Park Chan-wook Talks ‘Sympathizer,’ ‘Decision to Leave’ and Virtual Production Technology

Park Chan-wook, one of South Korea’s most celebrated film directors, kicked off the Asian Contents & Film Market adjunct to the Busan International Film Festival with a public update of his various film and TV projects.

Attached as director and showrunner on A24’s “The Sympathizer,” a seven-part series for HBO, Park said: “We’ve decided on 5 writers including myself and will start working on the scripts. All episodes will flow as a connected story [and not as an anthology series].” The show is an espionage drama based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Robert Downey Jr. is attached to star.

His comments came as part of an on-stage chat with long-time friend, director Lee Moo-young that the market organizers billed as “Audiovisual Storytelling in the Era of Diverse Media and Platforms.” Other topic covered included the new pressures, risks and opportunities within a changing media landscape, and how those challenges affect filmmakers’ storytelling and style.

Park also revealed that his feature film “Decision to Leave,” a romantic thriller, is now deep into post-production. Editing is locked, leaving music and VFX to be completed by the end of the year. “The release date is uncertain, [distributor] CJ Entertainment doesn’t know either and since no one is rushing, we are constantly retouching things all the time,” said Park.

Park and Lee swapped notes on the contest between film and TV, using Park’s 2018 six-episode limited series “Little Drummer Girl” as a reference point. Park revealed his initial worries about the show’s TV success. “I didn’t see the need to pull everything out from the book,” he said. He later went on to make two versions, one for global broadcast and a director’s cut released on Korean OTT platform Watcha.

“With film, there’s a fixed release date, which means everything is done with concentrated focus. Arguments are also quick and intense. In TV, cliffhangers are key and there’s time to develop the characters of supporting actors, possibly with spin-offs, unlike movies,” says Park. “Also, when shooting a series, scripts are changed according to viewers’ reaction.”

Park told Lee that he makes little effort to change style between film and series production. “Not much, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I worry about the small details like camera movements, close up shots and SFX. And the reality is, I don’t know how viewers are watching the content, so it’s hard to know the reference points.”

A renown stylist, Park said that he will continue to experiment with different formats, rather than “getting trapped in stereotypes and hanging onto old habits.”

“I’ve done music videos and short films. It’s a matter of familiarizing myself with the new medium. Learn and respect the rules (in TV), but don’t get buried by them. It’s a changing environment, which means we can keep trying new things.”

Park and Lee said that were both interested in the emerging virtual production techniques, with Park referencing the work of his frequent cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon who is currently making an Obi-wan spinoff for the “Star Wars” universe. “It’s already happening, but the question is would it do well in theaters?” Park asked himself, before adding that he is planning an experimental short.

Park acknowledged the financial hardships of investors and filmmakers caused by the coronavirus pandemic and urged colleagues to “endure and persist, even if it means leaving the theater industry for a while and finding something different.”

One such example has been Park’s dabbling with photography. “Your Faces,” comprising 30 images taken over several years, is his first solo photography exhibition, and is currently being held at the Gukje Gallery Busan (Oct. 1-Dec. 19). “It’s my debut as a photographer, so I’m very nervous,” said Park.

 

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