The South Korean cinema industry added to a global winning streak on 28 May with a pair of beloved veterans scooping two key prizes at the Cannes Film Festival.
Star filmmaker Park Chan-wook clinched best director for his erotic crime movie “Decision To Leave,” while Song Kang-ho, famous worldwide for his role in the Oscar-winning “Parasite,” won best actor for “Broker.”
The Cannes spotlight also fell on Lee Jung-jae, the superstar actor on Netflix’s “Squid Game,” whose debut as a director, “Hunt,” screened out of competition.
Park’s Cannes entry came nearly two decades after his “Oldboy” won the festival’s second-highest prize in 2004.
That mind-bending shocker helped catapult South Korean cinema onto the global stage — years before “Parasite,” which won the 2019 Palme d’Or and best picture at the 2020 Academy Awards.
Park, 58, told the Cannes audience he was bullish about the future of movies.
“With the pandemic, borders were closed. We were very afraid of each other, and theaters were empty. But little by little, audiences will rediscover cinema,” Park said.
“Decision to Leave,” featuring Chinese star Tang Wei and Korean actor Park Hae-il, is about a detective who, investigating a man’s fatal fall from a mountain, comes under the spell of the victim’s wife, whom he suspects of having caused her husband’s death.
‘Not a romantic’
The detective story, which drew comparisons with the far more sexually explicit thriller “Basic Instinct,” increasingly meshes with the mutual attraction engulfing the main characters.
“I’m not a romantic, but I’m very interested in the expression of emotions,” Park told AFP when the film premiered at the festival.
The film’s mesmerizing soundtrack includes the Adagietto in Gustav Mahler’s “5th Symphony,” immortalized in the 1971 movie “Death in Venice” by Luchino Visconti.
Park said the film drew inspiration from the methodical police work contained in the Swedish “Martin Beck” police procedural books. “That’s what I wanted to represent in a movie,” he said.
“Decision To Leave” was warmly received by Cannes audiences. The BBC called it a “cracking romantic thriller” and Britain’s Screen magazine said it was a “deeply satisfying” tale.
‘Bittersweet and complex’
Song, 55, won acting honors for his role in “Broker,” about a woman dropping off an unwanted child in a “baby box” for adoption.
He plays a kind-hearted middleman trying to sell the infant to a loving family in Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first Korean-language feature.
Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or in 2018 for his touching family tale “Shoplifters.”
“I am very happy for my whole family,” Song said as he accepted the trophy at the gala ceremony on the French Riviera.
He said that the language and cultural barrier posed no problems on set.
“Kore-eda is very familiar with Korean culture so there weren’t any differences when it came to getting along,” he said.
“Japanese cinema is very familiar to Koreans. Personally speaking I’ve seen almost all the films made by Kore-eda. There’s lots of fans that love the aesthetics, which are typically Japanese.”
Something of a national treasure, Song has starred in several of the divided country’s greatest movies.
Song has made four films with “Parasite” director Bong Joon-ho, including the 2006 monster flick “The Host” and Bong’s first English-language film “Snowpiercer,” both of which were box office and critical smashes.
Starting his career on stage, Song made his first film appearance in 1996 in the now-acclaimed director Hong Sang-soo’s debut movie, “The Day a Pig Fell into a Well.”
Since then, he has appeared in more than 30 films and worked with top South Korean filmmakers including Park Chan-wook, Kang Je-gyu and Lee Chang-dong.
British film magazine Screen called “Broker” “a sensitive and compassionate look at the market for unwanted children,” while US movie website IndieWire said it was a “bittersweet and complex family drama.”