Best known for his dazzling, visceral, taboo-breaking “vengeance trilogy” – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance – Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook rewires expectations with his latest, a whimsical romantic comedy entitled I’m A Cyborg and set in a mental hospital with a girl who fancies herself as something of a Terminator…
IGN: To see I’m A Cyborg after your other work, one could imagine the last audience for this film would be your previous fans – was that a concern?
Park Chan-Wook: When I was making Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, I had a lot of male fans who really liked the films but women didn’t really care for them. So when I made Lady Vengeance, I had in mind how to please the female audience. Also because of age restrictions not many adolescents could watch these films, so I wanted to please them as well. With this film I was aiming at a different audience, so old fans could be disappointed, but maybe also embrace this new type of film.
IGN: Apparently the first image that you had for this story was a woman firing bullets from her fingers..!
Park Chan-Wook: Actually even before that dream of the girl shooting bullets from her fingers, I had an earlier image of a scene in a psychiatric hospital, patients without doctors and how they react to the world. The bullet-fingered girl then directed me as to what kind of a character I could have in this hospital – two very separate ideas that came together.
IGN: There’s a much lighter tone here compared to your earlier films – does that translate on set too?
Park Chan-Wook: You wouldn’t believe it but the “vengeance” trilogy, as much as it was dark and heavy, the actual process of filming was very relaxed and cheerful. I personally like joking around and having a close friendship with the crew and actors. A film set is a workplace for me, it’s my office, and nobody really wants to be in a stressful work environment. Although the “vengeance” actors often had to shout and cry and do very violent things, they were joking with me on set, talking about how they got really drunk the night before or whatever, but as soon as we started filming, they were completely in character.
IGN: It’s interesting that of this film’s ‘Seven Deadly Cyborg Sins’, the worst is “sympathy”! What is it about this quality that interests you and makes you refer to it repeatedly?
Park Chan-Wook: Outside of being a joke referring to the other movie, I do believe that sympathy is a very important aspect of being a human being. Also because this is a romantic comedy, I wanted to find something to replace “love”. I believe “love” is very nice to hear, but it’s used so much that it’s come to a point where it’s almost meaningless. I wanted something that seemed more resonant and for me, “sympathy” is exactly that.
IGN: Do you think it’s easier to show violence and vengeance onscreen than it is to portray love or sympathy?
Park Chan-Wook: I believe there are more films that involve love and forgiveness than violence but they often seem fake and are almost embarrassing to watch. I also find this genre a lot more difficult to do well. For example the kissing scene in I’m A Cyborg, we filmed for a whole day and then I decided to scrap the whole thing – that hardly ever happens with my filming! So we did it again and decided to make it more humorous, with the head rotating 360 degrees and the girl lifting off the ground and kissing so long that the dentures swap from one mouth to the other. With that kind of element involved, I could watch it OK.
IGN: The issue of mental health, in Japan, for example, isn’t a subject often talked about publicly? Is that the same in Korea?
Park Chan-Wook: You probably know more about it than I do, I didn’t realise it’s a taboo subject in Japan! When I made the film and tried to export it to Japan, I had a really hard time even though I had Rain as my lead, and he’s an Asian superstar. But in Korea it wasn’t a problem at all.
Lim Soo-Jun as Young-Goon and pop star Rain as Il-Soon.
IGN: There’s a tradition in the West of big music stars – Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Madonna etc – not being great actors so what made you think Rain could carry a movie?
Park Chan-Wook: Korea’s the same – it’s very hard to be a successful actor if you’re a big pop star, but not the case in Japan and Hong Kong. There, singers and actors seem to go together. Seeing it was possible in other countries made me think it could work here too. I knew that Rain wanted to become an actor before he became a singer, and he’d already done a little acting in TV shows. I knew for the role I wanted someone who seemed very pure and unaffected and a lot of more experienced actors of that age have preconceived ideas of what they’re doing.
IGN: People often talk about Oldboy as Korean cinema’s international breakthrough, so is there a sense of responsibility that you have to ‘lead the way’? For example on this film you’re the first Korean filmmaker to use the HD Viper camera.
Park Chan-Wook: With the HD Viper camera it was more because it was a new toy and like a little child I wanted to play with it! I don’t believe it’s in my personality to always be the leader, I just can’t bear boring, normal things. I don’t want to make the same movies over and over. Worldwide the movie scene has become a bit too boring and nobody seems to be trying to challenge and provoke.
IGN: That said, what do you make of plans for an American remake of Oldboy?
Park Chan-Wook: I feel like I’ve just written a novel and Hollywood is making a movie out of it! Actually I can’t wait to see what they do with it.
The published article can be read on IGN – ‘Exclusive: I’m a Cyborg Q&A’