Courtesy of The East, we were given the chance to be part of an intimate group interview, along with Hangul Celluloid and Mini Mini Movie, with director Park Kwang Su, who was March’s director of the month as part of the “Year of the 12 Directors”. We are going to be honest, we had not seen his previous films and the reason was purely because they didn’t seem like our kind of thing. But hey, we are here to learn (and we are very greatful we got the chance to learn from the director himself)! During last month’s film screenings, we saw the trailer for ‘Meet Mr. Daddy’ which got us very interested in this month’s director. However, when we looked into his other films, we were a bit baffled as to how different they seemed. Excited to find out more about Park Gwang Su, we headed to the group interview to meet Mr. Director!
A lot of the questions asked dealt with Mr. Park’s directing style, and he gave us many interesting insights into this. For example, on his films, he always works closely with his assistant directors in writing the scripts. He used the example of ‘Meet Mr. Daddy’, where he had four assistant directors producing the script. He would work with them, give them the key elements and points that should happen, and let them write the script. He takes script development very seriously, and makes sure those who work on it are 100% knowledgeable about what exactly it is he wants to achieve. Mr. Park is also very good at giving credit where credit is due. As he wanted to give chances to others, and promote other’s talents, he was fine with the assistant directors names appearing as script writers in the film’s credits. He felt this would help his assistant directors to get their own films made. What a guy! Mr. Park himself was once a director’s assistant too, so knew the struggles that had to be faced to get your own work made. For example, Lee Chang Dong, who is now very famous in his own right, when working as an assistant director for Mr. Park, was given the writing credit for ‘Chilsu and Mansu’. Our interest in why his latest film seemed so different to his past ones lead us to the first question we asked. Prior to ‘Meet Mr Daddy’, Park Kwang Su used his films as mediums for addressing and tackling social issues of the masses. When Park Kwang Su first started directing, film directors were focusing on current social issues and expressing what the masses were all thinking and concerned about; this was the new wave of Korean directors. Park Kwang Su was one of the directors in this new wave, and his films were popular as they took on a classic film format, for example the buddy movie, interweaved with a serious social message (like ‘Chilsu and Mansu’, 1988) making it digestable to all audiences. Research says that one of the reasons this new movement in Korean cinema came to be was due to relaxed censorship laws, people no longer had to submit scripts to censors in advance, but these directors still experienced many obstacles. Mr. Park pushed through and even founded the Busan Film Festival which gave worldwide audiences their first glimpse of Korean cinema.
Park Kwang Su’s latest film, ‘Meet Mr. Daddy’ seems distinctly different in tone from his past films. Quite a few questions were directed at him on the subject of how he chose his stories. Mr. Park revealed that he is very much a man who goes along with the flow, and moves with the times. Early on in his career, he felt his films should reflect the social and political feelings of the people. However, by the time ‘Meet Mr. Daddy’ was made, the political landscape had changed, and as for social messages to address, he felt there wasn’t a need to use his films to highlight them as people could freely voice their opinions now that censorship was no longer an issue. Mr. Park could see that films have become more lighthearted, which resulted in he himself adapting his style and tone; a natural progression in his career as there was no longer a need to go in a political direction for the time being. However, he mentioned that if something happens and there are social issues that needed to be tackled, he’ll very happily oblige. He basically just does what is needed. He himself has no political agenda, and just wants to address issues that no one else came forward to talk about.
Paul Quinn from Hangul Celluloid asked a really interesting question as to why all his previous movies had been from the male intellectual point of view. Mr. Park stated that he believed that the intellectual can lead society. By portraying this in his films, I think he was possibly trying to inspire the intellectuals in the film audiences, showing them what they have the power to do and how society can think for themselves and what they should do in order for social change! *Punches sky* Showing intellectuals on film, Mr. Park said, helps people to stop and question why certain events and actions were done.
