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INTERVIEWS about Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Park Chan-wook and the Weight of Expectation
A few days short of the debut of “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” the much-hyped
third and final installment of his revenge trilogy, Park Chan-wook is afraid.
This prodigy of Korean film, a man with so much confidence he is often perceived
as arrogant, recently told the Chosun Ilbo of the strain the “excessive” expectation
the film has aroused is putting him under.
It’s natural that opinions will differ about a film by any skilled director,
but if people criticize you even in online comments, it feels like they are
being buried. The expectations really are tremendous.
Normally, I’d be delighted and tell you that it’s the kind of marketing
money can’t buy, but to be frank, the expectations are burdensome. And I don’t
read the Internet. Especially since people disappointed by ‘Sympathy for Mr.
Vengeance’ said they would punish me.
It seems you issued a gag order to your entire staff. Nothing is known
about the film other than what we’ve seen in the two-minute trailer.
No matter what the film, even if I do a romantic flick in the future,
I don’t want to release the scenario ahead of time. I will use this time to
reveal some for the first time. There will be none of the reversals that you
saw in ‘Oldboy.’ Somebody seems to be starting a rumor that Lee Yeong-ae disembowels
someone to get revenge, but this is nonsense. We are trying not to give people
false expectations. In marketing as well, we’ve been talked about a ‘no surprise’
They say you cast Lee Yeong-ae because she’s good at seeming frail...
In her acting career, Young-ae’s been at her strongest in the TV drama
‘Daejanggeum (A Jewel in the Palace)’ I can assure you that ‘Sympathy for Lady
Vengeance' will show her at her poorest and frailest. When the film ends, the
feeling most people will have for Lee Yeong-ae will be pity.”
This is the final film in your revenge trilogy. If “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”
was cold but “Oldboy” hot, what is this one?
How about cool? Perhaps this could cause misunderstandings. The film changes
direction about two-thirds of the way in due to an unforseen occurance. It
would be correct to say it begins coolly and ends hot. There are no extreme
mood swings in the film.”
Watching the trilogy, I thought perhaps it allows viewers vicariously
to experience the revenge of the middle class. What do you think, personally?
Is there some concrete personal or social matter you wish you could avenge?
Not now, but right before I did ‘JSA,’ I fell into a trap. A senior of
mine I liked said my film idea was stolen from him. So he plagued me in this
way and that and lied to people in the film industry. I felt I wanted to kill
him. But about other things, well, I enjoy many things now, so no.”
Then there’s this view that “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” should become
the standard by which Park Chan-wook is really evaluated. They say “JSA” owed
a lot to Myung Film’s editing, while “Oldboy” was based on a Japanese comic
If ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance' makes it, those people will say it was
thanks to Lee Yeong-ae of ‘Daejanggeum.’ Of course, JSA was helped by Myung
Film’s outstanding production system, and it’s true that the original ‘Oldboy’
comic book had its strong points.
Some point out that now, there are too many “Park Chan-wook”-style directors
in the Korean film world. It seems there are too many directors trying at the
same time to be individual as a writer and successful at the box office.
That’s what a director does. But if everyone is like that in commercial
films that require lots of money, it’s a problem. So production companies and
producers need to restrain directors. The pure production costs of ‘Sympathy
for Lady Vengeance’ just exceeded W4 billion (US$400 million), so I’m somewhat
regretful. I wish I could have kept the costs down.
For the last two to three years, all sectors of the film world except
theaters themselves have been taking losses. In this kind of situation, tensions
between production companies, management and stars have grown bitter. What
do you think the solution is?
Frankly, it’s a difficult issue. Let’s try this. The best way is for production
companies to stop accepting the unreasonable demands that are being made by
stars and management companies. Of course, that’s not easy.
They say your next film will deal with either the People's Revolutionary
Party incident of 1974, where innocent people were hanged on trumped-up charges
by the Park Chung-hee regime, or vampires.
