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Classic films still touch hearts today

Korea’s new generation of directors tip their hats to giants of yesteryear

Jan 15,2007
There is no denying the fact that recent Korean films are being acknowledged worldwide, but the pull of the past is still strong. The films Korea’s preeminent directors grew up watching linger in their memories, and they want more moviegoers to see the classics that deserve to be seen.
Directors Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Ryoo Seung-wan had a lot to say about this when the three maestros sat down together last week at the Seoul Arts Cinema, an old art house near Insadong. They were at the opening of a local film festival, “Les Amis de la Cinematheque,” which is in its second year. The festival runs through Feb. 6.
It’s a chance to watch “great, classic films,” they said, which are virtually impossible to see by any other means.
“I am a fanatical fan of director Kim Ki-young,” said Bong Joon-ho, opening up the discussion. “Whenever I work with veteran actors in Chungmuro [the heart of Korean filmmaking], the first thing I always ask them is whether they ever had an experience working with Kim.”
A retrospective of Kim’s works will kick off the festival, with foreign films blended in as it progresses. The late Kim was known for his intensely psychosexual and melodramatic horror films. Among his best works is “The Housemaid” from 1960, which features a powerful femme fatale. It is considered to be the best Korean film of all time.
For Bong, the maker of “The Host,” a blockbuster about a huge mutant tadpole, Kim was the hero who influenced his decision to pursue science fiction. “Do you remember that older lady sitting in the bus watching the tadpole running beside the Han River in utter shock in ‘The Host’?” he asked. (The other two directors nodded). “Her name is Sohn Yeong-sun, and she was the same lady who appeared in Kim’s ‘Ieodo.’ I felt a strange thrill running up my spine that I was working with an actress who worked with Kim.”
Ryoo and Park chuckled and nodded knowingly.
Bong continued: “And when I told my family that story during dinner, my father was like, ‘Hey, I worked with Ki-young.’ He said he was the one who made the subtitles and graphic designs for ‘The Housemaid.’ You know that cool, shaky handwriting the title was written in on the screen? My father worked on that for three nights straight when he was working at the National Audio Visual Information Service.”
This left the two others in awe.
“How come you didn’t tell us that before?” hissed Park Chan-wook, staring at him.
Park, the maker of the “Vengeance Trilogy,” said he also asked people whether they had worked with Kim Ki-young.
“I am really looking forward to the cinematheque festival because there are retrospectives of great directors, including Kim. It is so much better seeing these films on the big screen rather than on videos or DVDs,” Park said.
He said another of his favorite classic films was “Senso,” a 1954 film by Italian director Luchino Visconti.
“The classic films that I want to recommend are mostly the ones that played everywhere when you were young,” he said. “I love ‘The Passenger’ by Michelangelo Antonioni, starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider.”
Ryoo Seung-wan, maker of the action flick “City of Violence,” said he was influenced by Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.”
“I think I watched them on DVD over 30 times,” Ryoo said excitedly. “But when I watched them again on the big screen at last year’s cinematheque, they felt like different movies.”
“Yup, that’s the power of cinematheque,” Park said.


by Lee Min-a, Jeong Hae-gun


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