At the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Park Chan-wook won the Best Director award for ‘Decision To Leave’ starring Wei Tang and Hae-il Park, which was his third award at Cannes after ‘Oldeuboi’ (Grand Jury Prize) and ‘Thirst’ (Jury Prize), and his It was also his fourth time in Cannes.
The film topped the Cannes Film Festival’s ‘Screen’ section with a performance of 3.2 out of 4, and was the only film to break 3 points at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. With word of mouth and the Grand Prix, Park Chan-wook has given Korean films another accolade on the international stage.
From ‘Joint Security Area’, which officially came into the public eye, to ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’, ‘Oldeuboi’ and ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’, the “revenge trilogy”; from the dazzling and crazy ‘ I’m a Cyborg’ Thirst, ‘Stoker’, the first English-language film, ‘The Handmaiden’, which was nominated for the main competition in Cannes, and ‘Decision To Leave’, which was honored at Cannes this year, Park Chan-wook’s every film has aroused the curiosity of movie fans.
In a way, his “new works” are always elusive, because he never plays by the rules, so any expectation of the fans may be “disappointed”. To make up for it, there is always a completely unfamiliar thrill and an unprecedented experience. As he once wrote at the beginning of his essay collection ‘Park’s Montage’: First is individuality, second is individuality, and only individuality is more important than anything else.
Park Chan-wook is aware of the homogeneous nature of commercial genre films, and the pursuit of individuality has become his bottom line and a rule of thumb. In the Korean film industry, people call him “the darkest guy”, a film adventurer who is “bent on the path of alternative”.
Park Chan-wook’s cult style is unique among Korean directors, and he is one of the heavyweight directors in the world cinema after the emergence of the Korean classification system. His works are evil, violent and often contain the warmth of humanity; he studied philosophy, he is concerned about society and philosopher’s love; he subverts tradition and carries it forward ……
The 27-year-old directorial debut, a film that proves it’s not good to start too early
Park Chan-wook grew up with a strong art culture from early childhood to young adulthood. With a father who was an architecture major and a grandfather who collected paintings and calligraphy, Park Chan-wook and his younger brother Park Chan-wook both grew up with a love of painting and a natural desire to pursue a career in art. But in addition to art, he also has a deep knowledge of literature and humanities, and it is easy to see how this is reflected in the films he directed later.
As a video worker, Park Chan-wook has confessed that he spends more time reading books than watching movies. The nourishment and inspiration he needs to work on his films come from books. At Park Chan-wook’s home, he has a library of books that he and his family love, categorized by keywords. The most popular are books on humanities, literature, history and, of course, his favorite comics.
Park Chan-wook, who was always attracted to grotesque and surreal paintings, as well as strange stories, slowly became aware of his own preferences and began to envision a career as a film director in high school. However, he did not choose to major in film when he enrolled in college.” I don’t think anyone can be a film director, you have to have strong leadership skills and be passionate, and I’m kind of a somewhat negative and introverted person, so it didn’t seem like a good fit.”
Park Chan-wook, who always thought he would become a “man of learning,” eventually chose to major in philosophy (he entered in 1982). During his college years, he joined the photography club, and this was the beginning of his real relationship with film.
Although there was no film program at Seogang University, the library had many film-related books and materials. Through the subjects and names of the borrowers registered on the back of the books, Park Chan-wook met a group of like-minded friends who met to watch movies and even tried to make a short film that was never finished. The Hitchcock film ‘Vertigo’ that he saw during this period gave Park Chan-wook the determination to become a film director.
In 1990, he participated as an assistant director in the film ‘A sketch of a rainy day’ directed by Jae-young Kwak.
In the late 1980s, when he started working on the set, Chungmuro was still dominated by outdated production methods. It was very difficult for the “young filmmakers” to keep going. In order to make a living, Park Chan-wook had to work on two or three films before moving to the project department of a film studio. It was during that time that Park Chan-wook had the opportunity to make his debut as a director.
In the early 1990s, many large corporations in Korea entered the film industry. Someone offered Park Chan-wook to direct a movie with a production fee of about 100 million won. So Park Chan-wook made a movie ‘Moon Is the Sun’s Dream’ (1992) when he was 27 years old and it was released when he was 30 years old.
Moon Is the Sun’s Dream’ is a low-budget B-movie that depicts the existence of people at the bottom of Korean society. The film shows many of the qualities of Park Chan-wook’s works since then, such as the color scheme of the picture, the concept of revenge throughout, the triangular relationship between the characters, and the symbolic imagery in the shots. However, because of the hasty preparation and blind self-confidence, the film was not well received at the box office and by word of mouth.
