LIFE

IN LOVE WITH KOREA Darcy Paquet: Advocate for Korean Indie Film

Film critic Darcy Paquet organized the third Wildflower Film Awards this year. The awards liken Korean independent movies to wildflowers in the sense that they blossom even in barren land. In love with Korean cinema for 20 years now, he has found a way to channel his devotion into producing some meaningful outcomes.

Darcy Paquet, a U.S. movie critic and longtime resident of Korea, played a part in Lim Sang-soo’s 2012 movie “The Taste of Money” as an American who arranges for delivery of black money from a chaebol family to a political figure.

We met at a subway station exit in the northern part of Seoul on a rainy afternoon in June. Darcy Paquet was holding an umbrella with “Waiting for the Snow” written on it. He had visited Indie Space nearby to see the movie and received the umbrella as a gift. He guided me through narrow alleys to a café with a Korean-style front gate and small garden. He had a soft voice and his Korean pronunciation was less than perfect. We sat quite close together, so that I could understand him better, with our noses almost touching.

Third Wildflower Film Awards
First, I asked Darcy about the movie that he had just seen. “I liked Director Jang Hee-chul’s first movie ‘Beautiful Miss Jin.’ I remembered the name, and I went to see the movie on the last day. I was the only one in the audience. I think less than one thousand people have shown up in total. Thirty-thousand viewers is enough to recoup the production costs and give bonuses to the staff. I’m sorry people only flock to see the blockbusters and big hits.”
The conversation naturally led to the Wildflower Film Awards, of which Darcy is the director. The awards were established in the spring of 2014 to encourage the production of low-budget indie movies. The third awards took place this April. They honor the achievements of filmmakers and low-budget movies made with less than 1 billion won (about $880,000). There is a perfect match in the barren land where the wildflowers grow and where indie movies are made.
“I had been thinking about it for a long time, but I never knew I would be the one doing it,” Paquet says. “I saw numerous movies lauded as beautiful and creative fail to get the right treatment and disappear from the scene, just like that, and always thought they should be reappraised. If film awards were created with emphasis on the award ceremony, then surely they would attract attention, I thought. People urged me to do it, but I almost gave up in the middle because of a lack of funds. The situation is much better now because we get support from film investors, importers, and distributors, including Showbox.”
The Wildflower Film Awards have gained some recognition and credibility. Paquet remembers how overjoyed he was when he received a phone call from a professor who said, “I have students in the Department of Film who are making movies targeting the Wildflower Film Awards.” If things get better, the first thing he wants to do is compensate Lee Harin, the potter who made the 30 trophies for the awards.

From English Teacher to Korean Movie Expert
Darcy Paquet has been immersed in Korean film-related work for the last 20 years. I know many young people from Western countries who fell in love with Korea after watching movies by the likes of Kim Ki-duk, Bong Joon-ho, and Park Chan-wook, and ended up coming here to live. They teach film classes at university, introduce Korean works at foreign film festivals, or produce movies themselves. And you could say it all started with Paquet.
When Paquet first came to Seoul in 1997 to teach English at Korea University, he asked his friends to recommend some good Korean movies. But they all shook their heads and said: “There isn’t much.” “Don’t bother.” “They’re not worth seeing.”
Who knew then that a huge wave was building up in the Korean movie scene? Movies like “The Contact,” “Christmas in August,” “Swiri,” “Green Fish,” “The Quiet Family,” “An Affair,” “Girls’ Night Out,” and “No. 3” came out. And he was mesmerized.
“It was perfect timing. The next five years after my arrival in Korea was like the Renaissance of Korean film. The movies were that good. Hong Sang-soo, Kim Ki-duk, and Kim Ji-woon all debuted as directors during that time,” he says.
The young Darcy Paquet who loved Dostoyevsky and Chekhov had majored in Russian language at Carleton College in Minnesota. He planned to get a Ph.D. in Russian literature at Indiana University. But he changed his mind and switched to a master’s program in applied linguistics. Having made many Korean friends in graduate school, he ended up taking a job at Korea University after finishing his degree. His stay in Korea was meant to be brief, for he planned to go on to the Czech Republic. However, Korean movies changed his fate.
The Korean Film Council caught wind that there was an American who loved Korean movies and asked him to write press releases and marketing materials. Based on this experience, Paquet set up his own website, koreanfilm.org, and for the first time he came to realize there were so many Korean movie fans out there.
“I posted reviews, and shortly afterwards I was getting 30,000 page views per day. There were 7,000 daily visitors and the discussion room was literally on fire,” he recalls.
The international editor at Screen International, a British film trade magazine, liked the material on Paquet’s website and asked him to be their Korea correspondent. He accepted, and wrote news stories about the Korean film industry, first for Screen International and then for Variety.

English Subtitles and Classes
Paquet spends most of his time making movie subtitles, teaching at Korea University’s International Summer Camp, and providing assistance to foreign film festivals in programming their selection of Korean films.
He has been working on subtitles for many years now. To date, his name appears on the credits of 150 films. He took a break because of the tenosynovitis in his right arm, and took it up again in 2014 with “Ode to My Father.” He was especially busy in March this year, having had to deliver Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden” and Na Hong-jin’s “The Wailing” in time for Cannes.
Now he is working on two of Hong Sang-soo’s films. “Right Now, Wrong Then” had already been done by someone else, but Hong had rejected the subtitles, saying the nuances were “all wrong.” It is now Paquet’s job to redo them.

