Coming to America: South Korea's top directors on hitting Hollywood with English language films -- EXCLUSIVE

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Image Credit: Tony Rivetti Jr.

There’s a scene in South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s 2003 revenge classic Oldboy, currently being remade by Spike Lee, in which the film’s wild-haired, wild-eyed lead Min-sik Choi plops down at a restaurant and slurps on a huge fidgety live octopus, its long tentacles squirming out of his mouth. To American audiences, the moment may seem totally strange. But Park says the scene is less disgusting to Korean audiences. “They would be able to sympathize with the protagonist at that stage, who was incarcerated for 14 years,” he told EW. “He wants to eat something that is alive and moving. By chewing on this living thing, he’s venting his anger to an unknown protagonist.”

What is really gained, or lost, in translation?

Park and two other top South Korean directors — Kim Jee-woon, known for 2003 ghost story A Tale of Two Sisters and the recent serial killer thriller I Saw the Devil, and Bong Joon-ho, known for 2006 monster tale The Host and beautifully filmed psycho mom mystery Mother – will soon find out. All three are set to debut their first English language films next year, mining Hollywood and a slate of A-list stars to reach their broadest audiences ever.

Park comes out with Stoker, a dark coming-of-age story starring Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman as her scarily intense mother, through Fox Searchlight on March 1. Kim directs Arnold Schwarzenegger as an aging sheriff battling thugs in action-packed The Last Stand, through Lionsgate, out Jan. 17. And Bong has the snowy sci-fi post-apocalyptic train survival tale Snowpiercer, starring Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, and John Hurt, through a non Hollywood studio, South Korean company CJ Entertainment, also in 2013.

Park, Kim, and Bong (who spoke to EW through translators) happen to be close friends, and also big fans of each other’s work. Park, for instance, co-produced Bong’s Snowpiercer. Although the three South Korean directors are only now launching into the Hollywood atmosphere, they are already well-known by many American actors and directors and have been getting English language scripts sent their way for years. There’s a mutual respect on both sides. Swinton, for instance, was already a fan of Bong’s The Host when the pair met at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival when Bong was part of the festival’s jury. Evans and Hurt love Asian films, Bong said. Park didn’t realize at first that actor Wentworth Miller, a Park enthusiast, had written the script to Stoker when it was given to him in 2010. “I was very surprised. Wentworth Miller is a very well-known and admired actor in Korea, because of Prison Break, which has a huge fan base among young people. The script mesmerized me,” said Park.

Added Kim, “I felt that I had passed on too many offers from Hollywood, and there was a darkness looming over me after being so deeply submerged in the story of I Saw the Devil, [so] I decided that working on a high-spirited action film would be a nice change. I accepted the offer for The Last Stand with this thought in mind – ‘I’m going to make an entertaining film.’”

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