‘Mr Vengeance’ believes violence is one of the world’s major forces

Tales of revenge and violence – as well as sentiment and strong emotion arising from tragic events and circumstances – make up the cinematic world of Park Chan Wook, the Korean filmmaker whose recent trilogy has brought him to the forefront of the international film scene. Together with Kim Ki Duk, the 42-year-old director is at the vanguard of Korean cinema, dominating film festivals and, despite his films’ strong ethnic characteristics, winning over an international following of art house film buffs. His nickname is «Mr Vengeance,» and with his last three films – «Sympathy for Mr Vengeance,» «Oldboy» and «Sympathy for Lady Vengeance» – he has attracted a fanatical following. In Greece, we unfortunately didn’t get to see «Sympathy for Mr Vengeance,» though «Oldboy,» which was screened last year, gave local filmgoers a chance to witness Park’s world of intelligence and strong imagery. His heroes stand out for their passion and strong reactions, which he justifies by saying that «violence moves the world.» «I never enjoy watching films that provoke passivity. I would rather go to a spa,» he said in a recent interview, conducted before the director came to Greece to attend last week’s Thessaloniki International Film Festival, where he was a guest of honor. Passivity is certainly not what characterizes Park’s films. In the first film of the revenge trilogy, the deaf/mute hero kidnaps his boss’s daughter so he can remove her kidney and save his sister, but his plan spirals out of control. In «Oldboy,» a man is in prison for 15 years for apparently no particular reason. In his effort to exact revenge, he is led down a tragic route. In the third and final part, which opens in Greece on Thursday, a woman betrayed by her accomplice in the abduction and murder of a child is released from prison 13 years later. With her former cell mates, she seeks revenge. In your last film the lead character is a woman. How did this affect the plot? In contrast to the brute, impulsive violence of men, this time I could move the story from the heroine towards violence, something which is more graceful, more noble and more deliberate. I would say that it was necessary to end the trilogy with a heroine in a drama of atonement and salvation. How strong of an influence is ancient drama on your work? Ever since I was a young boy, Sophocles was my hero. Ancient Greek drama has always taught me about the struggle against a grand destiny, unyielding courage, irony and brutality. How do you justify the use of violence in your films, especially at a time when it does not register too well with the general public? I believe that violence is one of the major forces that moves the world. It is a very fundamental process in everything pertaining to human relationships, and I am very sad to say that this is reality. Therefore, since this is my opinion, it is only natural for me to describe violence in my films, in the same way that other directors, who believe that love makes the world go round, show kisses on the screen. Your use of different techniques (such as graphics) is impressive, though some might argue that the image overpowers the content. How do you comment? It is very difficult for me to separate the content from the image because it always starts with stories and characters and then style, which comes to express them as precisely and effectively as possible. They basically evolve in this order and when I develop them into the film, they become inextricably linked. Therefore, I would say that it is impossible for one to overshadow the other in my films. To what do you attribute the worldwide success of Korean films? Firstly, that they cover a broad range, from very art house films to films that are just entertainment. Secondly, we have a lot of outstanding actors. Another thing is that Korean films always describe the conflict between an individual and society. What is you opinion of American remakes of Asian films? What do you expect from the American remake of «Oldboy?» There is no reason to believe that remakes are always a mistake. The problem is that sometimes there is no originality in these efforts. The Americans don’t need to watch a film that is not in English, because they know that a few years later, there will be an English version of it. How many people in American know that «Insomnia,» before its American version, was a Norwegian film? It is really a tragedy that they miss out on the opportunity to see such a beautiful movie. As far as the remake of «Oldboy» is concerned, I am not expecting anything at all. I have no reason to tell the American director what to do and what not to do, just as I would not have liked the designer of the comic on which I based it to meddle in my film. I just hope that the new film will be very different from mine. What will come after the revenge trilogy? Rumor has it that you have turned down a lot of offers from big studios. How come? My next film will be about a psychotic girl who believes she is a cyborg and falls in love with a boy in the solitary confinement wing. I think it will be my first move with very little violence. As far as the American studios are concerned, it is true that I have received a lot of offers. Some are very interesting, some are not at all. Now I am at a point where I consider some of the interesting projects and politely reject the rest. This interview was translated from the Greek text.