Director Chung Chang Wha Talks Of Shaw Brothers, Dictatorship And His Career

Director Chung Chang Wha was a special guest in the 10th London Korean Film Festival 2015 in which three of his most notable films were screened.

Director Chung Chang Wha was invited to London at the 10th London Korean Film Festival 2015 in which three of his most notable films A Bonanza (1961), Sunset On The Sarbin River (1965) and A Swordsman in the Twilight (1967) were screened in the Classics Revisited section of the festival.

I along with three other people got a once in a lifetime chance to interview this great personality of the Asian cinema whose career spans from the times of Shaw Brothers. We were seated in the Picturehouse Central Cinema at Picadilly Circus where Director Chung Chang Wha talked about his experience working for the Shaw Brothers Studios in Hong Kong, making films during Dictatorship in South Korea and his entire film making career.

EKRAN MAGAZINE: your career started in the 1950s when you moved to Hong Kong and ultimately established yourself there. Which project was it during that time which became your favourite and influenced your career most profoundly?
DIRECTOR CHUNG CHANG WHA: I succeeded in establishing myself in Hong Kong by working for the Shaw Brothers. They had hired me as a specialist for action films. As I worked for them I realised that I can also do the same. Therefore picking up that Chinese style of action film making I went ahead and made Five Fingers of Death based on a Chinese mythical tale. Surprisingly it became a success for me and it was the first film that went on to the US Box Office. The Five Fingers of Death project was and still is my personal favourite because it changed my life as a film director

HANGUL CELLULOID: You have had an influence on the world of martial arts and action films. What are your thoughts on how Korean cinema has changed through years and what it stands for now concerning the martial arts films compared to years ago?
DIRECTOR CHUNG CHANG WHA: As you would know well that in 1950s the Korean War was taking place, which caused so many of the industries to completely perish. The Korean Film Industry was no exception, and it also suffered destruction. There was a lot of suffering that the Korean people were going through, therefore, even though the Film Industry was in ruins, we still managed to make films in order to ease the suffering. In order to that, we mainly aimed towards making films which showed hope, which proved to be the right kind of stimulus because we Koreans are drawn towards the emotional aspect of film making. We also aimed towards making action films which were surprisingly more popular among the people, therefore there was a sudden boom in martial arts styled films. It was a necessity for us Koreans to have such action packed and emotional films during those hard times. Based on these reasons, the modern films compared to the old ones is that the young film makers are learning from them, and I can proudly say that they are much better action packed and emotional films than the old ones.

EASTERN KICKS: In the 1960s, the Shaw Brothers Studios was the biggest in the whole of Asia. How was your experience working there and what were your feelings when Shaw Brothers offered you a job as a director?
DIRECTOR CHUNG CHANG WHA: The Shaw Brothers Studios was no doubt the biggest one in the whole of Asia, and who would not want to work for that studio if they were offered any kind of job there? I felt specially priveledged when i was offered a job as a director. It was a once in a lifetime oppurtunity for me which i availed, and that is what made my career. The Shaw Brothers Studios supported me into making such films that appealed a larger audience. In order to be a part of such a Studio, the director needs to have a caliber, which should be devotion to his work. In order to have devotion, you have to study and observe a lot. This enables you to come up with fresh new ideas which become the sattisfaction of the studio’s needs and demands. That is exactly what I did which brought me success.

THE LONDON TREE: You have contributed alot to the Hong Kong cinema by working for the Shaw Brothers studios, and then did so for the Korean cinema too. What caused you to completely stop making films at all?
DIRECTOR CHUNG CHANG WHA: The Shaw Brothers were a great support for me when I was making films for them. As my popularity grew and my talent was acknowledged, the Korean government called me back and asked me to contribute to the Korean film industry. I accepted the offer, but when the dictatorial regime came, the freedom in film making that i enjoyed in the past slowly started to diminish. I made twenty one films, but they were all heavily censored and about ten to twenty minutes of the film were cut off. This made me realize that under the dictatorial regime, it was impossible to have creative freedom. The films that i directed did not make any sense to the audience because of the censoring, which brought a rise in the decline of cinema goers. This effected me a lot. I was also unfortunately locked up by the authorities of that time. The decline of the cinema goers, and especially being locked up behind bars started to effect my health to a great extent. At this point, my wife decided that we should move to the USA. My move to the USA was the end of my film making career.

EKRAN MAGAZINE: Who were the film makers that influenced you, and are there any current film makers that you enjoy?
DIRECTOR CHUNG CHANG WHA: In the 1960s, the Korean cinema was largely influenced by the Japanese cinema. The films that came out of Japan were heavy in dialogue, and that is what Korea followed. With the entry of Hollywood films into Korea, the film making style started to change. Hollywood films were not heavy in dialogue, but they focused more on tempo and spectacular scenery. Even the Korean film audience caught the attention of Hollywood films. I was also influenced by those films, and i got greatly influenced by Mr. George Stephens. One film from which i learned a lot was SHANE. It was filmed in very low budget, and had very few dialogues in it. It focused mainly on its message and it had pictorial significance too. That encouraged me to make something in similar style, therefore I went ahead and made SUNNY FIELDS. This film completely changed my film making career because I successfully got into contract with the Shaw Brothers. One other fact I want to mention is that even before the Shaw Brothers hired me, i noticed that no other fim maker in Korea was making martial arts action films. Therefore I felt obliged to take the first step.
As far as current film makers are concerned, I believe that they have greatly changed the style of making films in Korea. They are quite enthusiastic and with time are bringing in more and more styles and techniques.

HANGUL CELLULOID: You have spent your life doing action films which were completely choreographed. Do you do story boarding or go scene by scene or bring changes as the film progresses?
DIRECTOR CHUNG CHANG WHA: I have noticed in my many years of film making career that making melodrama and romantic films are much easier than action films. You can simply make melodrama and romantic films just by watching and studying them, but for action films, you have to do a lot of research. Making action films does Not only involve intellectual research, but it also involves physical research too. I have not learned that much of martial arts like taekwando, but i have studied Kendo which was not much for making action films. In those times Korea did not have a choreographer so the director would simply go by his own imagination. Therefore not much of story boarding and choreography was involved in those times. We were devoted to our work. Our devotion was the key to our success which was quite hard earned.

EASTERN KICKS: Compared to your films KING BOXER, which was a breakthrough for the Korean cinema to the world, what do you think about the current popularity of Korean films in the world?
DIRECTOR CHUNG CHANG WHA: When I look at my predecessors I see that with time there has been a lot of polishing. They are quite creative and their creativeness has no boundaries. The advance in technology is stunning to look at now a days. Plus, there is also a lot of global distribution of Korean films which makes it a plus point for the present film makers.

Special thanks to Korean Cultural Centre, London and the following

Hangul Celluloid

Ekran Magazine

Eastern Kicks

Title Picture is All Rights Reserved The London Tree, and has been taken by Freelance Photographer Adnan Kundi.

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