The thrilling, darkly psychological work of the director Park Chan-Wook has long made him one of Korea’s most popular directors. The cult of his out-there oeuvre is spreading Stateside, too, thanks to a spout of events and retrospectives spotlighting his films from Austin to New York’s Metrograph. All that’s in time for his latest, The Handmaiden, which is hitting screens in America in two weeks after a vivid debut at Cannes earlier this year. A three-part erotic thriller about a young handmaiden who falls in love with the Japanese heiress she’s meant to swindle, it’s full of plot twists and carries a message Park is eager to share: “It’s about how, through forming alliances and solidarity, women are able to liberate themselves from the oppressive violence of men,” he said. In town with a translator, he took a break from Bach and Balthazar to share his surprisingly staid culture diet, here.
First thing you read in the morning: This morning it was Human Beast by Emile Zola. I usually dedicate all of my reading hours to reading fiction, whether it’s morning or night.
Books on your bedside table right now: I do read nonfiction, though, as well. At the moment it’s a new biography about Van Gogh.
The TV show keeping you up at night: I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I really liked “Mad Men.”
Last movie you saw in theaters: La La Land. It was very sweet, a very lovely movie.
Last thing you saw at the theater: It was a long time ago, but The Flying Dutchman by Wagner in Seoul.
Last Korean movie you watched: The Road to the Racetrack by Jang Sun-Woo. It’s a great movie, but it’s not a film that’s well known to international audiences nor the younger generation of cinema-goers. The thing is, I don’t usually revisit any films. Once I’ve seen it, that’s it. But of all the films I’ve seen, ones I’ve revisited the most are The Exorcist, Don’t Look Now, a Japanese film called Yearning by Mikio Naruse, and a Korean film by Kim Ki-Young called The Housemaid.
Last piece of art you bought, or ogled: [Laughs.] I’m not that rich, you see, but I can tell you what I’ve seen and liked. The day before yesterday, I went to the Whitney and it was a photograph by Collier Schorr.
Last museum exhibition that you loved: The Goya print exhibition at the Blanton Museum [in Austin] was great.
Release you’re most eagerly anticipating: [Martin] Scorsese’s Silence.
Last song you had on repeat: There were two pieces of music recently that I wanted to have to my wife listen to so I put my headphones on her and said, “You should listen to this.” One of them was [Igor] Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne,” with the violinist [Jascha] Heifitz. And the other one was Thelonious Monk’s “Shuffle Boil,” with the saxophonist Charles Rouse, who’s just phenomenal.
Last concert you saw live: Again it was back in Austin, and it was the Kronos Quartet, who works with Philip Glass. They’re embarking on an incredible project of working with 50 contemporary composers, ranging all the way from a legendary figure like Philip Glass to their new cellist, a young Korean woman I’ve been very curious to hear and was very proud to see. It’s really incredible what they’re doing — there’s 25 men and 25 women from all around the world, and it’s called Fifty for the Future.
How you get your news: I subscribe to a daily Korean newspaper called The Hankyoreh that’s similar to The Independent; the Korean edition of Le Monde Diplomatique; and two different weeklies, all in print and delivered to my door. The rest is just here and there on the internet.
Favorite social media accounts to follow: I don’t use social media at all. My job is to express myself through films, and I just don’t feel the need to express my thoughts in any other medium.
Last thing you do before you go to bed: Other than brushing my teeth, I try to do a little bit of reading or listening to music. Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” is really good when you’re trying to get to sleep. It’s a long piece of music usually played with harpsichord or piano, but this American jazz pianist John Lewis has an album where he played it with a few other performers as a jazz piece. This Japanese record label put the project together and recorded it, which is maybe why, other than in Japan and Korea, it’s not very well known. I don’t tend to like classical music adapted to jazz, but it’s surprisingly good — and I’ve heard it’s been going for a really high price on eBay in America.