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March 1 - March 5, 2019

Park Chan-wook, Two History Lessons

A leading figure of the Korean New Wave that crested in the 1990s, Park Chan-wook (b. 1963) remains among the most celebrated and popular Korean filmmakers active today. Beginning with his critical and commercial breakthrough Joint Security Area (or JSA), each of Park’s eagerly-awaited films have been greeted as major cultural events and milestones. From JSA’s bold depiction of tensions between North and South Korea to the elaborate and violent retributions shared by his iconic “Vengeance Trilogy” (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance), Park’s major films have burrowed deep into the popular imagination, not just in Korea, but around the world, and especially in the U.S., where they have been embraced and often openly imitated by diverse filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, who went as far as to remake Oldboy

In coordination with a new course Carter Eckert and Alexander Zahlten are teaching this semester — "Frames in Time: Korean Cinema as History and Filmmaking”— the Harvard Film Archive presents two important films by Park Chan-wook, which both represent different stages in his filmmaking and reflect upon different chapters of Korean history: JSA and the more recent The Handmaiden, a psychosexually-charged return to the dark years of Japanese colonial rule over Korea. 

While Park’s cinema is better known for its inventive style, black humor and unsettling imagery, these two films reveal another, more ruminative and politically astute side to Park’s mode of filmmaking with their interweaving of a critical address of history into their inventive reinvention of popular film genres. – Haden Guest

On Tuesday March 5 at 5pm, the HFA will host a conversation between the director and Carter Eckert and Alexander Zahlten from Harvard’s East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department. Admission is free and tickets will be available on a first come, first served basis beginning at 4:15pm that day at our box office.

Special thanks: Miky Lee, Vice Chairwoman, CJ Group; Carter Eckert and Alexander Zahlten—East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department, Harvard; Susan Laurence and Chris Beomhee Lee—Korea Institute, Harvard.


Introduction by Carter Eckert
Friday March 1 at 7pm

Joint Security Area A.K.A JSA (Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA)

Directed by Park Chan-wook. With Lee Yeong-ae, Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho
South Korea 2000, DCP, color, 110 min. Korean, English and German with English subtitles

Park Chan-wook’s career was launched with the blockbuster success of his timely and taut thriller set on the tense demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. JSA (Joint Security Area) follows the urgent investigation of the mysterious death of two North Korean DMZ guards and the South Korean soldier immediately suspected. Park’s meticulous attention to accuracy extends to the film’s expanded set of the DMZ—recreated at tremendous expense just miles away from the actual site—as well as the methodical procedures of the Swiss Korean UN investigator tasked with untangling the complex web of friendship and betrayal uncovered as she learns more about the soldiers and the strange symbolic space they inhabit and dutifully guard with their lives. With its questioning of dehumanizing military authority JSA recalls classic military dramas such as The Caine Mutiny (1954) or Breaker Morant (1980). Park, however, brings another more intimate and poignant dimension into his depiction of the soldiers themselves whose loneliness and confusion embody the strange miasma and ominous immobility of the Cold War stalemate still dividing the Korean peninsula. DCP courtesy CJ Entertainment.

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Saturday March 2 at 9pm

The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi)

Directed by Park Chan-wook. With Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
South Korea 2016, DCP, color, 145 min. Korean and Japanese with English subtitles

With his latest and hugely popular film The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook reaffirmed his status as one of contemporary Korean cinema’s great auteurs and daring stylists. The Handmaiden is a lush and lavish adaptation of the Welsh historical crime novel Fingersmith that transposes the book’s Victorian setting to Korea during the brutal thirty-five-year Japanese colonial rule that began in 1910. Park’s film also channels the novel’s dark eroticism into a psychosexually intense and fascinating allegory of abusive class hierarchy and authoritarian repression. Hong Sang-soo regular Kim Min-hee stars as the elusive daughter of a wealthy bookdealer whose fortunes are targeted by a cunning conman with dark designs to seduce and marry the young woman and commit her to an asylum. Matching wits with the rakish Don Juan is his assistant, an equally crafty pickpocket disguised as the young woman’s maid who sets into motion a shifting triangle of desire that gradually locks the three into a strange and unsettling showdown. DCP courtesy CJ Entertainment.

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