The following group interview took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on March 27th 2014, prior to the Korean Cultural Centre UK special screening of 'New World' and Q&A with director/screenwriter Park Hoon-jung:
Hangul Celluloid: In your role as a screenwriter, do you feel that the job of writing a script finishes when a director takes control of a project and how do you feel if as director changes elements of your screenplay or a film company asks for specific alterations?
Park Hoon-jung: On principle, I feel that a film is essentially a director’s work so I try not to get involved once a script is passed on to whoever is to direct but it all depends on a number of variables. For example, if I feel that changes to the screenplay might be made that would distort the message that I want to send out then I would endeavour to ensure that doesn’t happen. I would also make sure to be involved in the casting of the film and insist on being consulted if changes to the dialogue were wanted. If I have worries about the message being distorted, I have all these requirements written into the contract.
SumGyeoJin Gem: You’ve worked with both director Kim Jee-woon and Ryoo Seung-wan; on ‘I Saw the Devil’ and ‘The Unjust’, respectively. What discussions did you have with the directors about the films and what did you learn from those discussions?
Park Hoon-jung: In the cases of ‘The Unjust’ and ‘I Saw the Devil’, I gave the screenplays to the directors through the specific production companies involved. My screenplays were hardly changed in either case, so what you see in the films is basically what I wrote.
easternKicks: Can you tell us how the writing process works for you; where do you find your inspiration and considering how dark I Saw the Devil is, should we be worried if we pass you on a road on a cold winter’s night?
Park Hoon-jung: Generally, I get story material from watching the news and seeing what’s going on in Korean society and obviously my thoughts and beliefs are reflected in my subsequent screenplay. I find a script becomes more textured after watching current events in Korea, but I am a very normal person so you shouldn’t be at all worried whether you meet me at night or during the day [Park Hoon-jung laughs].
Mini Mini Movies: I wanted to ask about your directorial skills: What percentage came from maybe film school or short films compared to working on film sets later on?
Park Hoon-jung: I was never educated at film school institution or environment and everything I know about directing I learnt from watching many, many movies.
Korean Class Massive: As you weren’t specifically trained in screenwriting, how difficult was it for you when you first started? Were there any specific issues that you faced?
Park Hoon-jung: There is a Korean saying that states if you don’t know much you are very bold and brave. I think that saying relates to me greatly. Because I was never trained at film school, I didn’t know much so I could keep trying and ‘going at it’ and eventually achieve something. Throughout, I have always enjoyed the writing process. I guess in the end not knowing much about the process was a positive thing.
Empire Magazine: Your four scripts are all very different. Is it important to you to be exploring different genres or is it just a coincidence that the four screenplays are very individual?
Park Hoon-jung: I think it was coincidental. I never set out to write a specific genre script and I ultimately feel that story is more important than genre. That said, I would like to explore other genres in the future but there are certain subject areas such as romance and comedy that I don’t think I’d be very good at [Park Hoon-jung laughs].
Josef Tesar: Would you say that the way in which you write scripts has changed since you began to also direct films?
Park Hoon-jung: Certainly there has been as change, because as I have begun to experience directing on set I am far more aware of obstacles that can stand in the way of the portrayal of certain elements written in a script. So, now it takes a far longer amount of time for me to write because I’m visualising what will be difficult or easy to portray.
Filmscribe: Are there limits to what you can include in a script in terms of what can be achieved cinematically and are those limits caused by budget constraints or ease of direction?
Park Hoon-jung: I think both apply. In terms of budget limits, I feel the constraints are a positive thing and force me to think of ways to portray scenes with a lower budget and I honestly think that’s a good thing. Secondly, obviously when you’re shooting there are certain scenes that are more difficult to direct than others, so I guess I think about those issues almost without realising it.
Elstree Studio Productions: Having gone from being an all-out screenwriter to a director/screenwriter, how would you feel now about letting someone else direct one of your scripts?
Park Hoon-jung: That’s absolutely fine, I don’t mind at all [Park Hoon-jung laughs].
