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‘Handmaiden’ may raise controversy, says director Park Chan-wook

Korea’s most internationally-recognized director reminisces about famed 2003 film “Oldboy,” discusses upcoming lesbian-themed flick at Jeonju Film Fest

JEONJU, North Jeolla Province -- The lesbian theme in his upcoming movie “The Handmaiden” may bring about another storm of controversy in Korea, according to director Park Chan-wook.

“It’s not a theme that’s been dealt with in Korea’s commercial film industry, so it could be called unique,” said Park during a talk with the audience that followed the screening of “Old Days,” a documentary film highlighting the making of director Park’s internationally renowned 2003 film “Oldboy,” at the Megabox theater in Jeonju.

“I’m not a person that likes to make trouble in everyday life, but ... it’s strange,” said Park.

“The Handmaiden,” which was recently invited to screen at the Cannes Film Festival’s official selection this October and is set for local release this June, centers on a story of an heiress, a count, and a maid and the erotic tension among them. 

A still from “The Handmaiden,” featuring Kim Min-hee (left) and Kim Tae-ri (CJ E&M)
A still from “The Handmaiden,” featuring Kim Min-hee (left) and Kim Tae-ri (CJ E&M)

Park, who previously won the Grand Prix at Cannes for “Oldboy,” said his new film was stylistically different from “Oldboy.”

“It’s not as powerful,” Park said. “It has a smaller, cuter charm compared to my previous films.”  

“A strange kind of energy”

Han Sun-hee, director of “Old Days,” said she felt the strength of “Oldboy” as a film in the course of making the documentary.

“I was very moved while I conducted the interviews with the filming crew,” said Han. “I could tell how hard they had worked on it.

“Another thing that struck me was that the people who had worked on the film were all quite young and rookies,” said Han. Actors Kang Hye-jung, Yoo Yeon-seok and Yoon Jin-seo, who starred in “Oldboy,” had all been in the beginning stages of their acting careers at the time.

“I felt that there had been a strange kind of energy on that set.

“Even though ‘Oldboy’ was spotlighted at the time for its bloodiness and controversial elements like incest, looking at it now, I felt that it was ultimately a film about time. In this documentary, I wanted to look back on the 10 years that have passed since the film was made,” said Han.

“Oldboy” producer Lim Seung-yong (Syd Lim) said that the documentary made him realize how possessed by the film all of the staff had been while making it.

“I think we really were all insane back then,” he said. “The filming team, the costume team, the art team, every single member of the crew constantly discussed the film, even during breaks. Everyone was passionate.”

Director Park Chan-wook (center) talks to the audience after a screening of the documentary “Old Days.” Park is joined by “Oldboy” producer Lim Seung-yong (left) and “Old Days” director Han Sun-hee. (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)
Director Park Chan-wook (center) talks to the audience after a screening of the documentary “Old Days.” Park is joined by “Oldboy” producer Lim Seung-yong (left) and “Old Days” director Han Sun-hee. (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)


Park is “not a cold man”

On his notoriously grueling directing style, which is highlighted in the documentary, Park said it was a facade he put up in order to lead the crew effectively.

“Of course, it’s just on the outside that I act that way. How can a person be like that on the inside? I’m as worried as everybody else, but since everyone is looking to me, I can’t be fazed. I have to be like a captain leading a ship.

“I wish I could be a cold person who has a clear vision and not care about anyone who gets in the way of fulfilling that vision. But I am not that kind of person, and it’s a fault of mine. I always compromise at a certain point, and that’s my limit.”

Park called his film crew “family.”

“Most of them worked with me on ‘The Handmaiden’ as well,” he said. “You would think that we understand each other perfectly now, but it’s not like that. We still have differences in opinion and we still fight. I think that is true mastery. There’s not a day on the set that’s boring.”

The documentary “Old Days” is to be included in the special Blu-ray version of “Oldboy,” set for release soon.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)







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