‘Oldboy’ Director Park Chan-wook Returns With ‘Pure’ Love Story

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In this file photo taken on May 28, 2022, South Korean director Park Chan-wook poses during a photocall after winning the best director award for the film ‘Decision to Leave (Heojil Kyolshim)’ during the closing ceremony of the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. Image: AFP/Loïc Venance

Filmmaker Park Chan-wook, known for his ultra-violent thrillers that helped propel South Korean cinema onto the world stage, returns with an entirely different work, a sober yet deeply moving love story.

“Decision to Leave” comes after global hits from South Korean entertainment, including Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” and Netflix’s “Squid Game,” and has been the highest-grossing domestic movie in South Korea since it opened last night. last week.

It stars Chinese star Tang Wei and Korean actor Park Hae-il, who plays a detective investigating a man’s fatal fall from a mountain. He falls in love with the victim’s mysterious wife, whom he suspects of being the cause of her husband’s death.

The film has already won the Park Award for Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which previously awarded him the Grand Prize for his 2003 cult classic revenge thriller “Oldboy.” However, unlike many of his previous works, “Decision to Leave” contains almost no adult or graphically violent scenes.

IndieWire called it “the most romantic film of the year (so far)”, while early reviews hailed it as a beautifully rendered love story marked by elegance and restraint.

“I agree it’s a romantic movie, and I wanted to make such a movie,” Park said in an interview with reporters in Seoul last month.

The 58-year-old said he started thinking about the project while working on the BBC’s English-language miniseries ‘The Little Drummer Girl’. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Park wanted to do something different, away from politics and conflict.

“I wanted to make a pure film. Pure in the sense that it is true to the basics of cinema as an art form without any element other than the theme of love standing in the way,” he said.

The result is a poetic exploration of time, loss and longing, combining Park’s signature lush cinematography with the gripping sexual tension that simmers between the well-mannered detective and the seductive murder suspect. Both characters are a departure from Park’s previous more extreme characters, such as the repressed Catholic priest turned vampire in the horror film “Thirst” and a man held captive for 15 years in “Oldboy.”

The director has previously said that the love stories, much like his bloody revenge stories, reveal how “essentially human beings are.” Even so, none of the characters in his films have much in common with him.

“I am not at all a person who pursues such romantic ideals or lives my life that way. I tend to be very realistic and pragmatic,” the soft-spoken author said. “I’m the kind of filmmaker who has a big gap between my life and the movies I’ve made.”

Barrier ‘Arthouse’

Park has long been credited with inspiring a generation of filmmakers who pioneered the “Korean noir” genre, films about bloody crimes, brutal revenge or the criminal underworld, presented with lavish cinematography.

One such director, Bong Joon-ho, became the first South Korean to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his dark comedy “Parasite” in 2019. It was also the first non-English language film to win the ‘Oscar. Better picture.

While Park believes he has always made his films for the general public, he acknowledges that “South Korean films, Asian films and foreign films are still consumed as arthouse cinema” outside the region.

“No matter how they’re made, that’s how they’re graded,” he said. “I don’t think that’s ideal. But ‘Parasite’ broke that barrier.

Critics say his “Oldboy” paved the way for global triumph for South Korean cinema, but Park has made conscious efforts to work on non-Korean projects as well.

In addition to “The Little Drummer Girl,” he produced Bong’s first English-language film, “Snowpiercer” in 2013, and made his own Hollywood debut that year with “Stoker” starring Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska.

His next project is with HBO, a spy drama series based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer,” which will star Robert Downey Jr.

Park said the global entertainment industry needs more international collaborations.

“It’s important to know how your movies are being perceived right now, but you also wonder if your movies will survive and be remembered,” he said.

“There’s no way for me to know what viewers would be thinking 50 or 100 years from now,” he noted. “Yet the least clue you can still get is from the responses of overseas viewers today.” J.B.

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