OLDBOY - Q&A with PARK CHAN-WOOK
Director Park Chan-wook 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 2004 Cannes, 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.
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.
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.
There is a very careful and considered design element to the film, isn't there?
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.
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.
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 for nothing.
Is that part of the fun of it, manipulating audience emotion in that way?
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 more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The emotions of horror and humour are actually quite similar, aren't they?
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.
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.
And now you're working on another film with vengeance as the theme, aren't you?
The third film in the trilogy will be about a character who longs for salvation and atonement rather than anger, vengeance and violence.
Question & Answer Text Copyright Tartan Films