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Park Chan-wook: interview
We spoke to Korean director Park Chan-wook about his new film, 'I'm A Cyborg', in cinemas from April 4
In terms of style and tone, this is something of a departure from your vengeance trilogy (‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’, ‘Oldboy’ and ‘Lady Vengeance’). What made you choose to go in this new direction?
'The biggest film distributor in South Korea is called CJ Entertainment. They had this new type of HD camera and, for me, making this film was almost like an experiment. HD camera are meant to be the film industry’s future, so it was like playing with a new toy and a chance to get ahead of the game.
'Also, after the vengeance trilogy, I was planning on making a film about vampires called "Thirst". Although, the idea of going from something as dark as the vengeance films to this which is even darker, I felt really frustrated, frankly quite tired of it. So when this suggestion of making "Thirst" came up, I thought I could make something very contrasting, very cute and very sweet in between.
'Making the film, I felt like the scuba diver who has been under the water for a long time and has come back up to see the sun, have a breathe, and change the air pack before going back into the water. I wanted to experience something different before diving straight back into the darkness.'
I got the sense watching the film there was still an element of revenge, but perhaps looking at it in from a different angle. Where the other films take revenge on other people, this film felt more like people taking revenge on themselves. Do you agree with that? And if so, what is it about the idea of revenge that appeals to you?
'You could say that there are elements of revenge, especially from Young-goon. She hates all the adults in her life, particularly the Whitecoats who take her away and takes her grandmother is sent to the care centre. She really wanted to kill them but also the feeling that she couldn’t stop them so she almost persecutes herself for that.
'So you could say she was taking revenge on herself, but if you do that, everything in the world becomes a revenge story.'
Could you describe the process of writing films and where your ideas and inspiration comes from?
'The first idea that I had was during the post-production of "Oldboy". I was in a car with some friends and suddenly I got this idea came about a psychiatric hospital and particularly a group therapy moment where everybody sits in a circle with doctors and nurses in between them. The patients have all different kind of problems and the doctors and nurses are trying to get them to say to the group how they’re feeling, but they don’t really want to speak so the doctors and nurses trick them into thinking that sharing your problems is fun.
'I also wanted to bring in the idea that some of the doctors and nurses don’t know that the patients all have relationships with each other. Some people love each other, some people love someone, some people are in a love triangle and some people hate each other.'
Your films rely very heavily on intense central performances, often rooted in characters and experiences that aren’t particularly ‘normal’. How do you work with actors to create those performances?
'In front of the camera when they’re actually shooting each scene, I don’t really like to give specific directions. I like to give them freedom to do what they want in front of the camera. But, in the pre-production stages I drink a lot with the actors and they talk about their lives and what’s going on and we listen to each other’s stories. Little by little they get to know each other really well and they also touch on ideas from the film.
'I believe it’s a lot better than sitting in a room with everyone in an official capacity. By the time they actually get to filming, the actors do think about their roles independently, but they have a very set frame in their mind that I have cultivated as the director.'
From the images, the camera movements, the way the characters moved and the music, 'I'm A Cyborg' reminded me of a musical. Were you influenced by Hollywood musicals?
'Normally, if I find myself being influenced by something, then I try to get rid of it. There isn’t anything specific that I tried to emulate. I do like musical films more than big Hollywood films, especially those by Jacques Demi and Vincent Minelli. But there isn’t anything specific I wanted to include in the film.'
A lot of film writers refer to you as an auteur. Do you agree with this? Is it a good thing that people thing your work is recognisable?
'I don’t really believe in the auteur theory. There are a lot of directors who you can recognise, but I don’t believe he’s one of them. I want to make diverse films. I don’t want to my films to be the equivalent of the Louis Vuitton monogram.'
Author: David Jenkins
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