[FILM] Revenge, an octopus and acclaim for S.Korea's Chan-wook Park
- Revenge, an octopus and acclaim for S.Korea's Park
By Jon Herskovitz
Mon Aug 22, 9:51 PM ET
SEOUL (Reuters) - Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but South
Korean director Park Chan-wook put live octopus on the menu of his
award-winning movie on getting your own back.
Park won international acclaim, the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004 and
industry accolades for his movie "Old Boy," which featured the
memorable scene of a man who celebrates his release from imprisonment
and vents his anger by stuffing his mouth with a squirming octopus.
Now Park, who studied philosophy and will soon turn 42, has completed
a trilogy of movies about revenge with his latest film "Sympathy for
Lady Vengeance." The movie has ruled the South Korean box office
since it was released in late July.
Hollywood's main trade paper Variety called it "one of the most
anticipated Asian movies of the year."
It will be in competition at the Venice Film Festival, which runs
from August 31 to September 10. Park has been billed as one of the
top directors in South Korea's movie industry, a powerhouse in
Asia that matches the regional popularity of South Korean television
dramas and pop music.
"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" stars Lee Young-ae as a syrupy sweet
and sadistically cruel woman named Geum-ja who spends 13 years in
prison after she is wrongly convicted of kidnapping a little boy and
Once released from jail, she tracks down the actual killer in a quest
punctuated with black humor and violence delivered with a menacing
The opening scene shows how Park can combine different ideas as it
offers a strange mix of Christian redemption, poorly played Christmas
music and a symbolic plate of white tofu, which Koreans traditionally
offer recently released prisoners to symbolize starting a new crime-
EMPTINESS OF REVENGE
Park has made a name for himself with his revenge trilogy, which
began with the movie "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance."
Yet he first earned fame for his 2000 film "Joint Security Area" that
told of an unlikely friendship struck up between bored North and
South Korean border guards. It became one of the highest grossing
domestic films in the history of South Korean movies and also drew
In the revenge series, Park combines elaborate plot lines, dark
humor, deep violence and some of the most disturbing scenes placed on
film to show the single-minded and ultimately futile pursuit of
"Revenge is not something that is fulfilling," Park said in an
interview with Reuters.
"It is a violent thing that can only cause more pain and sin. But a
person cannot help themselves from pursuing it. That is just the way
people are," Park said, speaking in Korean.
Park has long hair that he often brushes back with his hands after
making a point. He is an intent listener who speaks frankly about his
He says one of the reasons why South Korean films have done well in
Asia and picked up major awards on the international film festival
circuit is because they are able to depict the stress and emotional
extremes of individuals living in a rigid South Korean society.
"For Korean movies, technical and artistic abilities are not their
high points. But there is an energy in Korean movies that films from
other countries lack," Park said.
Park said he greatly appreciates the work of directors such as Alfred
Hitchcock. Park said Hitchcock's movies have a perfect balance,
masterful editing and a distinctive polish.
"I really revered Hitchcock's films. But when it came time to make my
movies, I had to move completely away from his world because it
lacked a certain vitality," Park said. "In Korea, characters lose
their focus too easily, which led me to make scenes that are more
blown up and exaggerated."
Park emerged as one of the hottest directors in the world last year
when he won top honors at Cannes.
Quentin Tarantino, the director of the "Kill Bill" revenge duo of
films, led the jury at Cannes. He praised Park, and Hollywood
executives talked about his movies becoming the latest in a series of
Asian films, such as "The Ring" and "The Grudge," to get an American
Park said he would love to see one of his movies remade in Hollywood,
as long as he could review the script and retain some rights as the
And what exactly prompted the famous octopus scene?
"The main character had been in something like a prison for 15 years.
He did not eat with anyone. He was totally alone and had no
interaction," Park said.
"When he came out, the first thing he wanted to do was interact with
something alive. There was an anger directed at the person who put
him in prison. I wanted to express the anger and murderous rage
through a medium. And that is where the octopus came in," he said.
"Not all Koreans eat like that," Park joked.