Exclusive Interview with Bong Joon-ho

     March 7, 2007

Opening this Friday is Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant film The Host. If you have never heard of the film you are definitely not from Korea as it’s the biggest film to ever be released in that country and one that has been watched by over 25% of the population. Yeah, it’s kind of popular.

The film is a new take on the monster genreand it reminded meof Shaun of the Dead as it pushes the genre forward by telling a great story with characters that you care about. And unlike some movies that rely on special effects to take the place of story, The Host uses effects to make the story better. The other amazing thing is the monster is shown during the day and you don’t have to wait half the film to see what he can do as it pops up quite early.

To help promote the film I got to sit down with Bong Joon-ho, the writer/director and ask some questions in a one-on-one setting. Well not quite one-on-one as he had a translator.

Since he had been answering tons of questions I tried to take a different approach and ask about his creative process and if he was feeling any added pressure now that he has made the most successful film in Korean history. Due to the language barrier I’m just posting the transcript and not the audio.

The Host opens in select release this Friday and it’s definitely worth your time.

Well, first of all I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the movie. I understand now why it’s breaking all sorts of box office records. You answered a lot of questions already in the press notes so I’m going to try to incorporate some of those into my piece and I’m going to try to ask some things that haven’t been asked. For Memories of Murder, you won the Grand Belle award for best director and did you feel added pressure when you started to bring The Host to the screen?

Yes, Memories of Murder inside and outside of Korea has won a lot of awards, you know. It was based on a real event. A real serial killer case and it was a serious film you could say. When I announced for my next project to my friends, I was doing a monster film. They didn’t know how to react. They were shocked and since there’s a lot of prejudice against monster films in general and it’s sort of the curse of the genre. They just couldn’t understand after doing a film regarding a real event, go to something like a monster film. They said “why are you doing this are you crazy?” so yes, I suffer from the prejudices and a lot of them were like cursing me like “don’t do it”.

And of course now that they’ve seen the film they’re taking back all their negativity. Now let’s talk about the added pressure even further. You have the biggest film in Korean history. Everyone has seen this film. It’s getting rave reviews, it’s a commercial success, critics like it. Is it even more pressure now for the next project?

Yes, so I can’t say I’m not feeling any pressure at all but at the same time my first film Barking Dogs Never Bite was a huge disaster at the box office and how with The Host breaking all sorts of records I figure I’ve experienced it all. Whatever my next film does it will fall somewhere between that spectrum. I feel comforted by that fact and accept that fact so that’s how I perceive how I feel about the pressure now. I try to not feel too much pressure as possible as well as The Host was being conceived even while I was shooting Memories of Murder likewise my next project was being sort of conceived and developed in my head during the shooting of the Host. I feel I want to try to keep this flow going and try not to break the flow by adding and feeling pressure.

Speaking of the next project, I read a quote that said for your next project you were working on a very destructive story between a mother and a son as well as a story based on a French comic book. Now I’ve also heard you’re partnering up with the other major Korean director that’s known in the states to make a project. Can you talk about what is exactly going on?

Yes, the latter, the 2nd one the film based on the French comic book graphic novel is the one I’ll be doing with Chan-wook Park. It’s based on that but it will be science fiction. It will be heavily lauded with visional effects and very big scales and it needs a lot of preparation before we go into the shooting so that’s why it will be my next, next film.

I understand.

Chan-wook Park has a production company and that company will be producing that film and that’s how we will be working together. When I first read the comic book in Korea it just drew me in a fascinated me so that’s why I brought it over to Chan-wook Park and said “hey what about this” and that’s how that all came about. We’ve always been friends but we’ll be meeting as a producer and director in that relationship so it is kind of interesting to see what will happen.

I wanted to know about your creative process. I wanted to know as many times I speak with writers and directors and they talk about a golden period during the day where they have say a few hours where they’re able to really write creatively and other people say they can write 10 hours a day. Could you talk about how you write?