I’ve decided to put off a film about the People's Revolutionary Party
incident because of what happened with ‘The President’s Last Bang’ [a movie
based on Park Chung-hee’s assassination]. I’d rather go to jail than release
a film that’s been cut. But once you’ve made it, it’s also hard to refuse cuts
because it’s not just your film. Anyway, I’m going to make a high-definition
film paid for by CJ Entertainment. It’s the story of a young girl in a mental
hospital who believes she’s a cyborg. Its tentative title is, ‘I’m a Cyborg,
but It’s OK.’ After that, I’ll do a vampire movie.
INTERVIEWS about OLD BOY
"Old Boy – New Talent"
Chan-wook Park interview
Director Chan-wook Park made his feature debut in 1992 with The Moon Is The Sun’s
Dream. Quickly building a popular following in his native South Korea, the
41 year old began to gain an international reputation for his work. JSA: Joint
Security Area (2000), Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002) and now Oldboy (2003)
all playing at prestigious international film festivals.
Oldboy won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes this year, and tells the tale
of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) who is held prisoner for 15 years by the mysterious
Lee Woo-jin. Upon being suddenly released he resolves upon his release to find
out why he was held captive, and to take his revenge. Matt Arnoldi gets the
MA: In Oldboy you return to the theme of revenge that you explored so
memorably in Sympathy For Mr Vengeance. Why this fascination?
“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.”
MA: Do you, as the director of the film, identify with any of the characters
more than any others?
“Woo-jin is almost like a film director and scriptwriter and an actor
at the same time. So I made this film and gave the role to Woo-jin with this
in mind. This was edited out of the final film, but there was a scene in which
Woo-jin practices his duel with Oh Dae-su in the final countdown. We shot a
scene where Woo-jin practices his speech, practices what to say in this version
and that version. In reality when someone speaks to somebody else, sometimes
they stutter and sometimes it pours forth, and sometimes they have to think
what to say next. But when I directed that scene I asked Woo-jin to do it exactly
as written. Woo-jin in this film is an actor, but also a film director who
controls the life of Oh Dae-su to the finest detail. Through this film I’m
expressing the God-like nature of a film director, which makes the revenge
against Woo-jin an act of rebellion against God.”
MA: There is a very careful and considered design element to the film,
“Sympathy For Mr Vengeance was rather minimalistic and dry, so I wanted
to make something more stylish with this. So with the pattern on the wallpaper,
for instance, I wanted to give the feeling of imprisonment, of claustrophobia,
so that even when he’s released and when he walks about the streets it follows
him all the time. The personal belongings of Woo-jin came about because I wanted
to keep the image of fragments of a mirror, broken shards. Through music I
wanted to express a vortex of emotion, in a waltz style. I wanted to express
the idea of the characters going round and round.”
MA: Isn’t the story based on a Japanese manga?
“I’d heard that, but I only actually read it when a producer suggested
I make this film. Actually nothing remains of the manga in the final film except
for a particular characteristic in the storyline. In most other stories the
perpetrator runs away and disappears, but in this story the perpetrator appears
before the victim. He practically invites the victim to come to him. That element
remains strongly in my film. I even tried to enhance it.”
MA: Do you ever worry about going too far in your depictions of violence,
especially in scenes of tooth extraction, or a tongue being cut out?
“I didn’t show any of that on screen, I never showed the tongue being
cut out either, the camera moves from the eye to the hand, to the closing of
the hand – that’s as far as I would go. Most people imagine that they’ve seen
it, because when the camera moves from the eye to the hand they’re watching
it through their fingers, and they think they’ve seen something. So I’m accused
MA: Is that part of the fun of it, manipulating audience emotion in that
“It’s more interesting to me to pull away from the scene, showing other
parts of the body, expressing it through a sound effect. That interests me
MA: Do your films attract criticism back home for the violence they contain?
“There is some criticism from religious groups. We have leniency for expressing
violence, because we’ve gone through a period in which violence was all too
familiar under our military dictatorship.”
MA: Oldboy is already being prepared for its American remake – is there
anything you would particularly like preserved from your own film?
“When I bought the rights to make this film there were no strings attached,
I had complete freedom so there’s nothing the remake has to take from my film.
I want to give them the same freedom.”
MA: You cast Gang Hye-jung in the crucial role of Mido, in only her second
film. What was it about her that appealed?
