If you are a Korean film fan in the UK, we’re sure you’ve heard of Mr Hangul Celluloid or Paul as people normally call him. Ever since meeting him at our first KCC UK Director interview, we’ve mentioned him countless times and is someone whom we’ve learnt a lot from. Paul is one of the original KFilm bloggers in the UK and has a clear passion for Korean cinema. We’ve seen him interview countless numbers of Directors so we thought we would turn the tables around and interview him for a change!
What made you fall in love with Korean film? What inspired you to start a website about it?
I’ve loved Asian cinema and Asian television in general ever since I was a young kid watching ‘Monkey’ and ‘The Water Margin’ while living in Northern Ireland and over the subsequent years I sought out as much Asian cinema as I could find. However, though many Asian films were great and some less so, there were a number of films that stood out as utterly jaw-dropping but it wasn’t until I watched ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ that the “Korean” penny finally began to drop. I watched ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ twice in quick succession (the second time was like watching a totally different movie, being aware of the “twist”) and as I sat in awe with my mouth open afterwards, I checked out the film’s info: On learning it was Korean, I searched out all the other aforementioned astounding films and, without exception, every single one of them was a Korean film. That was it, my obsession with Korean Cinema had well and truly begun… My website began simply as a way of doing something creative. I had been a musician and guitar teacher but when I reached the age where it was clear I was no longer a “young gun” of music, I kind of lost the “muse”. Writing about films quickly filled the void. Originally the site was called Burnt Celluloid and was reviews of any films that inspired me and it was only when a work colleague asked “Why do you review more Korean films than any others?” that I decided that focusing only on Korean Cinema was exactly what I was going to do (that and only that)… At that point Hangul Celluloid was born.
What were your family and friend reactions when you decided to focus on Korea?
Friends and family have been incredibly supportive from the outset and while I’ve got used to being asked “Why only Korean”, as the years have passed that question has largely been supplanted by “So, where should I start with Korean cinema?” or “Oh, I saw [various Korean film titles]… Wow! It was amazing. Are they all like that?” Of my family, my niece (a university student) and my dear mum (80 years young) have been the ones who have sought out specific Korean films because of my comments, reviews etc – my mum even spent a day telling anyone and everyone who would listen the entire storyline of ‘Addicted’, repeatedly, and was extremely vocal about pointing out that the mother in ‘Poetry’ had done things that she wouldn’t.
What was the aim of your website? Was there anything specific you set out to achieve?
When I started the Hangul Celluloid site, there were far fewer sites reviewing Korean films and fewer reviewing only Korean cinema. Also many sites at the time reviewed films simply by dictating the entire plot (thereby destroying the story for anyone who hadn’t seen the film) or either said next-to-nothing worthwhile or made what I felt were utterly the wrong assumptions and conclusions. My main goal was to say something about each film that few had said and/or noticed at the same time as trying to give readers a true sense of the feelings I got while watching a particular movie. How successful I’ve been in that goal isn’t really for me to say. In short, I wanted (and want) people to read my reviews and say “I want to see that film…. now!” and lead them to another and another….
Was it difficult to gather information in the beginning? As it’s only recently that Korean culture came into the limelight?
It certainly wasn’t as easy as it is now and the information available on the internet back them was as likely to be incorrect as correct. When I began to focus on Korean cinema, I specifically sought out as many older Korean films (from the New Korean Cinema wave and earlier) and at the same time I began researching Korean culture and certain aspects of history, so from early on I could begin to see references in narratives. Initially, I found books a much greater resource than digital information and though the number of in print publications has spiralled in recent years, even when I was beginning the site a fair few were available.
Do you feel that Korean culture has started to really expand in the London Scene in the last few years? What do you think it is that makes Korean Culture/ Korean film so popular?
Massively! As far as Korean films are concerned, the impact Park Chan-wook and Kim Ji-woon have had on public knowledge of Korean cinema in the UK can’t be denied but while many access Korean cinema, fall in love and decide to search out other cultural elements as a result, many fall in love with cultural elements which then lead them to Korean films. The explosion of K-pop has helped catapult interest in all things Korean too with many K-pop fans checking out films starring K-pop idols and getting an entry into Korean cinema that way, among others. What make Korean culture and films so popular? Korean culture still has a feeling of being exotic and different (ergo exciting) – far more than Japanese or Chinese, which are now much more familiar to many – and as for the films… well… no-one makes films like Korea – Asian aesthetics with a mixture of Asian , American and European film-making techniques (a great many Korean directors have learnt their craft abroad, since the days of the New Korean Cinema wave), thereby being strange and familiar at the same time to new UK K-film audiences. Finally, just as Korean film is resurging and K-pop is becoming increasingly popular in the West, Korean drama has growing fleets of adoring fans helped by increasing access to a myriad of Korean television series. The same holds true for it leading to K-film and vice versa, as I mentioned above regarding culture and K-pop.
Has doing your website changed your life in anyway?
Definitely. Writing for the site has allowed me to come into regular contact with kindred spirits (now friends) who are as obsessed with Korean film as I am and has provided an extra social circle I previously didn’t have. I now also write for two magazines as a feature writer and have provided a number of pieces/overviews/reviews for the ‘Directory of Korean Cinema: Korea’ – a book that will be published by Intellect Books later this year. Without my website, I would likely never have got to the point where I could legitimately call myself a published writer. Over the last couple of years, I have deliberately tried to extend the coverage my site provides by seeking out interviews with as many directors and film cast members as possible and as such I’ve been able to (and continue to) meet film-makers and acting stars who I am a huge fan of. They say “Never meet your idols”… They, whoever they are, are wrong. ~ Mr Hangul Celluloid