Dialogue: Park Tae-choon


Park Tae-choon made several well-regarded short films in the 1990s before joining filmmaker Kim Sung-soo as an assistant director on Kim's "Musa" in 2001 and other projects. Park's first feature, the $8 million "Sharaku," is about one of Japan's most famous artists, Toshusai Sharaku. Almost nothing is known of him except that he suddenly appeared around 1794 and produced 140 works over a 10-month period. Park's story speculates that Sharaku was, in fact, contemporary Korean painter Kim Hong-do. The director recently talked with The Hollywood Reporter Korea correspondent Mark Russell about his inspiration for the film and his experience collaborating with a Japanese producer and crew members.

The Hollywood Reporter: What got you interested in the story of a Japanese painter from the 18th century?
Park Tae-choon: I've always been interested in history and epics. Around 1998, I watched a Korean documentary, a kind of historical mystery, based on the theory that the Korean painter Kim Hong-do and the Japanese painter Toshusai Sharaku were the same person. I thought that would be an interesting subject for a movie. Whether Kim and Sharaku really were the same person ... (is) not really important. For someone who did not live then, even if there is just a 1% chance that something happened, it is worth investigating. But I'm more interested in just talking about how people lived then. I wrote my first draft of this story in about two weeks. I was really inspired. Back then it was very action-packed, like a spy epic. But the more I studied the history, the more I wanted to tell Sharaku's story. (The story) still has some action, but it has changed a lot. What interests me is Sharaku as the artist. Japan has not been invaded by foreign powers, so its historical artifacts are well preserved. But for Sharaku, there is almost nothing. We don't know who he was, then, in just 10 months, he produced 140 pictures and paintings, then disappeared.

THR: How has it been working with Japanese producer Iseki Satoru?
Park: He has been involved in many different aspects. The Japanese staff he has set up for us to work with are open-minded and flexible. He's easy to work with. What's really good is that he has not put any restrictions on my vision, but he provides me with more ideas and suggestions. Since this story takes place in Japan, in Japanese, it is important that it appeal to Japanese audiences. Iseki Satoru has played a big role in making the story seem real. The Japan team ("Sharaku" is produced by Kim Seung-beum of Studio 2.0 along with Satoru, cinematographer Sakamoto Yoshitaka and art director Ikeya Noriyoshi) has already started preproduction there. And right after HAF, I will be going to Japan to work on the film, too.

THR: So will you be filming in Japan?
Park: Yes, it will be (filmed) 90% in Japan, 90% in the Japanese language. I should say my story will also involve the artist Utagawa Toyokuni. He copied Sharaku's style, so I think there must have been some kind of connection between them. My story talks about that, too.

THR: Since you started this project, the Korean film industry has changed a lot, going through a huge boom and now some tough times. What do you make of those changes?
Park: If I knew that, I would be doing a lot better with my films (laughs). I don't think the market is that bad. I think it is in a transitional period, and it really needs to change. Considering the size of the Korean movie industry, its infrastructure is very weak. It needs to adjust. It needs better planning and new ideas. An old problem with Korean films is that planning is weak, and because planning is weak, once you are in production, all these problems spring up. You are always fixing problems, and that makes filmmaking inefficient and expensive. The system needs to change, or else it could (experience) what happened to Japan or Hong Kong in the past.

THR: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Park: I still want to make my World War II spy epic. I was all ready to make it a couple of years ago, but it was canceled right before shooting. But it would be set in China, Japan and Korea, and it would be really, really big, with lots of action.

VITAL STATS: Park Tae-choon
Date of birth: Jan. 25, 1973
Nationality: South Korea
Selected filmography: "Face" (short, 1996); "Soy Sauce" (short, 1998); assistant director, "Musa" (2001)
Notable Awards: KBS Film Award best short film, "Face" (1996)