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The Tarantino Factor (According to Chan-Wook Park)

On a crisp and sunny morning last fall, South Korean filmmaker Chan-Wook Park — whose 2004 Grand Jury Prize win for the comedy-thriller Oldboy at Cannes had just raised alarums in some film-critical circles (see review, this page) — seemed every bit the latest elegant and exotic export of Asian cinematic cool as he chain-smoked in a charming garden just a few yards from the bustle of Wilshire Boulevard. L.A. WEEKLY: Even people who don’t particularly care for Oldboy tend to give it up for the incredible sequence where the hero battles his way down a long hallway past countless enemies with nothing but a hammer. What was the inspiration for shooting in one long, breathless take? CHAN-WOOK PARK: In the original storyboards for the hallway fight, I had almost 100 shots. The day of shooting, a group of reporters visited the set, and one of them mentioned that Sonny Chiba was going to be in Kill Bill. I really like Sonny Chiba, and in the storyboards for Oldboy I had an homage to him, where the picture turns to an X-ray and you see the skeleton inside someone as his bones crack. I figured Quentin Tarantino — who is such a great thief, taking from the things he admires — if he had Sonny Chiba, he’d probably use that idea. So I decided to change what I was doing. And then I realized how much work it would be to shoot it all. I was kind of tired. I took a look at the long take, which we had made as a master shot for editing later, and it was really beautiful. So I decided, instead of taking a week to have the whole crew get through all those shots, to make everybody happy. We ended up shooting it 17 times over three days. When [actor Min-Sik Choi] looks tired, that’s not acting. Most of the writing about Cannes speculated that your taking the Grand Jury prize was due to your being a favorite of the jury’s high-profile president. Did you run into Tarantino while you were there? My first meeting with him was an accident. One day I went into a poster shop, and I heard his voice. He has a very unique voice. I heard him asking for a specific Charles Bronson poster. I wanted to avoid meeting him until the jury gave out the awards, but I was with a Korean reporter, who walked up to him and said, “This is the director of Oldboy.” Turns out Quentin Tarantino had noticed me in the shop but was also avoiding saying anything before the awards ceremony. So we awkwardly said hello, and that was it. The second meeting was an official meeting after the awards, a dinner. We spoke for quite a while. The one disadvantage of talkative people is they say so much it’s hard to remember anything specific. Actually, there were a couple of beautiful ladies there, Emmanuelle Béart and Tilda Swinton, and I got the impression they would like to talk to me, but I couldn’t, because Quentin Tarantino talked to me for so long. To be honest, it was a one-way conversation. He talked and I listened.