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Park Chan-wook: Mild-mannered man of vengeance

  • Story Highlights
  • Park Chan-wook is the film-maker behind the 'Vengeance' trilogy
  • Dark themes and stylized hyper-violence characterized his early films
  • Won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 for 'Old Boy'
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By Dean Irvine

(CNN) -- For Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, revenge is a dish best served live.

Park Chan-wook, master of "Asian extreme": "Aren't we all born to this earth without a reason?"

The director most associated with the "Asian extreme" genre and known for his "Vengeance trilogy," once made one of his actors eat a live octopus -- three times.

Many of his films then are not for the faint-hearted, or weak of stomach, but devouring a live cephalopod is relatively mild compared to some of the themes of Park's films.

However, it's the psychology of violence rather than all-out blood, guts and tentacles that has been the focus of much of his work.

"It's the fear and disturbance that comes right before the violent act and the pain that comes after it. ... I am not greatly interested in the action itself. I believe that portraying violence in this way does not really influence audiences to engage in violence," he said.

The 44-year-old filmmaker's skewed view first gained international attention with his "Vengeance trilogy": "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" was released in 2002; "Old Boy" won the Cannes Grand Jury Prize in 2004; followed by "Lady Vengeance" in 2005. Park, however, first found big-screen success in 2000 with "Joint Security Area."

Portraying North Korean soldiers in a more sympathetic light than their South Korean counterparts, "Joint Security Area" became the top all-time moneymaker in South Korea at the time.

It took a liberal view of a previously taboo subject, but did not hint at the stylized and inventive way in which the director took on some dark themes in the "Vengeance" films.

While there are plenty of visceral elements in his films, and some jolting editing techniques (he once described them as "like a knife cutting through tofu"), the considered and soft-spoken director is worlds away from his twisted films' characters.

"Personally, I think that my normality and the fact that I grew up in a very average environment made me grow tired of it all, and make movies to escape the monotony," he said.

Park has said that his early movie education mainly came from watching old Hollywood films. Many influences on his work have come from sources outside of cinema, including Manga comics, one of which was the inspiration for "Old Boy".

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Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Singapore and Taipei

Saturday, May 17: 07.30, 2300
Sunday, May 18: 0830, 2100

Bangkok and Jakarta

Saturday, May 17: 0630, 2200
Sunday, May 18: 0730, 2000


Saturday, May 17: 00.30, 15.00
Sunday, May 18: 02.30, 15.00

"At first when I heard the story, it was about a person who was thrown into the middle of nowhere, without knowing why he was there or how long he would have to stay. I was attracted by this setting. This, for me, was a significant depiction of the condition of human beings. Aren't we all born to this earth without a reason? And we also don't know when we're going to die...I was attracted to this idea for the movie."

Knowing that he wanted to be a filmmaker came towards the end of his student days.

It was his interest in aesthetics as a student of philosophy that led to an initial ambition to be a film critic. It was only when he saw Hitchcock's "Vertigo" for the first time as part of a student film society did he realized he had to switch from writing about film to making it.

Added to that personal epiphany, it was the same day that he met his future wife, with whom he has as 12-year-old daughter.

His last film, "I'm a Cyborg," took a different tack from those used to the depravity of the "Vengeance trilogy". Focusing on a patient in a mental institution who thinks she's a robot, it has an off-beat charm, and the hyper-violence of earlier films was dispensed with in favor of child-like whimsy.

As well as showing another side of Park's character, he has admitted it was also a chance to make a film his daughter could enjoy with her friends. His next work, "Thirst," a vampire film, will be a return to violence and twisted relationships .

"I think it will be the most moral movie of mine ever, because the main character doesn't really want to drink but has to go through the conflict of that and so it will be dark, it won't be the darkest film," he told CNN.

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