“The Handmaiden” Director, Park Chan-wook is Bringing Sexy-Erotic-Thrillers Back

By: Izumi Hasegawa   October 11, 2016


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Acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-wook, who is best known for his films, Joint Security Area, Thirst and the jaw-dropping erotic thriller, Oldboy, has returned with a new film, The Handmaiden. Chan-wok’s newest  erotic psychological thriller takes place in Korea under Japanese colonial rule, which was a change from the novel written by Welsh novelist Sarah Waters and set in Victorian Era Britain.

We sit down with Chan-wook and ask him what brought about the change and his penchant to create films centered around sex and psychological suspense.

1Q: The original story was set in England, can you share why you changed to Korea?

I did set out to make an English language film set in Victorian England, but through my producer’s suggestion I translated it to take place in Korea. It was a fascinating idea, because it brought layer to the film that makes the dynamic between the two characters even more fascinating. In terms of the differences between the two characters it adds the difference of nationality. Not only that, but these two nations hold animosity towards each other, especially at the time. This plays an important element to have one person from the occupying country, and another from the occupied country. This creates one more obstacle for the two lovers to overcome in order to fulfill their love. In the process of showing how these characters overcome these differences, adding these obstacles would make it that much more moving for the audience.

2Q: In your films, you always find beauty in this discomforting violence. Has Hitchcock influenced you?

When it comes to Hitchcock, his film, Vertigo, when I was watching it, I decided to become a filmmaker. In terms of that, that filmmaker provided one of the decisive reasons for me to become a filmmaker in the first place. However, as time would pass by, I would watch a lot of other films as well. And when I talk about filmmakers who have influenced my filmmaking, my work, I wouldn’t cite him only. There are other filmmakers who have provided influence to my filmmaking. But it’s not only about films, about the cinema, where I draw inspirations from. It would be works of art, works of literature, which have all provided fertile ground for me. It’s not just in the art, but in the experiences drawn from my own life, or what I’d watch on TV, or all of these would be sources of my inspiration. When you consider all these influencing factors, the element of Alfred Hitchcock being an influence becomes smaller and smaller in comparison.

4When it comes to the question of violence you see in my films, of course it’s there to make you uncomfortable. In my films, violence is used as a device. I don’t use it because violence unto itself has some kind of artistic value. What it does bring with it is pain and suffering related to violence and a sense of guilt on those who inflict the violence, etc. The violence is used as a device to convey those other aspects that are related to violence. Of course you should feel uncomfortable because violence is an uncomfortable thing. It’s necessity dictates that I portray violence. It’s not the other way around at all. If, in my storytelling, what the story requires or calls for moments of violence, I don’t avoid it if it causes some sort of discomfort. That is my position. It’s not the other way around where I like violence so much I just use it frivolously – even if the scene or story doesn’t call for it.

7The trees, water, paintings of mountains and rivers, is symbolizing that Uncle Kouzuki is trying to create his own universe or world inside this library, or his domain. By that, you can see how he holds this desire to become a godlike being. So when it comes to beauty, it is all in service of the character or story that I am trying to portray. So I don’t think I am using it gratuitously.

Q: What are your thoughts of the genre of erotic thrillers?  It’s kind of a genre that’s had its hay day in America in the 1990s with films like Basic Instinct.

6Well, the thought never crossed my mind whether I had any intent to revive the genre, but not only that; the thought never crossed my mind to limit this film into the specific category of the erotic thriller. Speaking of 90’s erotic thrillers, Basic Instinct was a good movie, but there is also Bound now that I come to think of it. It is not that I am sad to see the genre dying out and I want to bring it back. There is nothing of that sort going on, but it is that I am purely drawn to the source material and I am drawn to this story. Compared with those films, I take this film as being more of a romantic film, or a fairy tale.

The Handmaiden opens theaters on October 21st.

Interview by: Izumi Hasegawa @HNW_Izumi

Edited by: Jody Taylor – @RealJodyTaylor

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