Hangul Celluloid: The majority of your films, both those you’ve solely written and those you’ve written and directed, have virtually no references to sex or sexuality whatsoever, apart from ‘I Saw the Devil’ where the sexual content is largely used to underline the deeply twisted nature of the characters involved rather than being sex related to love or romance. Was the lack of sexual content in your work a deliberate choice on your part and what are your thoughts on the increase of sexual content appearing in mainstream Korean cinema, in recent years?
Park Hoon-jung: It was indeed a deliberate choice of mine. As you rightly said, there is currently rather a trend in Korean cinema for showing sexual scenes and because that’s the case I felt that I didn’t need to follow in a similar manner at all. Personally, I don’t really like those types of movies so it must be something to do with my personality that I don’t want to reference those kinds of scenes or content.
SumGyeoJin Gem: We are going to watch ‘New World’ tonight. I’ve seen the film before and I found some similarities between it and ‘The Unjust’. In ‘The Unjust’ the character dies; in ‘New World’ the character wins, so what was the reason behind these ideas and what were the main differences character-wise?
Park Hoon-jung: There isn’t a particular reason, it’s just in the specific case the story panned out that way and I felt it was the most believable arc for the narrative. Essentially, when writing I felt that was the natural way each story was going.
easternKicks: Your films tend to involve different genres and a lot of different time periods but a lot of them have action scenes in common. Do you write that action into scripts or do you leave it to the point of filming to interpret them?
Park Hoon-jung: In my films I don’t refer to them as action scenes, I think of them more as violent scenes. They have a very clear concept and I tend to describe them in significant detail. Whilst shooting, as long as the intention is still alive it doesn’t matter that much to me how they are specifically filmed so I just tend to create them while actually making the scene.
Mini Mini Movies: One thing that really stood out for me in ‘The Showdown’ apart from the superb sound was the story; it was to me very unlike a normal showdown or dual as it consisted of three characters. Where did that idea and inspiration come from?
Park Hoon-jung: In my previous screenplays, all except ‘I Saw the Devil’, I use triangular structures. I think if you’re talking about power or class struggles, the triangular character setup works the best, and I find it more interesting, personally. It all depends on the specific material but in terms of character struggles I prefer the triangle structure.
Korean Class Massive: I read that your latest film ‘New World’ is already scheduled to be remade by Sony Pictures. How do you feel about the film being remade?
Park Hoon-jung: Actually, both ‘New World’ and ‘I Saw the Devil’ are going to be remade but because I haven’t seen the finished remakes I can’t really say much about how I feel. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
Empire Magazine: You wrote a couple of really good parts for Choi Min-sik. Do you like to write for specific actors or do you prefer a film to take its own shape? What specifically does Choi Min-sik bring to a role?
Park Hoon-jung: I don’t write for specific actors but once casting is compete I do alter the script to fit more naturally with the cast member chosen for the part. For example, in ‘I Saw the Devil’ the character that Choi Min-sik played was originally a young man but after the casting we changed it to being a man in his mid-forties with a son. So, that’s how I adapted the script to fit with Choi Min-sik, as well as changing the idea of the character’s physical appearance and how he speaks so that the actor can say the lines more naturally.
Josef Tesar: The first film you directed was ‘The Showdown’ in 2010. Why did you decide to direct that particular film?
Park Hoon-jung: In Korea, if you make a period piece it tends to incur extremely high production costs; historical films tend to be used to entertain audiences visually with lavish sets, clothes and all sorts of things. However, I wanted to make ‘The Showdown’ on a smaller budget as I felt it was more about mystery and how individual characters feel inside. I had actually written this screenplay well in advance of my other film scripts and I had always felt I wanted to direct it myself. Plus, when the script was shown to other directors, their ideas for the film were different from what I wanted to convey with the film. Hence me directing it myself.
Filmscribe: How many screenplays did you write before ‘The Showdown’? I read an article today that suggested you may have made some short films as well so I was interested to know how many films you have scripted in total?
Park Hoon-jung: I never wrote any shorts but I started writing screenplays when I was in high school so I written a lot. I can’t tell you the specific number but it is loads… loads… and there are many that aren’t complete or exist only as a first or second draft.
Elstree Studio Productions: Having I read that you cite ‘The Godfather’ as one of your favourite films and a major influence on your work, and I was wondering which Korean films inspired you growing up and drew you to becoming a writer and director?
