Sibling co-operation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am

Park Chan-kyung is among the most prominent South Korean artists today. Having graduated from first Seoul National University and then the California Institute of the Arts, the 46-year-old boasts of a Hermes Korea Missulsang award and two prizes from the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation. Meanwhile, his first feature-length film premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in January and, two weeks ago, he won the best short film award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

For all his endeavours, Park remains best known for one thing beyond his visual-arts home turf - that he's the younger sibling of Park Chan-wook, South Korea's most celebrated working filmmaker of the day and a two-time award winner at Cannes with Oldboy (2005) and Thirst (2009). Indeed, even the Rotterdam festival's catalogue couldn't resist referring to this link in the brief blurb about Park Chan-kyung's Anyang, Paradise City, a film on which the elder Park played no part at all.

Park Chan-kyung laughs when I point out the catalogue's description of him during our meeting at the festival's press zone inside the downtown De Doelen cultural complex. 'When I heard it the first time it was kind of awkward,' he says. 'I was thinking, I am an individual and an independent person, why do they always say I'm 'the brother of Park Chan-wook'? But now I've pretty much got used to it - so now if someone doesn't ask me questions [about his brother], I'd be like, why didn't you ask me that?'

All that aside, Park's Berlin prize-winning film, Night Fishing, is actually a collaboration between him and Chan-wook.

Made as part of the Anyang Public Art Project - an annual programme sponsored by the Korean city's municipal authorities - Anyang, Paradise City is a docu-drama in which a filmmaker is seen conducting research and making a film about the history of the city, with the film-within-a-film revolving around a real-life tragedy in 1988 in which 22 female workers died in a factory fire. While the director in the film is a man - Park himself plays the part - most of the screen-time is taken up by women, as female research assistants are seen travelling around the city looking for information. The stylishly-attired young women lead lives drastically different from the generation which went before them when Anyang was still a gritty industrial hub.

'I wanted to focus on women's daily lives in the city, partly because Korean films have been very macho, very masculine,' Park says. 'Korean film culture is becoming more and more like that, so I want to make a big contrast by having this idea of remembering these female workers from the 1970s and 80s.'

But isn't his older sibling one of the architects of South Korea's testosterone-dripping cinematic output, with films such as Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Oldboy? 'I'm not talking about my brother's films!' Park says, laughing.

Surprisingly, it was Chan-wook who was seen as the intellectual of the pair when they were growing up. 'My brother was very good at mathematics and all his studies, so mostly he was seen as a future lawyer or professor,' says Park. 'My family always think of me as an artist as I'm good at painting and drawing - somehow our lives reversed.'

While Chan-wook left behind his philosophy degree to dive headlong into the film industry, Park went on to become the more cerebral of the pair, making short videos and artistic installations reflecting on Korean history and politics.

Made with the cameras on 10 iPhones, Night Fishing marks the beginning of what the brothers hope will become a regular collaboration: in fact, the film is signed off as the work of the collective Parking Chance, a moniker inspired by their names.

'It's also about how when you find a place to park your car, you do that,' Park says. 'And when we have this chance again, we'll do it.'