[Interview] Park Chan-wook frustrated by theaters’ unwillingness to screen miniseries

Posted on : 2019-03-27 16:54 KST Modified on : 2019-03-27 16:54 KST
South Korean director on his first TV series, based on John Le Carre novel
South Korean film director Park Chan-wook
South Korean film director Park Chan-wook

“I don’t think there’s a fundamental difference between movies and TV series. I thought of this series as a long movie while I was directing it. But I never thought how upset I’d be that the series couldn’t be screened in theaters.”

Park Chan-wook sat down with the Hankyoreh at a cafe in the Palpan neighborhood of Seoul’s Jongno District on Mar. 25 to share his feelings about his first television series. After “The Little Drummer Boy” aired on BBC in the UK and on AMC in the US last year, the director’s cut of the miniseries will be released on Mar. 29 on Watcha Play, a South Korean streaming platform. The miniseries, which unfolds in six episodes, details a spy-versus-spy intrigue between Israeli intelligence agents and Palestinian revolutionaries, based on a novel by legendary spy-fiction writer John le Carre.

“I’ve enjoyed the novels of John le Carre since I was in high school, and I was especially fond of the cat-and-mouse spy novels set in the Cold War, during the conflict between the capitalist and communist worlds. Since ‘The Little Drummer Girl’ is a story about Israel and Palestine, I wasn’t that excited about it, but my wife said it was really interesting and urged me to read it. As soon as I did, I got on the phone with my producer and told him we needed to look into this,” Park said.

In 2016, the year after Park read “The Little Drummer Girl,” he traveled to France for the Cannes Film Festival in connection with “The Handmaiden,” a film he’d directed. While there, Park met with a producer who held the rights to the novel and struck a deal to work on the miniseries together.

“Because the novel covers so much ground, we decided to make a TV series instead of a film. But actually, we shot the series much as we would’ve shot a film,” Park said.

Park’s regrets came after the series was complete. “I saw the first two episodes screened at the London Film Festival. It looked so good on the big screen, and it made me sad that people would have to watch it on their televisions and smartphones. I made up my mind that, if I tackled this kind of project again, it would have to be something worth giving up a theater release.”

The advantages of screening in a theater, Park said, are “the big screen, the sound quality and the concentration of the audience.”

“A theater viewing brings maximum pleasure, but the irony is that even films like ‘Roma’ by Alfonso Cuaron and ‘Okja’ by Bong Joon-ho are hard to see in theaters. Film studios are reluctant to put in that much money, while when Netflix invests enough to make something worthy of showing in theaters, the theaters don’t want to screen it. It’s a shame that creators are forced to choose between the two.”

The main character of “The Little Drummer Girl” is an obscure actress named Charlie (played by Florence Pugh). Charlie accepts a dangerous offer from the Israeli intelligence agency and uses her acting chops to infiltrate a Palestinian group.

“Charlie is a woman who isn’t afraid of getting into harm’s way. The same could be said for Suk-hui [from “The Handmaiden”], Tae-ju [from “Thirst”] and Geum-ja [from “Lady Vengeance”], but Charlie is especially hot-tempered, the kind of impetuous person who doesn’t take heed of the consequences.”

So why is it that so many of Park’s films place a female character in the foreground? “Women make up half of humanity, but there aren’t many films with a female lead. So what I thought is, we’ve got a great market here,” Park said with a chuckle.

“I think I’ve also been affected by being married for so long and by my daughter, who has been getting more vocal as she grows up.”

What’s next on Park’s agenda? “My ideal scenario is alternating between one Korean film and one film in another language, but nothing ever goes my way,” Park said, laughing.

“I need a big budget for my Hollywood western ‘The Brigands of Rattleborge,’ and we haven’t locked down all the investment yet. As for a Korean film, I’m working on a police procedural that would double as a rom-com about the relationship between a male detective and a woman.”

By Suh Jung-min, music correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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