By Kim Young-gyo
SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) -- Even with only three feature films to his name, Bong Joon-ho has become one of the few South Korean directors who have been able to "catch both hares" -- commercial success and critical acclaim.
After directing short films, he made his feature film debut in 2000 with "Barking Dogs Never Bite." The story of a college instructor trying to kill his neighbors' dogs won critical recognition, but was not well-received by audiences.
Despite his humble beginning, his next two films, "Memories of Murder" and "The Host," released in 2003 and 2006, respectively, have become among the most viewed films in South Korea, each setting a new record in Korean movie history.
Bolstered by critical praise, "The Host," which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, was the first South Korean movie to break the US$1 million mark at the U.S. box office, three weeks after its release.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the world's most popular film Web site, 92 percent of 135 movie critics rated the satirical monster flick positively.
The South Korean director, who is currently working on another film, plans to start filming an adaptation of a French dystopian comic next year.
"I am aiming to release the film adaptation of 'Le Transperceneige' in 2011," said Bong at an open roundtable held this week in southern Seoul.
"Of course, everything is yet to be finalized. Right now, a South Korean sci-fi writer is working on the first draft of the screenplay. What I have in mind is to mix up multinational features," he said, noting that he would like to reach a wider global audience.
"The story will be in a tone similar to Noah's Ark (from the Bible). I might cast Korean actors, English-speaking actors, and Japanese, Chinese or other Asian actors. I am not pursuing a multinational co-production for its own sake, nor a movie with publicity slogans that say 'multinationality' all over."
"But this film would have such a feature most naturally in its own story. You might be able to hear both Korean and English on the screen."
The encounter with the post-apocalyptic comic book, created on the other side of the globe, came to him out of nowhere, Bong reminisced.
"I remember it was around the end of 2004. It was when I finished 'Memories of Murder' and was working on 'The Host.' I went to a comic book store near Hong-ik University. I go there once or twice a month when I am stressed out. 'Le Transperceneige' suddenly came into my sight, and I read the whole trilogy standing there. I could not wait until I got home to read.
"This train has enraptured me. I believe everyone has a fantasy about trains giving off chugs and puffs, and landscapes viewed from the window.
"What you can see from the window in this story, however, is only the world icebound, with minus 80 degrees outside. Survivors live in the train, but they can't stay in harmony even at a time of adversity."
The story is set on a train called Le Transperceneige, which is the last refuge for the few survivors of the end of world after a devastating war and glaciation. The train continues to move following a circle in a desert of snow and ice.
The train is a microcosm of human society with its different classes of passengers mirroring different political and social strata.
"Each partition of the train represents a class. In the last partition of the train, people live wretched lives. The closer to the front they are, the more luxurious life gets.
"It's not quite the same, but it can be similar to what you feel when you get off a plane and see all the empty seats in business class after you spent more than 10 hours flying in the confined economy class seats. You realize some people got there very comfortably and almost have a fit of anger," he jokingly said.
Bong confirmed the report that his fellow South Korean director, Park Chan-wook, will be the producer of the movie.
"During the shooting of 'The Host,' I showed this comic to a producer of 'Memories of Murder,' but he did not like science fiction. Around that time, director Park Chan-wook established his own production company, and he said he wanted to make a movie with me. I showed him this book and he really liked it."
Park gained international fame after being awarded the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his film "Old Boy" in 2004. He also won the Alfred Bauer Prize for "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK" at the Berlin Film Festival in 2007.
Bong said he looks forward to working with actors from various backgrounds. With directors Michel Gondry and Leos Carax, he recently finished filming the triptych "TOKYO!" which depicts the non-Japanese perspective on day-to-day life in Tokyo. The film debuted at the 2008 Cannes Festival this month.
"Before working with Japanese staff, I wondered how it would feel to direct in a language that is not my mother tongue. But once I started shooting, it was all the same to me. When you direct in your native language, you talk a lot with actors about one word in the script, since it can change the nuance. When I was directing in Japan, it was the same.
"I guess it was because human beings basically express their feelings in the same way. They feel the same feelings. If you look at two foreigners talking to each other, you soon can see if they are fighting, or are in love."
Bong said he had similar feelings when he first met Jean-Marc Rochette, the illustrator of the comic, when he went to France in 2006.
"We spoke in English. And let me tell you, we spoke in broken English. But we talked about comics and movies tirelessly for two hours," he said.
Present at the roundtable were Rochette and story writer Benjamin Legrand, who succeeded the original author, Jacques Lob, after his death in 1990.
"While having drinks last night, the three of us came up with a list of Korean, French and English-speaking actors, arguing with each other who should get on 'The Train of the Snow Land,'" Bong laughingly said.
Legrand, a Paris-based screenwriter for film and TV, said he met Bong for the first time in 2006 at the world premier of "The Host" at Cannes, where he was among the judges for the film festival.
"I had seen his movies before he made a proposal to us. I liked his films very much -- I was so surprised and excited to hear from the very person," Legrand said.
Bong admitted that although he is excited and confident, it is going to be quite an ambitious project.
"It's going to be tough work. I need to use a lot of visual effects and special effects. There is a lot to prepare."
"During making 'The Host,' I had such a hard time. I am not fond of making blockbuster movies. As for 'The Host,' it was inevitable, since we had to make the monster."
"Le Transperceneige is going to be much more spectacular with all the trains and frozen scenery. But the spectacle is not what I really want to show."
"The mood and sentiment you can feel inside the train, the desperateness. The exterior should be only groundwork to show all that."
Rochette, who, according to Bong, has a style that mixes Western waterpainting with Eastern ink painting, gave Bong his vote of confidence, saying, "I believe director Bong has great capability to make his own creative world. I believe he can depict the picture of the world (in the 'Le Transperceneige') even better than I did."
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