Busan 2013: Highlights From The Tarantino And Bong Joon-ho Open Talk

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Nearing the last legs of the festival everyone received a nice jolt to the system when news quickly spread that Quentin Tarantino was dropping by Busan for an open talk with director Bong Joon-ho. If one is observant, Tarantino could be seen as representing the Weinstein stock, as insiders report on musings that Bong is extremely unhappy about the controversial edits to his latest film Snowpiercer. The talks then carried with them an exciting premise and opportunity for some conflict.

How would the politics of this opportune open talk play out? Pretty tamely in fact, but that 
does not mean the talk itself was a waste of time. Both directors opened their cinephile hearts, raving about genre cinema, here are some gems from that hour long chat that was hosted by Variety critic Scott Foundas.

SF (Scott Foundas to QT): How did you end up at Busan film festival and how are you enjoying your stay here?

QT (Quentin Tarantino): I came here impulsively, I was going to Macau for an awards ceremony and was getting ready to go to another festival and a friend of mine here who's doing some work on Snowpiercer said she was here and hanging out with Bong and I've never met him and always wanted to so I said can I come? She said yeah, and so here we are right!? (crowd erupts into applause)

QT is asked about Bong, and translator starts speaking to translate the question but QT starts answering the question at the same time. This happens a lot and is quite funny. 

QT: I first came across director Bong when The Host was playing in cinemas in America and I saw it and it was really terrific, and I thought of all the film-makers out there. Bong has that thing that's like 70's Spielberg, where, he can do many different types of stories but there's always this comedy and entertainment there. Comic, human moments that I see all throughout Bong's work and that got me to see Memories of Murder which I just think is amazing, but they're (The Host) both equally great in their own way and made me a big big fan.

SF: You both gravitated towards working in genre, but using it to get to larger themes. Quentin, you've made a revenge western about slavery (Django Unchained). Director Bong has made a monster movie about environmental issues (The Host)... there's obviously a rich history of genre films talking about really important themes... so tell me a bit about what it is that drives you to make this kind of cinema.

QT: They are just the kind of movies I like. I watch all kinds but those are the movies I gravitate towards, collect and get obsessive over. When I throw my hat in the ring and do a movie which I've never done before, the idea is to do them my own way and reinvent the genre a little bit. To make my Quentin version of what I already like... I'm trying to do my 2015 perspective on them. I consider myself a student of cinema and its almost as if i'm going for my professorship and the day I die is the day I graduate.

BJ (Bong Joon-ho): I also really like American directors, I really liked the 70's genre films in America. However wen I bought it into Korean film (Memories of Murder) the ideas were not adapted very well. The Korean cop was working in a farm field. With American monster movies the scientists and soldiers fight against the monster, but in my monster film there is a very weird family instead, doing it in a very miserable way, somehow creating a Korean drama and very weird feeling around it. With Snowpiercer because it is purely genre I tried to do it in a very straight and direct way, but I believe the pleasure of genre and how to handle it is better understood by Tarantino.

QT: That's the thing, it's the idea that a family, and not just any family but a very weird fucked-up strange family, like the family in The Host would be the stars of the film, is almost unfathomable in america. That's reinventing the genre, giving it a whole new face.

BJ: Actually your characters in your films are also very fucked-up strange.

QT: True dat, true dat. I'm actually kinda curious though, when we talked the other night you said you were a huge fan of serial killer movies, when you were doing Memories of Murder, were you thinking about how your film would fit inside the serial killer genre?

BJ: I actually started with the actual serial killing case, but while I was thinking of Michael Mann's Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs, I was most inspired by Shoehei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine. Even though I was inspired by all those films, the actual facts of the case were so heavy and I had to deal with all those things first. Actually the film most recalls Zodiac, which was released after my film, so we should ask him (Fincher) what he thinks about that. What about you, any plans to make a serial killer movie?

QT: Planet Earth couldn't handle my serial killer movie! I would reveal my sickness far, too, much! I was involved with Natural Born Killers so yes I did... that's my serial killer movie... I hate that fucking movie, if you like my stuff don't watch Natural Born Killers it fucking sucks.

BJ: If I were to make a war movie like yours (Inglorious Basterds) I would probably make a movie set before that in a war camp about a prisoner trying to escape, like The Great Escape. I want to try this genre, no-man's island kind of film. If there is one genre I would never try it would be the musical. I cannot take that embarrassing moment when someone turns up singing. 

QT: I wanna see Bong Joon-ho's The Great Escape....

SF: The musical? (everyone laughs)

QT (regarding a bias against genre in film festival environment) When you are older and have more refined taste you are open to many different kinds of movies and I love many kinds of movies, but when done well you're drawn to genre movies still because of that initial exposure and excitement of that kind of film.

BJ: Actually I don't like to do genre versus art house films. When I am making films I go for the themes and images that excite me. After people are excited, asking why they watched it. The next day my film pops into their head, ten years, twenty years later, to have that exposure is every directors dream.

SF (to QT), can you tell me a little bit about your own discovery and some of the filmmakers that have been an inspiration to you from Asia?

QT: Hong Kong and Taiwan martial arts movies, Japanese monster movies and space movies and Filipino drive-in movies, the B-movie genres that I was exposed to. I loved them, became a student of them. Hong Fang, a Korean martial art director, who would do these B-martial art films, that would be Korean oriented with themes like the horrific Japanese occupation. Seeing these as a kid before I learned it in school... I learned it in his movies.

BJ: I must say my hero in Korean film must be the director of the original Housemaid Kim Ki-young. Other than this, when I was a kid we have a Korean American broadcast station. At midnight I would sneak out and watch these very sexual and very violent movies. Later I learned these were films by directors like John Carpenter and Brian De Palma, but at the time I could not understand any English so I reconstructed the stories of them in my head, which greatly helped my imagination.

SF: You are both coming off the biggest movies of your respective careers. You both started as scrappy independents but now at the front rank of large scale films enjoyed by many audiences around the world but managed to do it without losing any of the personality we associate with those first films. Can you talk a little bit about advancing into the world of studio, bigger budget film-making without sacrificing everything that makes your style so distinctive?

BJ: Even though Snowpiercer is a predominantly English speaking film, it is not really a Hollywood film, it is an international cooperation with Korean producer and investment. I know in America the director does not always have the final cut and even the script writing the casting, the director can be so pressured. Forty million dollars, the budget is big in Korea and Asia, yet I was quite allowed to have my creative independence and not interfered with or pressured, so I consider myself very lucky.

Snowpiercer does not yet have a confirmed American release date.