The Korea Herald


Park brothers’ ‘mosaic’ film accentuates raw, uncut Seoul

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 12, 2014 - 20:06

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Placing cultural heritage sites like Gyeongbokgung Palace on the backburner, global citizens helped the city of Seoul produce its new “promotional” art house film that portrays the essence of the city in its rawest form.

“Bitter, Sweet, Seoul” is the latest film project by the famous Park brothers, directors Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyong, who have taken an unconventional approach to the typical city tourism video documentary and given the country its first globally crowd-sourced movie premiere.

Hired by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the brothers were tasked with creating a public film highlighting the city of Seoul for a global audience. Rather than creating yet another stereotypical film showing off the beauty and fun of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, the directors chose a different route.

As opposed to going around the city and filming scripted scenes, the Park brothers decided to call upon members of the public ― both local and abroad ― to submit any personal or professional video clips shot around Seoul. After six months of production and editing, the final cut was unveiled to the public on Tuesday.

Video submissions opened on Aug. 20, last year, and during the 98-day submission period, 2,821 people around the world sent in a total of 11,852 clips ― with 5,329 clips submitted from outside of Korea ― featuring their many different experiences to highlight the diverse faces of Korea’s capital. 

Director Park Chan-wook (left), Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (center) and director Park Chan-kyong attend a press conference for the two filmmakers’ latest project “Bitter, Sweet, Seoul” at the Seoul Cinema on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Director Park Chan-wook (left), Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (center) and director Park Chan-kyong attend a press conference for the two filmmakers’ latest project “Bitter, Sweet, Seoul” at the Seoul Cinema on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

“The greatest significance of this project is the fact that everyone from all over the world made this movie together,” said Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon during a press conference held at the Seoul Cinema on Tuesday. “This is what makes this project truly meaningful.”

After watching all 11,000-plus submissions, the brothers selected 154 videos and combined them all into an hour-long documentary-like film highlighting the dynamically multifaceted images of the people and landscape of Seoul as seen through the eyes of Koreans and visitors alike.

From simple, low-resolution nostalgic home videos of mom dancing with dad, to the horrifying images of the burning of the South Gate, to a photographer’s random stroll through the city’s back alleyways and abandoned neighborhoods, the directors managed to take a seemingly heedless pile of random video clippings and compile them into a shockingly rhythmic, compelling expose of an unscripted Seoul.

“Seoul is not a monotone city,” said Chan-kyong. “I think this is one of the city’s biggest attractions for tourists and I feel that this film really shows off all the different tones of Seoul.”

“I thought of the film as a giant mosaic piece,” said Chan-wook. “The movie touches on so many different subjects, but we weren’t focusing on the meanings or stories behind each individual clip; rather, we focused on the bigger picture and the tale of film as a whole.”

As the title suggests, the movie does not solely portray the picturesque or “sweet” aspects of Seoul, as many city-based films tend to do, but indeed shows off its “bitter” side. Even in the infancy of the film project, it was always the brothers’ intention to depict Seoul has as both an old and modern city with a long, tumultuous history. And like every city, Seoul has its dark sides.

“There are already so many promotional videos about Seoul geared toward bringing in tourists, but I believe the release of our film is a bit of a landmark event because of our more honest approach to the subject matter,” said Chan-kyong.

“If the images only showed the good and picturesque sides of Seoul, then people will know it’s a lie,” Mayor Park added. “Seoul has a long, dynamic history and we should not deny or be afraid to show the darker past and current aspects of the city. The film shows so many different lifestyles of Seoul; even I learned something while watching.”

The video clips were paired with not only the traditional sounds of Korea in the added pansori ― traditional Korean folk singing ― music, but also the sounds of modern rock and even the Azan (the Islamic call to prayer) to accentuate the many cultures that reside in Seoul. The brothers took what may seem to most as run-of-the-mill images and video clips and compounded them into a profound art film that in its rawest human approach portrayed the images of everyday people while conveying no specific messages other than “here is the real Seoul.”

“After watching the film, I no longer think of it as a promotional video for the city of Seoul,” said Mayor Park. “What the Park brothers did was take these video clips and made a poem; it’s truly unique.”

“Bitter, Sweet, Seoul” can be seen in its entirety online at

By Julie Jackson (