed to have turned it down because he “wasn’t sure he would do a better job”.

Remakes or franchise sequels are often ways into the US system for directors who catch studios’ eyes, especially those from non-English speaking territories. While Stoker isn’t a straight remake, it pays considerable homage to Hithcock’s 1943 Shadow of a Doubt.

This was fine by Park, who credits Hitchcock’s work at the reason he wanted to become a filmmaker in the first place. He did try to pull back on some of the Hitchcock references in the original script, citing Hitchcock’s “very deep footprints” as a path he didn’t wish to copy. But, when he got to the end of the film, he realised he’d introduced a bunch of other Hitchcock references himself!

On Stoker Park spent more time than usual in rehearsals with actors, in part to allow for the slower process of working through an interpreter, in part because US pre-production and production schedules were tighter than those he was used to in Korea.

Park used his longtime DP, Chung-hoon CHUNG, who’s shot all Park’s features from Oldboy on. In contrast with the shorter pre- and production periods, Park had considerably longer in post in the US than is customary in Korea.

Stoker’s running length (98 minutes) is 20 minutes shorter than the version the director wanted to deliver, which marked another difference between the two countries’ industries. Park’s clout would have allowed him to deliver 118 minutes in Korea.

While there were obvious differences of opinion leading to the shortened version, Park accepted that the studio representatives were trying to deliver their vision of the film, just as he was. Of the studio’s opinions, he told a Guardian interviewer, “At least they didn’t make any nonsensical remarks.”

In and amongst the post and release of Stoker, which premiered at Sundance and has now had festival or wider releases in 40 countries, Park’s also returned to producing.

Having produced a number of his own shorts and features I’m A Cyborg and Thirst, he’s producing Joon-ho BONG’s English-language debut Snowpiercer, a sci-fi adapted from Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s comic-book Le Transperceneige, which opens in Korea a week ahead of Park’s trip to NZ.

Snowpiercer trailer

Bong’s previous work includes 2009 thriller Mother, which collected a huge number of awards, and The Host, which surpassed Park’s JSA as Korea’s most popular box office title.

Park’s other BSS session will be an In Conversation session, which he hopes will cover much wider ground than his directing session. Park is a noted cinephile, who worked as a critic before becoming a director (and famously used a pseudonym to review Moon is the Sun’s Dream, his own 1992 debut feature).

His co-producer Jeong will travel to BSS with Park, acting as interpretor for some of Park’s sessions. Jeong grew up in NZ, training as a lawyer. Jeong worked on Bong’s The Host in Wellington, where some of the effects were developed with Weta, having previously worked on the NZ shoot for the 2005 Korean feature Antartic Journal (which was co-written by Bong).

Entertainment specialists Stephens Law did the legal work on Antartic Journal. Principal Michael Stephens and Jeong will present a session on working with Korea at the BSS.

The Big Screen Symposium runs 10 – 11 August in Auckland.

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