Park Chan-wook described this “amateurish imitation” as “a film that proves that premature debut is not good”. But in fact, the quality of the film was not bad, and many famous directors who did not know Park Chan-wook well at the time sent him encouragement after seeing the film, saying that it was a “very special film”.
A rare case of a director-turned-critic, “Given the chance, I’ll shock the world”
After the failure of Virgo’s ‘Moon Is the Sun’s Dream’, Park Chan-wook waited for five years for his second film. During this time, Park Chan-wook, who already had a family, started writing movie reviews for magazines and newspapers to make a living. He failed as a director, but became famous as a film critic. This is similar to the New Wave’s handbook party.
He once jokingly said in an interview that he was “a rare case of a director-turned-critic”. In 1993, he met film director Lee Hoon (who made his debut in 1995 with “Mascara” and died in a fire accident in the same year at the age of 30), whose collection of film discs while studying in the U.S. gave Park Chan-wook the opportunity to see many films that were not available in Korea.
“Although I originally liked B-movies, I liked them even more after I met him, and I was shocked by his connoisseurship. Not only movies, but music as well. The movies he recommended to me, I later learned were CULT masterpieces that have left their mark on film history, and meeting him made me experience a great change.”
Park Chan-wook, who once ridiculed himself as “the director who writes the most in Korea,” has been writing reviews for five years, waiting for the time to direct his second film. While writing reviews, he puts himself in the position of a director and thinks about it, criticizing films he doesn’t appreciate and imagining how he would have made the subject matter he does appreciate.”
But because the wait was so long, there were times when he wanted to give up. After those difficult years, his second film ‘Saminjo’ (1997) was made. Having experienced a failure, Park Chan-wook felt that the idea of making a “mass” film ultimately constrained him, and the road comedy ended up as a failure. “I made an error in judgment, and the movie became a little unlike anything else, and it seemed stupid.” Park Chan-wook once said of his second film.
Two films failed one after another, and in the current Korean film industry, it was basically impossible to make a third film. At that time, Park Chan-wook began to think about a serious question: should he still be a director? At that time, Park Chan-wook had already made a name for himself in the world of film criticism, and his book Video-drome: The Discrete Charm of Watching Films had even become a bible for many film fans.
Interestingly, even after two setbacks, the brilliant critic, who has seen a huge amount of films, still believes he can make a good movie. Although this was three years before ‘Joint Security Area’ appeared.
Regarding these three years of hard work, director Park Chan-wook once described it as follows: “I kept writing scripts, although no company was interested. But I had the kind of confidence that if I could make a third film it would be a success, and I don’t know why. Looking back now, it does seem a little magical. It was a very special kind of confidence, watching other people’s films, and I would have the kind of confidence that if I had made it, I would have made it better. I felt that if I had the chance, I would shock the world.”
Finding a balance between business and art, ‘Joint Security Area’ is a hit
Reviewing the films created by others gave Park Chan-wook the determination and confidence to make a good film. Joint Security Area’ was a film that could not be resisted under such circumstances. The failure of his first two films made it impossible for the producers to approve of Park Chan-wook’s “insistence” and asked him to make a mainstream commercial film instead. This comeback was a box office and word-of-mouth success, and the film became the top grossing film of the year when it was released in 2000.
“‘Joint Security Area’ shouldn’t have stood a chance if it hadn’t sold out. I think it’s a miracle I got to make a third movie. Fortunately, it succeeded or I really wouldn’t have had a chance, so it’s really an important thing in my life to say ‘Joint Security Area’.”
Park Chan-wook, who adapted ‘Joint Security Area’ from a novel of the same name on the subject of the North-South divide, certainly did not go for a commercial film honestly, but instead broke away from the usual Korean film clichés and created it with an unusual mindset. Not only was it praised domestically, but it was also well received in foreign countries, and was even selected for the 51st Berlin Film Festival, which officially opened Park Chan-wook’s European film festival line.
Joint Security Area’ was shot in Hollywood Super 35mm format, which widens the visibility of the screen and increases the depth of field, and the near-full-screen playback makes the visual images more realistic, a move that is also the first attempt in the history of Korean cinema in terms of technology.
Park Chan-wook found a balance between business and art, and his success was made possible by Korea’s then recently implemented film classification system, which gave many directors with both artistic ideas and business acumen more opportunities to showcase their talents.
The “Revenge Trilogy” establishes the creative style and ‘Oldeuboi’ receives international recognition
Although the ‘Revenge Trilogy’ was not originally conceived, it did help Park Chan-wook establish his own distinctive creative style. Oldeuboi’ has gained international recognition, making Park Chan-wook an international artist.
