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,
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
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,”
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.
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
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
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.