Park Chan-wook Recalls Making 'Oldboy' as 'The Handmaiden' Readies to Bow at Cannes

Courtesy of Jeonju International Film Festival
Park Chan-wook in 'Old Days'

Documentary 'Old Days' tracks the creation of the 2003 cult classic ahead of a rare Blu-Ray release of a Korean film.

A new documentary about Oldboy premiered last Friday during the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea, and the occasion brought together two of the country's most iconic creatives: director Park Chan-wook and producer Syd Lim.

The two spoke to fans as they looked back on the 2003 Cannes Grand Prix-winning cult film and looked ahead to their latest collaboration, The Handmaiden, competing at the French festival later this month.

"I continue to work with most of the core members of Oldboy's post-production team, up until now for The Handmaiden. Many of the production crew have also become like family for me," Park told the audience during a Q&A session following the screening of Old Days.

Old Days captures the complex production process behind the film that sparked a flowering and international recognition of contemporary Korean cinema. Han Sung-hee, known mostly for TV productions, helms the doc.

"Oldboy was made during a pivotal time in Korean film history, as the 35-milimeter analog film era was coming to an end and the post-production process was first introduced in the industry. The movie really pushed boundaries in terms of bringing rich sound effects and experimental music scores, and there are so many stories just involving the post-production process," said Han.

Park went on to speak more about the creative struggle involved in the making of Oldboy, including going over budget.

"You’d think that we'd fit like hand in glove by now, but that's not the case," Park said with a laugh. "Arguing, however, allows for growth. We work together in a way that's far from boring, in an environment that is full of tension as we contribute new ideas that can clash at times."

Lim agreed, saying that conflicts with Park's artistic vision and financial constraints were inevitable.

"We fought a lot, but it wasn't personal or emotional. The director will always want to spend more money, while the producer will always want to save as much as possible; it's an age-old issue that will never be solved," said Lim.

"There are probably more films that get made while keeping within budget, but that doesn't make for a fun story. I simply lacked the wisdom and know-how at the time," Park said. He added that he learned a lot from his past experience and in fact completed The Handmaiden in fewer takes than planned.

The filmmaker also spoke about Oldboy's iconic corridor action scene, the single take in which lead actor Choi Min-sik fights a number of villains as he seeks vengeance for being locked up in a room for 15 years.

In the documentary, Choi says Park seems to have intentionally worn out the actor through multiple takes for artistic purposes.

"That's a misunderstanding," Park said. "I wish I were cold-blooded enough to push ahead with things like that…. But there was a moment, I admit, that things became very intriguing. The [scene] looked increasingly stylish the more tired Choi Min-sik became."

Park and the makers of Old Days also expressed their excitement about the upcoming Blu-ray release of Oldboy—Old Days initially began as a supplement for the project but was turned into a feature-length production.

Few Korean films get Blu-Ray or DVD releases here, given the dominance of the digital streaming market. Only a handful of titles, such as Frozen, have sold a "record" 3,000-4,000 copies in recent years. According to the Korean Film Council, the local Blu-Ray and DVD market has steadily plummeted as IPTV and VOD channels multiplied: revenue for physical media dropped 38 percent, from about $30.6 million (35.1 billion won) in 2010 to $19 million (21.8 billion won) in 2014, while digital streaming sales nearly tripled during the same period, from $96.8 million to $259.3 million.

"The new Blu-Ray project for Oldboy is not simply about offering the film in HD. It signifies how the makers of Oldboy have since become central figures in the Korean film industry, and how the industry itself has grown," said Baek Juno, the producer of Old Days and CEO of Blu-Ray production/promotion company Plain Archive.

"I hope it can be a catalyst for more Korean films to get Blu-Ray releases in the future," he added, saying that the release date of the Oldboy Blu-Ray has yet to be announced.

Meanwhile, the 17th edition of the Jeonju Film Festival, Korea's largest indie film event, continues through May 7. Newly headed by fest director Lee Choong-jik, the fest presents 211 films from 45 countries. The festival will close with the unveiling of the digital re-mastered version of Die Bad, the 2000 feature debut piece by star filmmaker Ryoo Seung-wan (Veteran).

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