After Monday’s focus on Thirst, Tuesday’s Mr Vengeance screening, together with a generous hour of Q&A with Director Park, offered the opportunity to focus on his earlier work. In fact, the first question at the Q&A asked about Park’s very first films (pre JSA). Did Park have any tips or lessons learned for a rookie director?
Park met the lead actor for his first film only the day before shooting commenced, and the actor didn’t have a clue what the film was about. Things went downhill from there. “I mislearned a lesson from Hitchcock” he said. “Director Park ordered his actors around as if they were dolls”, explained the interpreter. His first two films were flops, and he blames Hitchcock. But things started going right with JSA.
“For me, the two most important issues in Korea at the time were two divisions: between North and South and between the classes. JSA addresses the first, Mr Vengeance the second.” In a familiar story, Park explained how he became semi-committed to making the Vengeance trilogy after a spot of verbal jousting with a journalist – it certainly was not envisaged as such to start with.
A good question from Jeon Sung-min: What is Director Park trying to say about revenge? In all the vengeance films there’s moral ambiguity: no-one is really innocent; we feel sometimes sympathy for both revenger and revengee. “Vengeance is unique to the human psychology. Vengeance is futile, it has no benefit. Even animals don’t take revenge,” Park explains. And, bringing the trilogy to closure, Lady Vengeance holds back from exacting her personal vengeance in the end, instead watching the other parents take their own revenge.
“Would you ever make a film which has no violence at all?” came one question. That had Park stumped for a moment. “I like putting my characters under pressure”, he said uncertainly, echoing a comment from the Q&A the previous night. “I like seeing how they behave in extreme situations,” he said, picking up the pace. “That’s why, in my next film, my main character is going to be married.” Laughter all round. But, is Park married? If so, it was not the only comment made during the evening which could suggest that either he’s just had an almighty fight with his better half or is battling with the sort of inner temptations he was talking about the previous evening. Or maybe he’s just a fan of mother-in-law jokes.
Most of the conversation so far had been about the Vengeance trilogy and now Thirst – all of them films with copious amounts of blood. I decided to leap in and ask him to defend I’m a Cyborg against the typical Western audience who pigeonholes Park as an Asia Extreme director. “I wanted to produce a film for a different age group: a romantic comedy that my daughter could watch”. The film apparently is gaining a slow-burn popularity. “Plus, it has the cutest kiss in the history of cinema”, he said, somewhat immodestly, though to be fair it might have been a quote from the Guardian film critic. “She said it was her most favourite film ever, so I gave her a really good interview,” he laughed. “And, once I had explored a childish, innocent love in Cyborg, I wanted to explore a more adult, sexual kind of love in Thirst.”
The last question of the evening was one of the best: “Who are the current directors you are most jealous of?” asked London bookbinder Kim Young-shin. Here is what he said:
- Bong Joon-ho, for the locations he finds and for his absolute perfectionism.
- Hong Sang-soo: because he’s created his own style, a formula that works for him and him alone. I’m really envious of him.
- Kim Ki-duk: because he produces films so quickly and with so little money. That’s a real skill.
- And Kim Ji-woon. Because he’s not married.
More laughter. But the hour was up, and maybe Director Park had said too much. He headed for the exit, where he generously signed autographs and had his photo taken with the fans.