We also asked Mr. Park about how he feels about the current film industry and the tendancy for films to be made purely for entertainment, and not containing any intellectual merit. Being the cool guy that he is, he said that he’s very accepting of new talent and ideas in cinema, and understands that not every film has to hold some deep meaning. He currently lectures at a university in Seoul, and said that he finds many of his students’ works challenging and inspiring, and enjoys seeing them as his future rivals in the industry. This is not an attitude we are used to seeing from normal directors! Mr. Park is also a big film fan, and when we asked about his time studying in Paris, he stated he watched whatever film was available to him, regardless of its country of origin, and that he watched around 1000 films in a year! Wow. He also got inspiration from other performance arts in Paris, such as theatres. He said he is open to directing all genres, and is not snobby about films, even saying if presented with the right one, he would be open to making a romcom. Well if it’s a interesting project why not! :D *High five* Mr. Park, you are possibly the coolest Director in history.
Being Kpop fans ourselves, we couldn’t resist asking the question that as he was a serious director, how does he feel about the Hallyu wave and would he consider using an idol actor. Mr. Park replied with a very diplomatic “they’re always very busy, I don’t think they can find the time”. Even so, he did also say “why not” if a good opportunity came his way. Being a man who keeps with the trends, he has noticed that there is a new pattern in addressing the cinema audiences of today regarding issues and the changes in character involvement. For example, in the film ‘Punch’ one the main characters is a country boy. This film, released 2011, if made in the past would have shown the young character in a much more realistic way, but now the way young people are portrayed is much more ‘polished’ – nice teeth, good looks, and so on. So if it’s fitting, he has no qualms about using a idol actor, if that is what has become the norm in Korean cinema.
A fun thing we learnt about Mr. Park was that he’s also a bit of an adventurous guy! Those that have seen ‘A Single Spark’ will know that there’s quite a dramatic scene near the end, when one of the main characters is set alight in a drastic fashion. As this film was made pre-CGI, he was asked how he achieved the amazing scenes he managed to get. He said initially he’d got a special effects teams from Australia over to help him, but the effects they managed to get weren’t as big and bold as he wanted. When the special effects teams had left he re-shot the scene and actually set the actor alight! (The secret is some sort of tree sap on the skin, don’t try it at home folks!) Don’t worry, the actor was fine after, we checked. But it’s this kind of information that reveals that Mr. Park is a very adventurous, risky and imaginative kind of guy, possibly also very trust worthy if an actor was willing to let him kerosene them…
Mr. Park is definitely a director to keep an eye on before you dismiss him as a political and uber “serious business” director, with films riddled with polital agendas and some MASSIVE deep messages about society. He is actually a fairly easy going director that demonstrates that he keeps up with the times, but he’ll come out and address issues if needed, or alternately he’ll just go do what he wants to!
If you have the time, it would be worth going through Mr. Park’s filmography as it represents a change in Korean cinema, an evolution. Being a veteran director he says he is yet to find his calling and he’s always open to new interests, he won’t rule out anything. Founding the Busan Film Festival distracted him a lot which would explain his low filmography, but now he can concentrate on being a director. You would have never guessed this was a veteran director with 25 years in the film industry! Nor is he angry about how fluffy the film industry has gotten. Mr. Park is currently interested in U.S indie films and finds the excessive use of blood interesting, so watch this space.
Mr. Park is a man who doesn’t rush into things. ‘Uprising’ was apparently a 20 year project, from its inception to completion! At the moment, he has many ideas of what film to make next, including a film set in a bunker in the Korean DMZ. Again, he has no political agenda behind this, so there is no rush to get it out. It’s something he finds interesting to talk about, but it’s in the works and it’s still just an idea.
One last thing, throughout the interview when we asked Mr. Park about future projects and general upcoming plans, he would always say he will think about things and study further up until June this year. He has until June this year for everything it seems! So our special little message to Mr. Park is: 6월 후 뭐 할 거예요?!
The interview was over an hour and a half and it was very interesting to get to chat to a director, especially one who’s as cool and chilled as this. So much was talked about and if you would like to learn more, head on over to Hangul Celluloid where a written transcript of the interview is, and there’s also more about Mr. Park and his previous works. After this interview, its definitely inspired us watch some of his older works!
Images from London Korean Film Festival Facebook page