“That was important, the reason being that if I had cast a well known
actress for that role people would immediately be curious about the relationship
between Choi Min-sik and this actress. But their true relationship has to be
hidden. And also there is a lovemaking scene, which famous actresses in Korea
don’t like to do. Even if I had wanted to cast someone more famous no-one would
have done it.”
MA: Is humour an important element in these films for you?
“It’s very important to me, but it goes hand in hand with fear and sadness.
I don’t mean as a flip flop of humour and sadness or humour and fear, but they
do go together. What I hoped for was that the more frightening it was the funnier
it would get.”
MA: The emotions of horror and humour are actually quite similar, aren’t
“It’s one thing being a particular genre with these two elements, as we
live our everyday lives and we go through sadness and feel frightened it’s
serious to us. But if somebody else looks at it he might spot a funny side
to it. In the editing suite, when we’re we editing a scene where an actor or
an actress cries or is in great distress, if you freeze the frame sometimes
it looks as though they’re laughing.”
MA: So does that suggest the film really comes together for you in the
initial design or in the editing suite?
“It is in the blueprint from the moment I write the first line, because
that’s the purpose of the film.”
MA: And now you’re working on another film with vengeance as the theme,
“The third film in the trilogy will be about a character who longs for
salvation and atonement rather than anger, vengeance and violence.”
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: After graduating from Sogang University with a degree in
philosophy, Park Chan-wook began his career as a movie critic before becoming
an assistant director in 1988 on "Kkamdong" and
then making his directorial debut in 1992 with "Moon Is ... Sun's Dream." But Park's name really took off in 2000 with "Joint Security Area: JSA," a mystery-thriller about North and South Korean border guards along the Demilitarized
Zone that became the highest-grossing film ever in Korea at the time. Park
followed that up with "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," a much darker film about a kidnapping that goes horribly wrong and a father
looking for revenge. "Vengeance" won much critical praise but performed poorly at the boxoffice. His most recent
film, "Old Boy," finally pulled together critical and commercial success with its rich, twisted
tale of a man who finds himself suddenly abducted and imprisoned for 15 years
without any explanation. When he finally is freed, he is left to try to discover
who jailed him and why. Park spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Korea correspondent
The Hollywood Reporter: What was your reaction to "Old
Boy" being selected for Cannes?
Park Chan-Wook: It greatly surprised me. Many selections in that festival are
screened Out of Competition. The fact that I was asked to go straight to the
competing category even though I was never even invited for the Out of Competition
section was something I never dreamed of. A friend of mine joked, "That's
like being accepted into college without an elementary or junior high school
THR: What was the biggest factor in your becoming a director? Influences?
Park: Originally, I intended to become an art critic. That was the reason why
I majored in philosophy, so I could study aesthetics in depth. But the philosophy
department at Sogang University, where I entered, was a citadel of English
analytical philosophy at that time. For four years, they offered only one
course in aesthetics. Naturally, I was unable to settle in to my major, and
after roving around aimlessly for a while, I joined a photography club and
started engrossing myself in photos. Then one day, I saw Hitchcock's "Vertigo." During
the movie, I found myself screaming in my head, "If I don't at least try to become a movie director, I will seriously regret it
when I'm lying in my deathbed!" After that, akin to James Stewart when he was blindly chasing after some mysterious
woman, I searched aimlessly for some kind of irrational beauty. It is clear
that Hitchcock's movie had a great impact on me at the beginning. Now, however,
the influences that keep spurring me on are people like Sophocles, Shakespeare,
Kafka, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Zola, Stendhal, Austin, Philip K. Dick, Zelazny
THR: Whereas "JSA" had incredible
commercial success, "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" enjoyed much critical acclaim. "Old Boy" was able to generate both commercial success and critical praise. How do you
feel about this?
Park: Many people tend to differentiate starkly between commercially successful
or nonsuccessful movies, but the simple truth is merely that people have differing
tastes about what kind of movies they like or don't. The audience seems hazy
to me, shrouded in a veil through which I can't see. They are not real, not
concrete. So I chose one person to be my sole audience, representing all the
audiences out there. That person is my wife. From the scriptwriting and the
editing process all the way to deciding on the music, I discuss everything
with her thoroughly in detail. She is a normal housewife with an incredible
eye who constantly offers me much advice and help.