The 3 films that I’ve directed I’ve personally written all of them although I’ve gotten support from other writers, they were written and directly by myself. My process is a little bit more erratic and I suffer through my writing process and I can’t do it in one place. I have a group of cafes and coffee shops that I go to regularly. They usually have an area where I can plug in my computer and have a corner seat where I can do a couple hours of writing or whatever, even the noise of the surrounding people walking by. Those things are the things that stimulate me into writing. There a periods when I can’t write for a week or even a month. Then I would go and watch all the films that I like. Even if they don’t have anything to do with in terms of story or genre if they have nothing to do about the script I’m writing about I just go, I don’t care I just go watch the films that I’ve always enjoyed since I was young. Either that or sometimes I’ll take a pile of 10 or 20 DVD and watch the sequences that I enjoy throughout those films. All these things help me relieve my stress and stimulate me as well when I face writers block.

Are you nervous about your success now with The Host? I’m not sure how it is where you live with celebrity, but are you nervous that more people are going to know who you are and sitting in a coffee shop trying to write they might see you writing and want to talk and things like that?

Since I’m not an actor, I don’t think…. I mean there are a few people in the streets maybe that will recognize me and again since I’m not an actor it doesn’t last long. I think in a few months people will forget who I am already so I don’t think that’s going to affect my writing process in these cafes. I usually find the most corner seat in the corner cafe of the corner neighborhood that’s desolate or secluded.

I understand. It was recently announced that Universal is remaking The Host. I wanted to know obviously are you involved. Did the company that made the film own the rights and they sold it or were you involved with this or was this kind of done over your head? How do you feel about this? About it being remade?

So in terms of the rights to this film the original film is always with the production company although it is based on my writing, the rights were with them. This remake deal was between company to company. For me I would like to do new projects, do new stories so I never ever thought of shooting the remake myself and I thought that it would be kind of stupid to do anyway and not that I was offered or they were going to offer it to me anyway but I like them to make it as different as the original as possible, from the directors to the actors. Make it new, theirs. So I’m actually very curious to see how it turns out. I’m hoping that John Carpenter will do the remake.

I have a friend who did the Masters of Horror with John Carpenter. He says he’s a great person to work with. I’ll make sure I’ll pass on that you said that.

I really love The Thing.

I will absolutely pass on that you said this. Now that you’re gaining more notoriety as a successful director are you going to try for future project to own the rights? At the beginning when you’re starting out obviously the money, the power stems at the production company but now with your creative prowess and your commercial success more of the power I think is shifting to you as you gain a name.

So for my 4th or 5th film, etc…My next film I would like to have a deal where the rights will stay with the company for a limited amount of time say for 5 years and then eventually the rights would come back to me as a director. I think Alfred Hitchcock had a similar deal with their companies and later on he’d have a library of his own films. That’s perfect. That’s the goal to have. People have said why don’t you make your own company like Chan-wook Park has his own company but my head is full of writing and directing and I don’t feel like I want to run a company. That’s not really within my personality as well. I think to have the rights returned to me is the way to go.

I completely understand. I wanted to get back to the next project. I’m sorry for talking about this but I’m sure you’ve talked about The Host a lot. I know you’ve said that two projects away is going to be this big film. Have you even thought about a budget on that or is that so far away it’s not even a concept yet?

It’s actually in the process of finding a writer to adapt the graphic novel into a script. Since we don’t have a script yet it’s hard to say what the budget is. Once the script is out there we will be able to have a detailed scale of the film and detailed budget, etc. I do think anyway I put it it will be a bigger budget than The Host. I can at least anticipate that.

So that’s 2 projects away. The next project is it still a very destructive story between a mother and a son? I’m curious……

Since I’m still working on the script it’s hard for me to go into details about the story right now. The actress who’s going to play the mother is a very famous actor. She’s done many films. For me to do a film like this in part is because I want to introduce her to international audiences to this film. She’s an older actress but she’s like a legendary actress in Korea.

So you’re doing this…the project came about because of her involvement or was it something you’ve always wanted to do?

It’s a project…herself– her acting has stimulated for me to write the story and do this project so it’s from her.

I know that I have to go. I really appreciate you sitting down.

Thank you.

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