Darcy Paquet’s Top Ten Korean Indie Films

The World of Us (2016) Dir. Yoon Ga-eun
A Midsummer’s Fantasia (2015) Dir. Jang Kun-jae
A Girl at My Door (2014) Dir. July Jung
10 Minutes (2014) Dir. Lee Yong-seung
The Russian Novel (2013) Dir. Shin Yeon-shick
Juvenile Offender (2012) Dir. Kang Yi-kwan
The Winter of the Year Was Warm (2012) Dir. David Cho
The Journals of Musan (2011) Dir. Park Jung-bum
Daytime Drinking (2008) Dir. Noh Young-seok
Sundays in August (2005) Dir. Lee Jin-woo

 

“Every director has his or her own style. Park Chan-wook wants to see all the lines in there, even if they sound awkward, whereas Hong Sang-soo likes to keep it natural and simple. Director Hong speaks good English, so before I start the actual subtitling I sit with him and read some translated sentences and have him choose the style he likes,” he says.
Paquet has been teaching at Korea University’s International Summer Camp since 2009. Every summer he teaches 40 hours over six weeks. This year, he reviewed the work of Yu Hyun-mok, who shot the Korean classic “Aimless Bullet” from 1961. Later he plans to look back on Korean masterpieces of the 1970s and 1980s, including “Chil-su and Man-su.”
Since 2002, he has been serving as a program consultant or panelist for the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, thereby introducing Korean cinema to a larger audience. In 2012, he organized a Korean movie retrospective at the festival, screening 10 films from the 1970s, including the works of Yu Hyun-mok, Ha Gil-jong, Im Kwontaek, and Kim Ki-young.

“Titled ‘The Darkest Decade,’ the retrospective introduced Korean movies produced under military dictatorship. There were explanations about the social circumstances at the time and limitations due to government censorship. The movies were shown twice a day for five days, and there was a big turnout,” Paquet notes.
Since 2007 he has also served as a delegate for the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain.
Twenty years ago, Darcy Paquet had predicted that movies made in Korea in this far corner of the world would someday be recognized on world screens. But now he says something entirely the opposite about Korean movies.

Audience Power
Frankly speaking, Korean movies don’t excite me the way they used to. No movie made in Korea over the past five years has moved me. A few days ago I saw ‘The Wailing,’ and said that it was the best Korean film of the past five years,” Paquet says. He believes that the partnership with 20th Century Fox gave the director, Na Hong-jin, more room to flex his creative muscles.
Reflecting on the filmmaking system in Korea, he notes that it is very strong and rigid. “I doubt whether anything new can come out,” he remarks. “Even if the idea is good, if the movie doesn’t look like a box office hit then it is not produced at all. Every movie is made in the same way.”

Darcy Paquet poses with Oh Dong-jin (far right), movie critic and head of the 3rd Wildflower Film Awards Steering Committee, and other supporters after the awards presentation held at a downtown café in Seoul on April 7 this year. Paquet is director of the annual awards for Korean indie movies.

Paquet did not directly mention the big business monopoly of screens, which is the Korean film industry’s biggest issue. Perhaps it was due to his cautious temperament, combined with a concern of losing sponsors for the Wildflower Film Awards. But he seemed firm in his belief that indie movies are the only way out for Korean cinema.
In Korea, artistically acclaimed movies are considered failures if they cannot recoup their original investment. Directors who don’t succeed at the box office have a harder time getting support for their next project. Paquet established the Wildflower Film Awards in the hope of breaking this vicious circle. The winning filmmakers will at least have a shot at their next movie.
“Other countries have their own problems concerning the movie industry. However, Korea has a huge power that no other country has — the local audience. In no other country do local movies boast such a high market share as in Korea. I ask you to please go and watch more low-budget indie movies. You’ll find them unique and artistically refreshing,” Paquet says.

“Korea has a huge power that no other country has — the local audience. In no other country do local movies boast such a high market share as in Korea. I ask you to please go and watch more low-budget indie movies. You’ll find them unique and artistically refreshing.”

Wife and Children
In his second year in Korea, Paquet met Yeon Hyeon-sook, whom he dated for three years before marrying. They have two sons, one in third grade and one in sixth grade, who attend a public elementary school in Mia-dong, in an older area of Seoul.
Paquet and his wife watched a lot of movies when they were going out, and translated “Memories of Murder” together. His wife, her hands now full with two children, has drifted away from film. She recently got a nail art license and hopes to open a shop.
“There are so many differences even if you grow up in the same neighborhood, so how different would we be? We were mindful of that from the very beginning, so it’s worked out well for us,” Paquet says.
Having watched so many Korean movies has surely helped him to understand Korea, Korean culture, and Korean women much better. He has even appeared in seven movies including “Almost Che” and “The Taste of Money.” He likes to get a feel for the shoot and enjoys collaborating with the crew. So he rarely refuses when someone asks him to act in a movie. Someday, he hopes to co-write, with a Korean writer, a movie script about Korean politics, especially about the elections.

Kim Hyun-sook CEO, K-MovieLove
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