Quentin Tarantino: 'Korea's Bong Joon Ho Is Like Spielberg in His Prime'

Quentin Tarantino Bong Joon Ho in Busan H

In a surprise appearance with the celebrated Korean director in Busan, Tarantino discusses his "2013 approach" to genre filmmaking and why he'll never direct a serial killer film ("I would reveal my sickness far too much").

BUSAN, South Korea – Quentin Tarantino made a surprise visit to the Busan International Film Festival to meet with South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, whom he praised as one of his generation's most visionary directors during a stage interview on Friday.

"I came here quite impulsively actually," said Tarantino, who arrived in Busan on Wednesday "to hangout with Bong" after attending an awards ceremony in Macau. He recalled watching the Korean filmmaker's The Host for the first time and being so "blown away" that he later screened it along with Memories of Murder at the retro theater he owns in Los Angeles.

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"Of all the filmmakers out there in the last 20 years, he has something that [1970s] Spielberg has. There is this level of entertainment and comedy in his films. [The Host and Memories of Murder] are both masterpieces … great in their own way," he said.

The two filmmakers have a lot in common. Both grew up watching genre films, which they now write and direct to great acclaim.

Tarantino says he considers himself "a student of cinema" and "the day I graduate is the day I die." Though he continues to learn from the great masters like Sergio Leone, he said he tries to reinvent the genre in his own way. "I love Sergio Leone … but they're movies that are a product of their times. I'm trying to do the 2013 perspective." 

Likewise, Bong, also a fan of 1970s films, says he tries to bring a Korean twist to the genre. "In the U.S., scientists, soldiers and muscular superheroes fight against monsters, but in [The Host] a Korean family, a messed up, really idiotic one at that, fights the monster." Tarantino agreed, saying, "It's funny because the whole idea that a family, not just any family, but a weird, f---ed up family like in The Host would be the stars is unfathomable in the U.S., or any country. That is recreating the genre."

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He questioned, however, if it was fair to call such works as his Jackie Brown or Bong's Mother genre films. "Are they genre films or character studies?" The two went on to discuss often working with the same stock of actors for their character-driven films. Tarantino said he opted for such a casting process because his favorite directors, such as Sam Peckinpah, do, adding that it's not easy to find actors who can strongly articulate the dialogue he writes.

Bong also explained that repeatedly casting actors, such as his favorites Song Kang-ho and Byun Hee-bong, makes production easier. "They understand things right away," he said, adding that he took a cue from Tarantino when seeking out the latter veteran actor, who had disappeared from the big screen for some time.

"I saw Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker with Martin Landau … and you can see he was being an actor again … I thought, 'What if you were to give [big actors on a downward climb] a good script that they can really sink their teeth into?'" Tarantino said of his now renowned casting choices. 

About future genre films they'd like to tackle, Tarantino said he'd stay away from serial killer movies because "the planet Earth couldn't handle my serial killer movie. I would reveal my sickness far too much."

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Bong said he'd like to try to film a prison break film set in a World War II camp or a castaway story, but never would be able to make a musical "because I can't bear that embarrassing moment when an actor breaks into singing."

To this, Tarantino said, "I'd want to see 'Bong's Great Escape: The Musical,'" drawing much laughter from the large crowd that had gathered to see the two filmmakers onstage in Korea.