Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hollywood Bound: Korea’s Trio of Talent Head West

Out of all the many talented directors who are working in Korea today, perhaps none get mentioned more, and for many people rightfully so, than the trio of Kim Ji-woon, Park Chan-wook, & Bong Joon-ho. Together these three film-makers have crafted some of the finest moments in Korean cinema, and the world, with just a quick look at some of their output confirming as much - ‘The Quiet Family / 조용한 가족’, ‘JSA / 공동경비구역’, ‘The Foul King / 반칙왕’, ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance / 복수는 나의 것’, ‘A Tale of Two Sisters / 장화, 홍련’, ‘Memories of Murder / 살인의 추억’, ‘OldBoy / 올드보이’, ‘A Bittersweet Life / 달콤한 인생’, ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance / 친절한 금자씨’, ‘The Host / 괴물’, ‘I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK / 싸이보그지만 괜찮아’, ‘The Good The Bad The Weird / 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈’, ‘Thirst / 박쥐’, ‘Mother / 마더’, and ‘I Saw the Devil / 악마를 보았다’.

No doubt there are some people out there for whom I’ve just replicated their top 15 favourite Korean movies, but in fact every one of the films listed can each be accredited to one of the trio. With such an outstanding catalog of classics already to their name, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling. Interestingly though, there was one Korean film-maker (& for many that term could be used very loosely) who managed to beat them to the punch.

Back in 2007 comedian and occasional criminal Shim Hyung-rae unleashed the atrocity that was ‘D-War /  ’ onto an unsuspecting western audience, as the B-movie elite of Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, & Robert Forster ran around LA doing their best not to get killed off by rocket launcher wielding dragons (yes you read that right) and alike. 

....called Dawdlers?  Sure!
Where do I sign?"
"Is that my agent?  You want me to
star in a Korean movie about dragons...
It’s a film that sits comfortably in most DVD rental stores along side the likes of movies pitting giant anacondas vs mega giant sharks and other far flung combinations, but in fact first and foremost it’s a Korean product, for better or worse. Thankfully it looks like there will be no repeat of CGI dragons in the projects Ji-woon, Chan-wook, and Joon-ho are working on. Although at the time of writing details are still not particularly forthcoming, plot & casts have been confirmed, and now all we can do is speculate as to what the finished movies will turn out like.

First out of the gates is Park Chan-wook with his movie ‘Stoker’, who out of the three directors is the only who to have his movie tentatively set for release in 2012. Chan-wook hasn’t directed a full length feature since 2009’s vampire foray ‘Thirst / 박쥐’, so without doubt many fans of Korean film are greatly anticipating what he will come up with next.

What separates ‘Stoker’ from his other works, apart from obviously being his English language debut, is that it’s also a movie where he’s had no input into the screen-writing process, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares not only directing in a different language, but also off a script that has none of his stamp on it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is waiting with baited breath, but Chan-wook has always had a unique visual flair, and I hope that Hollywood does nothing to dilute this aspect of his directing style.

Matthew Goode talks Stoker

Actual plot details are very thin on the ground, and it appears all that seems to be available at this point is that it concerns a teenage girl who is mourning the death of her father, who has to deal with a mysterious uncle that suddenly appears out of the blue to meet the family. The movie is scripted by Wentworth Miller, most well know for his role in the TV drama ‘Prison Break', under the pseudonym Ted Foulke. Miller himself described the movie as a "horror film, a family drama and a psychological thriller", which should see Chan-wook in familiar territory. As far as cast goes, Mia Wasikowska is onboard to play the pivotal teenage of the piece, with Matthew Goode playing the uncle, and Nicole Kidman looks to be playing the mother.

The many faces of Song Kang-ho.
The dope...
Next up is Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Snow Piercer’, scheduled for release in 2013 and based on a French graphic novel, about a group of people trying to survive together on a train with no destination, traveling through a post-apocalyptic landscape of ice and snow. The concept certainly holds a lot of promise, and out of all three projects, ‘Snow Piercer’ looks to be the one where the director has most control,  Joon-ho is also responsible for co-writing the script, and perhaps best of all one of the best actors in the world, Song Kang-ho, is also on board as a cast member.

...the weird....
Other members of the cast that have been confirmed include Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, & John Hurt. I’m intrigued to see how this movie takes shape, as Korean film in general has only really had limited experience with the science fiction genre, with rather muddled attempts like ‘Natural City /내츄럴 시티’ and ‘2009 Lost Memories / 2009 로스트 메모리즈’, and perhaps this could be classed as the first time a shot has been taken at the post apocalyptic element of the science fiction sub-genre. 

....and the priest.  What next?
Finally is Kim Ji-woon’s ‘Last Stand’, also scheduled for a 2013 release and packing some big star power. Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in a starring role for the first time since ‘Terminator 3’, which will have been a full 10 years ago by the movies release, along with support from the likes of  Forest Whitaker and Harry Dean Stanton.

Arnold was pretty happy about being
offered the lead in Kim Ji-woon's latest.
Ji-woon seems to be increasingly leaning towards the violent end of action film making, with ‘A Bittersweet Life /달콤한 인생’, ‘The Good The Bad The Weird / 좋은 , 나쁜 , 이상한 ’, and ‘I Saw the Devil / 악마를 보았다’ in particular all going for visceral thrills, and ‘Last Stand’ looks like it will be continuing that trend.  The tone of the film sounds rather similar to 1997’s ‘Cop Land’, starring other 80’s action icon Sylvester Stallone as a down and out cop in a relatively crime free small town who is called to action against the odds. In ‘Last Stand’ Schwarzenegger plays a similar character, but after a notorious kingpin escapes from an FBI convoy in a specially outfitted car filled with gang members, and it becomes clear that his town will be the final chance to intercept them before clearing the border, he reluctantly accepts the call to action.

A bloodied Schwarzenegger (probably
from a hammer), on the set of 'The Last Stand'.
It will be interesting to see what Ji-woon does with this, like Chan-wook he is working off a script that is not his own, and working with a plot which on paper seems very generic. But also like Chan-wook, Ji-woon has a very visual style of film-making, so we can only hope that this is successfully transferred to western shores.

So that’s the run down, three directors and three very different movies, all sharing one language that for once we don’t need subtitles for. If anyone can succeed where others can’t, I would place my confidence with this trio, but English language debuts are always a tricky deal. Attempts like Wong Kar Wai’s ‘My Blueberry Nights’ and the Pang brothersThe Messengers’ received luke warm reviews at best, so lets hope the Korean gang has what it takes to show Hollywood how it should be done.

Paul Bramhall
@Paul Bramhall


  1. Oh, I didn't know Snow Piercer would also star Song Kang-ho as well! Hrmmm, that makes anticipating that film all the more interesting now...

  2. This is some of the most exciting movie news that I've read in a good while. I was unaware of any of these projects. Thanks for all of the sweet info Paul. I am looking forward to these projects with great anticipation.

    Also, there were three films in your opening paragraph that I haven't seen- The Quiet Family, The Foul King, and ‘I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (I do own this one). Since I value your opinion and you've placed these admist so many films I love dearly, I am determined to check these out right away!