Commercial Vs. Avant-Garde: Park Chan-wook on ‘Cyborg’

    December 07, 2006 09:17

    Park Chan-wook is likely to face only two responses -- enthusiasm and incomprehension -- when his new film “I’m a Cyborg but That’s OK” is released on Thursday. The movie deals with the romance between Yeong-gun (Lim Soo-jung), a patient at a mental hospital who believes she is a cyborg and refuses to eat, and Il-soon (Rain), a patient who tries to persuade her to eat. Full of pastel images, the movie is as unlike previous works such as “Old Boy” and “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” as you can get. That may be the reason quite a few viewers feel they have no idea what the movie is trying to say. But the director tells the Chosun Ilbo he has made a “viewer-friendly commercial film.”

    -- If this is viewer-friendly, what was it like when you first had the idea?
    Well, I think I changed it into a purely commercial movie. When I first conceived the plot, I wanted to depict a world of illusion and delusion. The story takes place in a mental hospital, as you know, and I wanted it to be complicated, confusing and perplexing.

    -- It seems that everything in the movie challenges convention. The New World Mental Hospital is not the sort of mental hospital we usually imagine, and the romance between the two protagonists is totally novel.
    Think of this. There are images of mental hospitals created through movies like “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” and there are real mental hospitals. And people have their own image when they think of mental hospitals. But they all have to do with confinement and suppression. I wanted to change those images. I wanted to show that a mental hospital can be a bright, pleasant and lively place. I actually wish it really was.

    -- You made up seven deadly sins for a cyborg, like sympathy and affection. Tell us more about the idea.

    There are rather less important things like “fanciful ideas” and “hesitation.” Ironically, they are feelings that a cyborg doesn’t need but a human being does.

    -- “Fanciful ideas” and “hesitation” are things that characterize you to some degree, aren’t they?

    (Laughs) You need them in this business.

    -- Lim and Rain show a totally different side of themselves in the movie. It’s amazing to see Lim play a cyborg.

    “Perfect” isn’t even the word to describe her acting. She plays the character way better than I imagined. I was amazed to see her become the character. There’s a tendency today to put the stress on realism in acting. Of course, that’s important, but sometimes different ways of acting are also needed.

    -- You may feel uncomfortable with this question, but narrative accounts for not more than 30 percent of your movie. Is that a way of expressing your desire as director to communicate with the unique language of film, which is different from literature.

    I can’t agree with that. I don’t at all think that narrative is decreasing in my films. It’s natural for me as a film director to try to differentiate film from literature. But I don’t think such efforts affect the narrative.

    -- Despite that, some viewers say that it’s hard to understand your movies.

    (Sighs) What more can I do to help them… ? When the movie was previewed, I found that the younger viewers were, the more easily they understood it, and that the more educated viewers were, the more perplexed they were. I think those educated viewers think too much about trivial things, like “what is the message of the movie?” and “What is it the director is trying to say?” It’s not hard to understand a movie if viewers are just absorbed in it and let themselves be part of it.

    -- Another uncomfortable question. Some directors joke that you have “tyrannical” power in the film world because no one except you can cast top stars like Lim and Rain in an avant-garde film.

    I want to tell those who say this that I didn’t get what I have now for free. I had to make desperate efforts to survive for quite a long time and paid for everything I have now. Let me say once again: My new movie is not an experimental movie at all. It’s just a little unusual. I think that is acceptable. The two stars were paid less than half of what they usually earn. And that helped cut the production budget [W3.1 billion (US$1=W916)].

    -- To change the subject, the movie is a lot more heart-warming than your previous vengeance trilogy. Has your world view changed?

    (After long pause) It is hard to give a black and white answer. It’s true that I’ve changed and gotten more generous, but the problem is I may change again. For example, my next movie will not be heartwarming at all, but rather cruel and bitter. But I'm an artist who has the freedom to change anytime.

    -- It seems you have really become generous.

    I now feel that hostility, discontent and all sorts of feeling I had in the past were immature. Isn’t it rather easy to talk about despair and pessimism in life? What is difficult is talking about hope and love, especially in this complex, difficult world. What’s more, they have to be talked about in a non-hypocritical way, and there lies the biggest challenge.

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