The eternal resentment of ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’
“Hate” is a constant theme in Park Chan-wook’s films, and “resentment” is Park Chan-wook’s label. Not only Park Chan-wook personally, but also the whole Korean film industry has this emotion in one way or another. Chang-dong Lee’s tender conflict and Ki-duk Kim’s cruel and realistic hatred have become a philosophical reflection here, exploring the original sin – the stupidity and sin of human beings. -Park Chan-wook finds a balance between business and art and begins to explore the human suffering of Koreans.
In ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’, we see an exceptionally mature and calm Park Chan-wook, whose maturity is reflected in the fact that the film uses a different Park style in a particularly Park style story, with a chilling restraint throughout the film. The classic Park Chan-wook soundtrack is also heavily curtailed and replaced by natural sounds. More than a gorgeous visual language, ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ is a carefully crafted narrative that brings out a cold social strangulation step by step.
The script of ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ was written in 20 hours of non-stop work, and the film does give a sense of exhausted madness. Although Park Chan-wook does not show off his skills, the movie still shows us three special perspectives. The God’s point of view is a cold-eyed look at fate, giving a sense of fatalism; the fixed point of view is a calm record, leaving only the background sound to make the off-camera violence more striking; and there is a still shot like ‘Joint Security Area’, which brings the story to an abrupt end and leaves the audience wanting more.
The ripples of ‘Oldeuboi
Park Chan-wook explains that luck is also part of strength.’ Oldeuboi’ brings the revenge trilogy to its peak, as director Park changes the calm restraint of his previous film and pushes this comic book adaptation to the ultimate stylization.
The film’s violent scenes of incest, tongue-cutting and octopuses swallowed alive hit the heart of Quentin Tarantino, the President of the Cannes Jury that year. The latter said he couldn’t sleep at night after watching it and shed tears several times, and awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 57th Cannes Film Festival to ‘Oldeuboi’, which set off a wave of Korean films around the world.
The comic tone combined with the MTV style cinematography makes this ‘Oldeuboi’ show its ageless vitality. Director Park plays with boldness and showmanship. He also included a long shot of Oh Dae-soo taking on a hundred people in an axe fight. This scene took three days to shoot and was completely shot in one take. The brain-burning plot also makes watching Park Chan-wook’s movie a physical exercise.
The tender closing of ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’
2005 ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’
Compared to the first two films, ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’ is simple, emotionally delicate and visually more flamboyant, Park Chan-wook wraps his revenge in a gorgeous drama, the usual red and green tones are sublimated to show a brutal beauty, the degree of color used is somewhat similar to Japanese director Tetsuya Nakajima.
The gold is to some extent endowed with divinity, so that the process of the trilogy also moves from the secular to the mythical. The gold that radiates divine light can only find a metaphysical way of transcendence for the long journey of revenge through painful ordeals, and only divine redemption can wash the dirty heart. The final scene, in which Gold and his daughter embrace in the snowflakes flying in the sky, vowing to live snow-white, is a fairy-tale bright ending, and a gentle conclusion to this cruel trilogy.
In addition, the film’s soundtrack is also very good. The operatic soundtrack gives the film a classical quality. The baroque style of the main body seems to be unearthly, the mournful violin brings out the feeling of religious music, and the final lullaby, which also implies the final peace of mind of the avenger.
Geek ‘I’m a Cyborg’
‘I’m a Cyborg’ is the work that best reflects Park Chan-wookcult weird chicken complex. This time Park has put his eyes on the mental hospital and added a fresh style of romance to the film. But just when you think it has shed its blood and violence, Lim SooJung raises his finger Gatling to kill in the mental hospital; when you feel that this is at least a pure love story, Park Chan-wook uses sunlight and rainbow to hide their bare asses in the last shot, which is a kind of bad taste of Park Chan-wook.
Park Chan-wook’s imaginative approach to cult is a mix of romance, science fiction, comedy and gory violence, and Park Chan-wook never skimps on special effects, but he doesn’t go for big scenes, he goes for the imagination. In the end, the audience sees a hunger-striking woman who gradually turns into a robot; Lim SooJung flies over the asylum in a beetle; turning the story of a madman into a fairy tale.
‘Thirst’ is supposed to be Park Chan-wook’s most Europeanized Korean work, mixed with many European elements such as religion and vampires, and the Jury Prize at Cannes is a side testament to Park Chan-wook’s ambition to reach for a bigger stage.
Although the vampire element of ‘Thirst’ is quite eye-catching, the director only wanted to make a movie with a priest as the protagonist; Thirst is set in the Australian desert and the interior sets are scored with baroque luxury, which is what Park Chan-wook wanted for his bloody fairy tale.
As a leading figure in Korean cinema, Park Chan-wook has become less concerned with commercial success when making Thirst, and his style of filmmaking has become increasingly personal. Putting away the liveliness of ‘I’m a Cyborg’, Park Chan-wook takes a serious look at the relationship between spirit and flesh. With no specific location or characters in sight, the director builds a utopia that bears his distinctive mark and brings the desired story to the audience.