THR: Between Cannes and being selected by aintitcool.com as the best film
of 2003 (Harry Knowles wrote that), what came as more of a shock?
Park: Definitely the latter. For Cannes, we sent them an application form,
but for aintitcool.com, they sought out my movie, saw it and selected it. I
am just surprised and thankful that they praise my movies so much, though none
of them has even been screened in America.
THR: Future plans?
Park: Currently, we are in the process of working on "Three,
Monster," a project involving three Asian countries. It is due for release in August.
Miike Takashi and Fruit Chan are with me on this project. My episode lasts
for about 45 minutes. In November, I will be working on a new feature. The
only thing I have decided on is the movie's title, which will be "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance." Following "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Old Boy," this will be the concluding chapter in my "Vengeance" trilogy and will feature a woman in her mid-30s mercilessly dealing with vengeance.
It will have a story consisting of a sharply contrasting variation from the
kidnapping motif in "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and the imprisonment motif of "Old Boy." I am planning to write the script in a hotel in Cannes. Following that, I am
planning to start shooting "Live Evil," a movie involving vampires, at the end of next year.
THR: What's your opinion of Korean directors and the production process
of today? What do you think is the most important thing needed for today's
Korean movie industry?
Park: The problem with distribution is severe. Since the fixation of the wide-release
structure in Korean movies, the situation where one film dominates over one-third
of all the screens in the country keeps recurring. Movies that are unable to
generate huge commercial interest within the first week of release disappear
in the opening week or the next. Because of this, audiences who are searching
for European or Asian movies, American independent films, Korean art films,
documentaries or animation flicks can no longer watch what they want to (unless
they are really, really quick on their feet). This is the shadow underlying
the era of "10
million viewers." In talking about the movies themselves, I still believe we have a long way to
go. We still haven't been able to produce a virtuoso such as Kurosawa or Ozu,
and we still lack the explosive character of the fifth-generation Chinese directors
who vied with each other in putting forth such great works as "Yellow Earth" and "Red Sorghum." However, the fact that a multitude of directors with limitless potential are
currently working in the industry, that they are working tirelessly, that they
are still young, that they are not overshadowed by an overly charismatic senior
figure, that they are not isolated from the audience, that there are many artistically
motivated producers and that there is a continuous flow of capital going to
competent directors are several factors that allow us to view favorably the
Korean movie industry and its positive future.
THR: How do you formulate your ideas?
Park:The plotting of my movies is done in an instant. The entire outline for "Three,
Monster" was formulated in one cigarette. After I come up with the basic gist of the
outline, I try to write down the rough draft of the scenario as quickly as
I can. Though I might have to resort to briefly course through the more difficult
scenes at times, it's important that I finish the draft as quickly as I possibly
can. I finished the draft for "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" in just 20 hours. Afterwards, the scenario undergoes some major reworking for
several months. "JSA" was worked on for some six months. In other words, I plan out the outline with
the speed of a jet, write out the draft with the speed of a sports car and
retouch the script like an afternoon walk.
THR: The theme of vengeance recurs in your films. Any particular reason?
Park: With the development of civilization and the rise in education levels,
people have had to hide their rage, hate and grudges deep within them. But
this does not mean that these emotions go away. As relationships become more
and more intricate, the rage only grows more and more. While modern society
is burdening the individual with a growing sense of rage, the outlets through
which people can release their rage are becoming narrower. This is an unhealthy
situation, and it's probably why art exists. In reality, however, the vengeances
represented in my movies are not actual vengeances. They are merely the transferring
of a guilty conscience. My films are stories of people who place the blame
for their actions on others because they refuse to take on the blame themselves.
Therefore, rather than movies purporting to be of revenge, it would be more
accurate to see my films as ones stressing morality, with guilty consciences
as the core subject matter. The constantly recurring theme is the guilty
they are always conscious of and obsessed with their wrongdoings, which are
committed because they are inherently unavoidable in life, my characters
are fundamentally good people. The fact that people have to resort to another
type of violence in order to subjugate their initial guilty consciences is
the most basic quality of tragedy characteristic in my movies thus far.