Park Hoon-jung: When I was younger, Korean Cinema wasn’t really booming wand was in rather a stagnant state. So, I didn’t watch a lot of Korean films growing up but obviously I have watched a great deal recently. I love watching the work of directors Bon Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon.
Hangul Celluloid: What’s ultimately more important to you as both a screenwriter and director, character depth or overall narrative storyline?
Park Hoon-jung: That’s an incredibly difficult question but also extremely important. It’s so difficult for me to say spontaneously. I guess I would really have to think about it for a considerable time to answer the question properly but here and now I’ll say that both are vitally important to me.
SumGyeoJin Gem: If anyone is interested in becoming a screenwriter, where should they start and how should they approach coping with writer’s block?
Park Hoon-jung: Firstly, in order to write you need to watch a lot of films and then you need to write whatever it is that interests you. If you get writer’s block, there’s really nothing you can do so you either write another completely separate piece or you step back and get away from it, enjoy your life for a time and then get back to it.
easternKicks: Having become such an avid screenwriter when you were young, I’d like to ask did you always intend to become a director? And to slightly flip an earlier question, could you ever imagine directing someone else’s script?
Park Hoon-jung: Firstly, I always wanted to be a director so whilst writing I always had the dream of directing. However, it felt like a very distant dream at the time and very difficult to make a reality but I ultimately did become one. Secondly, I don’t feel that I have enough directing sills yet and I wouldn’t want to damage someone else’s screenplay. So, for now at least, I’m not sure I will do that but then again perhaps in the future.
Mini Mini Movies: In the last few years, have you seen any Korean films from younger directors who you think are going to do well in the future?
Park Hoon-jung: I think everybody else, apart from me [Park Hoon-jung laughs], is doing very well.
Korean Class Massive: You said in a previous interview that there’s a hidden screenplay that you’d like to make into a film but the production costs would likely be too high. It sounds really interesting, would you be able to give us more information about it?
Park Hoon-jung: That screenplay was one I write when I was in high school and I won an award in a writing contest for that story which is to do with terrorism. And even now I don’t think it will be made into a film because the production costs would be prohibitive.
Empire Magazine: ‘I Saw the Devil’ is a very dark film. Were you surprised when it went into production and did anything change in the process; I believe there is a more violent version exported from Korea? And can you talk about your collaboration with Kim Jee-woon?
Park Hoon-jung: The original version of the film was given an ‘Unclassified’ rating because we don’t have the R18 certification in Korea, so even though it’s not banned there is no cinema licensed to show it. So we had to make cuts to make it suitable for an 18 rating. Also, the versions exported to the US and the UK are all shortened from the original. When I wrote the story, I didn’t think the graphic brutality would be shown directly but obviously the director’s point of view was that it was better cinematically to include that imagery. That wasn’t my idea but of course the characters and story didn’t change it’s just down to how much is directly shown.
Josef Tesar: You have previously said that if ‘New World’ was a successful film you would be able to shoot a prequel to it. Has the film done well enough for that to happen yet?
Park Hoon-jung: ’New World has performed very well indeed. Personally, I wasn’t thinking about prequel in any respect but the investment company requested it. So, yes, we are preparing for the production and all of the actors are very excited.
Filmscribe: Earlier, you mentioned that some of your ideas begin with a news item and you add context with your own personal and political beliefs. Could you take us through how the idea for ‘New World’ developed?
Park Hoon-jung: It’s mainly about the state power and the conflicts between different factions, but it essentially centres around politics and I wanted to talk about how power is created; whether it’s intentional or not. When the actors asked me what sort of film I wanted to make I told them it’s basically about gangsters involved in a form of politics and the pursuit of power within that between different groups.
Elstree Studio Productions: What comes next for you? Have you any specific projects in mind for the future?
Park Hoon-jung: I am preparing another period piece set during Korea’s occupation by Japan but at this point that’s really all I can say about it.
On behalf of everyone involved, I'd sincerely like to thank the Korean Cultural Centre UK for allowing and arranging our interview with director/screenwriter Park Hoon-jung.
Many thanks also go to Sinae Hong for her role as interview interpretor.