Thursday, June 13, 2013

Screen Trends 2014: An Evening with Park Chan-wook

The month of June has been a creative hub of excitement here in Sydney, thanks to the double header of Vivid, a festival of light, music and ideas, transforming various areas of the city into spectacular displays of colour and sound. On top of that we’re also in the midst of the Sydney Film Festival, of which the lineup includes the Australian premiere of ‘Stoker’, Chan-wook’s first foray into English language movie making.

On Saturday night crowds flocked to the area of Circular Quay to gasp at the illuminated Opera House and Harbour Bridge, but I found myself navigating my way through the hordes for another reason – in a last minute announcement, Park Chan-wook had been added to the panel of an event being hosted by Vivid called ‘Forward Thinking: Screen Trends 2014’, which has a group of film-makers discussing their thoughts on the future of their respective film industries at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The chance to see Chan-wook up close and personal was too good to pass up, and I wasn’t let down. He was joined by three other panelists, the director of the outstanding documentary - ‘The Art of Killing’ - Joshua Oppenheimer, Saudi Arabia’s first woman director Haifaa Al Mansour, and Danish producer Signe Byrge Sorensen. Speaking through a translator, Chan-wook proved to have many insightful and interesting ideas on where the future of South Korean cinema is going, so for those that couldn’t be there, I thought I’d cover some of the highlights of the 2 hour forum.

One of the most interesting questions that was raised related to how he felt about the current popularity surrounding 3D film making, and the question was posed as to why he chose not to make ‘Stoker’ in the format. Chan-wook raised a laugh from the crowd by bluntly stating that the budget he was given for the movie didn’t stretch to making it in 3D, however he did express great interest in making a movie in 3D in the future.

He explained that the type of movie he was thinking of would very much be the opposite of what people typically associate 3D being most suited to, such as the sci-fi or action adventure genres, and instead suggested he’d like to use the technology on more of a drama, dialogue based movie. It turns out he actually already has an idea in his head, and revealed he was thinking of a movie which would consist of two parts, with each part having the same event told through the perspective of a different person. He explained that as both versions would contain similar scenes, he planned to use the 3D aspect of the filming to accentuate certain images in the same scene, such as one character may focus on something different than the other, even though they are both looking at the same thing. This actually sounded like a stroke of genius to me, and I’d love to see it come to fruition.

This lead on to him being asked about the differences between making a movie in South Korea and making a movie in Hollywood, and his answer again was very illuminating. He had very high praise for Fox Searchlight, as they backed him up a lot with his decisions, and fully supported him when he said he’d like to bring his director of photography to the US as well. However he said the time constraints were very different, explaining that in Korea when he would shoot a scene, he’d usually invite the actors over to the monitor once a take was finished, and they’d discuss and exchange ideas on how to make the scene better. However in Hollywood due to the tight deadlines, he often had to bypass this process and wrap the take up as quickly as possible. He also expressed bafflement at the endless questions he’d be asked by the producers while he was filming, such as why he wanted to do a scene a certain way or add a certain element to the story. He explained that in Korea there is not that much interference from producers, so it was quite a surprise to him to have to constantly explain his creative decisions.

When asked about the South Korean movie industry itself, he explained that in his opinion, the blockbuster movies are getting bigger, and the independent movies are getting smaller, with no real healthy middle ground in-between. He pointed out that some film-makers are looking towards co-productions with China, so that they appeal to a wider market (although he didn’t openly state it, I believe this was an obvious reference to last years mega hit ‘The Thieves / 도둑들’), but explained that he personally had no interest in this side of things, before humorously pointing out that his movies normally have too much sex and violence in them to ever get past Chinese censors anyway.

Myself & Park Chan-wook
He also spoke about the Hollywood movie scene, pointing out that many Korean people grew up with Hollywood movies, and he always enjoyed the vast variety of genres that were made there. He explained that Hollywood is where the genre film was first created, and expressed his sadness that in today’s Hollywood the genres that get made are becoming less and less. He hoped for a return to the golden era when everything from musicals to westerns to film noir would get made on a regular basis, but commented that this era seems to have gone. On the same note, he went onto explain that the Korean movie scene itself is now in its own golden era, and feels that right now with people like himself, Kim Ji-woon, and Bong Joon-ho being invited to make movies in Hollywood, perhaps the industry has reached its apex.

Towards the end the floor was thrown open for questions from the audience, and I wanted to ask him how he felt about Hollywood’s attempts at remaking Korean movies, especially since his own movie, ‘Old Boy / 올드보이’, is currently in the production stages of being remade by Spike Lee. Sadly though, my intense 1000 mile stare wasn’t able to grab the attention of the roving microphone staff, and instead it went to another audience member who asked that, when making a move in Hollywood, did he experience the same kind of insurance issues that Jackie Chan did, such as having to do stunts using wires and increased safety measures. My friend who'd come along with me had to restrain me from repeatedly banging my head against the chair in front, and the evening came to a close with Chan-wook stating that his movies aren’t really in the same style as Jackie Chan’s. And for that, we’re all thankful!

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