transcscript of an interview with Park Chan-Wook, writer-director of
conducted at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, Lothian Rd, Edinburgh
during the Edinburgh International Film Festival
on Sunday, the 22nd of August, 2004
by Neil Young
Young : There has been some confusion about how to write down the title of your current film. Is it Old Boy, Oldboy or OLDBOY?
Park* [no hesitation] : OLDBOY.
What responses do you aim to elicit with the film?
I’m much more thankful to those who laugh than those who scream. I like humour to come out of sad, pitiful, horrible situations and I wanted to be one with such feelings, such dark feelings, rather than to be mixed in.
Do you feel the material is suitable for everybody?
It is targeted at a wide audience but reporters and ordinary people alike, they come to me, and say ‘Is it OK for everybody? Personally I’m OK with it, but I don’t know about other people.’ But everybody says the same thing, so it should be alright for everyone.
One of the most remarkable scenes is the sequence in which the ‘hero’ Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-Shik) takes on dozens of opponents in a corridor, armed only with a hammer. Was that as difficult to film as it looked?
There was a rehearsal period of three months before shooting. It was shot for two days, and there were about seventeen takes. The main difficulty was on Choi, who had to do all this fighting, and me, who had to watch him suffer. After a take which led Choi to complete exhaustion, looking at it again there was something that I didn’t like, asking him to do it again was the most difficult part. But he understood what I meant, and we did it again.
The film has striking production design – please talk about the set at the end, the villain’s futuristic apartment.
The villain, Lee Woo-Jin (Yoo Ji-Tae) considers himself as a prince who’s imprisoned in a high tower. He’s incredibly rich so he lives in a large space, and high up. A scene was edited out in which Oh Dae-Su is in his cell, watching a Frankenstein film – Bride of Frankenstein. There’s a scene where the monster destroys everything in which a high tower collapses. So I wanted to give an analogy between the high tower which collapses, and the high tower in which Lee Woo-Jin shuts himself.
I wanted to give the space a feeling of emptiness. Although it is a large space where only the rich can afford to live, I wanted the audience to think: OK, it’s a rich, large space, but I don’t want to live in such a place: dry, empty concrete space. I provided water to give a bit of an “accent” to the space. Water is often used in films to symbolise life – creation of life. In my film the water is used to symbolise the water in which a certain person has drowned.
There’s a memorable shot in which Oh Dae-Su stands in front of a black-and-white photo of a vast wave curling and crashing down. It reminded me a little Hokusai’s famous wave paintings. Was it taken for the film or had you found it elsewhere?
It was an existing photograph. I wanted to use it as the same symbolism – the trouble inside Oh Dae-Su. The huge wave is a kind of power of destiny which cannot be resisted. I wanted the audience to see that.
You’ve mentioned Bride of Frankenstein, but when I watched the film I found myself thinking quite a lot of David Fincher’s films Panic Room, The Game and Fight Club. Was that intentional on your part?
It wasn’t my intention, but a lot of people say that, so there must be some kind of connection. There are two types of reporters – one who asks me about David Lynch. And another who asks me about David Fincher. But my favourite David is Cronenberg… especially Dead Ringers.
What about the political subtext – Oh Dae-Su is imprisoned in the late 80s, and released in the early 00s. During this time Korea has developed from repressive police-state dictatorship to capitalistic democracy.
That is not what I intended. I can understand why people think that, and I have no intention of blocking that line of thinking!
Time is a crucial element in the film, which is itself quite long but fast-moving. What were you trying to do with time in the movie.
There is an opening, development and ending in any film. But if you go into most films there are separate individual sequences and scenes. There are some films which contain those scenes which have their own beginning, development and ending – and I think that’s quite boring. If you introduce a scene or a sequence, you should just cut abruptly – that makes it more exciting. I don’t like films in which there are scenes where people go in to the room, sit down, exchange greetings, then start to talk. You don’t even need to start talking – just start arguing, and start the scene there. It’s not an issue of cutting out unneccessary frames or time, but when people are fighting it makes people ask “why are they fighting?”
One scene which has raised questions is the sequence in which Oh Dae-Su goes into the sushi bar and eats a large octopus live. I understand that the sequence was filmed using real octopuses, and required the consumption of five of them. Presumably this isn’t normal practice in Korean sushi bars?
It’s rather unusual to eat something live, but there are some people who eat live octopus. But we don’t eat such big octopus.
Are you surprised by the fact that the octopus scene has caused such a stir among audiences in the US and Europe?
Even the Korean audience was surprised by that scene, so I’m not surprised at the reactions here.
In Britain we have a tradition of ‘revenge dramas’ which were especially popular in the Jacobean era. Your film is reminiscent of such plays, with much blood and the floor and many characters dead at the end. Is there any similar kind of tradition in Korea?
We don’t have that tradition. Regardless of whether or not there is such a tradition, film is distributed worldwide, unlike theatre, so the film itself has become a cultural tradition.
Your film won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year, where the jury president was Quentin Tarantino. What did you discuss with him?
I spoke with Tarantino for two hours, and he said as much in that period as most people would in a whole day. He said too many things for me to remember them all, but I remember he spoke particularly about the scene where the hero says that the right question to ask isn’t why I was imprisoned for 15 years, but why I was released after 15 years of imprisonment. And he wondered why he hadn’t thought of that while he was watching the film. He spoke about the character of the villain – he’d hated him for the first hour and a half, then when you find out what’s happening Tarantino wept with the character, and he couldn’t understand why he was weeping and pitying him.
I understand you are planning another film on the theme of vengeance, which will be your third in a row after Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and OLDBOY. Why are you drawn to this theme in particular?
I didn’t feel like making another vengeance film after Sympathy. The producer suggested it. My wife said: Making another vengeance film isn’t important, the main thing is whether or not it’s interesting. That’s why I decided to do a second vengeance film. I really didn’t want to make a third one at all. When I was doing press conferences in Korea, so many people asked me why I was making a second vengeance film, so many of them it made me cross. So I answered ‘Vengeance story is a good theme. I can make ten films out of it, and I’m planning the third one!’ – out of anger. So the ‘Vengeance Trilogy’ has been planned and conceived because of reporters. And I keep my promises!
transcribed 10.15-11.00, 11th October, 2004
* Korean names are written with the family-name preceding the given name
click here for our full coverage of the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival
by Neil Young