A unique European model, ‘Stoker’ pays tribute to the idol Hitchcock
Since ‘Joint Security Area’ was selected for competition at the Berlinale, Park Chan-wook has been attracting the attention of the world with almost every film.
The Hitchcock film ‘Vertigo’, which he saw in college, made Park Chan-wook aspire to become a film director and start writing screenplays. His first film, ‘Stoker’, which is entirely in English, shows the same Hitchcockian fetish, with the theme of “sex, love, death” and the eroticism of the enclosed space as a clear homage to his idol.
At the same time, Park Chan-wook was also influenced by Hollywood film noir of the 1960s and 1980s, and dark humor is common in his films. In the short film ‘Judgment’, the undertaker freezes beer and corpses together; in ‘Joint Security Area’, the last shocking shot; in ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’, a man sells a kidney to save a life but is cheated; in Thirst, a man and a woman have an affair with a ghost, etc. Park Chan-wook mixes black and comedy elements in a balanced way, making the film style cold and fun. Park Chan-wook’s balanced blend of dark and comedic elements makes the film chilling and fun, with a creepy sense of cynicism.
Park Chan-wook’s films have a classical European quality that is not found in the Eastern aesthetic, making him unique in the Korean film industry because of the deep influence of European and American culture. At the same time, he also brings a fresh Asian breeze to Hollywood, conveying a subtle Asian spiritual core in the context of European and American culture.
Fascinated and subversive of tradition, ‘The Handmaiden’ localizes feminist aspirations
Breaking through the unsatisfactory rules of reality and dreaming of escape are the constant themes of ‘Park Chan-wook World’. Throughout his works, Miss Geum-ja (‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’), who succeeds in revenge but does not obtain redemption, Young-joon and Il-soon (‘I’m a Cyborg’), who give up changing reality and are determined to live in their dream world forever, and Sang-hyun (Thirst), who is unable to stop his lover from running away and dies together, are all characters whose These characters’ “escapes” are ultimately stopped by their own abilities. However, the main characters in ‘The Handmaiden’, Young-ja and Sook-hee, are a little different.
Their ambitions are more ambitious than those of Park Chan-wook’s previous characters. They finally broke free from the cage that trapped them and became the masters of their own lives, losing nothing in the process and achieving a perfect victory. This time, Park Chan-wook’s film world appears to have a bright happy ending like never before.
In fact, it has been a long time since a female character with such a perfect victory has appeared in Korean cinema. The image of women who break free lightly under the rules and shackles of a male-dominated society is highly relevant in Korean local films.
This is the part of ‘The Handmaiden’ that is more localized in Korea than the original novel ‘Fingersmith’. Park Chan-wook also said that the feminist demand was his original intention of directing ‘The Handmaiden’, and he also valued the local audience’s understanding and attitude towards the film more than the westerners.
Park Chan-wook once wrote an “epitaph” for himself in an interview: He directed 69 feature films and 35 short films, and wrote the scripts for 48 films. As a film director, he was a relatively selfless person, and he slept here.
But in fact, Park Chan-wook is not a prolific director, having directed a total of 10 films in the 24 years since his debut film ‘Moon Is the Sun’s Dream’ in 1992.” At least 50 films, but it seems to be difficult, not even one a year ……”
In order to make more films, Park Chan-wook felt the need to “live longer” on the one hand, and to start producing on the other. Park Chan-wook’s production company is called “Blurred Film” because, in his opinion, a work with multiple facets of ambiguity and speciousness is a work of art.
In 2008, Park Chan-wook produced ‘Miss Carrot’, the directorial debut of Lee Kyung-mi, who came from the ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’ directing team. He also penned the screenplay for the film, which was slightly ‘I’m a Cyborg’-esque, but Park Chan-wook didn’t overwhelm the main focus, but wrote the story with full of warmth. In addition, he even made a cameo appearance, which shows that Park Chan-wook has spared no effort to support his junior.
Park Chan-wook’s most famous production is Bong Joon ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’, where he used his resources to help his friend Bong Joon ho open the door to the world film industry.
Park Chan-wook, who started his career as a film director and producer, is also an excellent screenwriter and the king of storytelling in Chungmuro, and in 2000, before he became famous, he came to China with Lee Joon Yi and other like-minded friends to make ‘The Anarchists’, which is the first Sino-Korean collaboration film in the history of cinema.
‘Humanist’, ‘Taekwon Girl’, ‘A Boy Who Went To Heaven’, etc., all of these films came from Park Chan-wook’s screenplay. It is interesting to note that Park, who is known for his dark style, usually writes warm comedies for others. He admits that writing comedy makes him feel relaxed and happy.