Translating Park Chan-wook

By Claire Lee

Interpreter and film producer Jeong Won-jo shares his experience in making Park Chan-wook’s ‘Stoker’

Published : Feb 24, 2013 - 19:32
Updated : Feb 26, 2013 - 09:07

Park Chan-wook describes his ability as “more than perfect.” Actress Mia Wasikowska said working with him was so “easy and seamless.”

Of the many who worked behind the camera for Park Chan-wook’s Hollywood debut “Stoker,”  one of its co-producers and interpreter Jeong Won-jo is the one who witnessed the English-language film’s production from the very beginning to the end. 

A scene from Park Chan-wook’s Hollywood debut “Stoker,” in which Jeong Won-jo participated as one of the film's co-producers and Park’s English-Korean translator. (20th Century Fox Korea)


Throughout the project, he was the famed director’s “all-around aide-de-camp”; all of Park’s directions were delivered to the crew through Jeong. From all sorts of press meetings to pre and post-production discussions, Jeong was Park’s official speaker in the English-language world.

“Jeong wouldn’t just literally translate what he would say,” director Park told The Korea Herald.

“He would add humor and the necessary explanations to my original words. He really was more than perfect as an interpreter.”

Film producer and translator Jeong Won-jo poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Friday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)


Jeong, who moved to New Zealand from his motherland Korea when he was 12, joined Park Chan-wook’s film company, Moho Film, in 2008. He studied marketing and commercial law in college in New Zealand,  and worked for a local automobile test equipment maker and the New Zealand Medical Association,  before stepping into the world of cinema through Michael Stephens,  the attorney of New Zealander filmmaker Peter Jackson.

The Korea Herald sat down with Jeong in Seoul to discuss his experience working with director Park, producing “Stoker,” and some of the memorable moments of the making of the film.

The Korea Herald: What was it like to see the final product of ‘Stoker’ on screen?

Jeong: It’s enormously touching. It really is a Park Chan-wook film. From the very beginning, our major concern was to make a film that carries director Park’s signature style. For me personally, the movie, play by play, was a series of the exciting, cathartic, and precious moments where I'd recall, ‘Oh, I remember having a discussion about that scene with director Park!’ or ‘Oh, I remember Mia talking to director Park about that.’

KH: How did you manage to be Park’s interpreter and one of the film's co-producers at the same time?

Jeong: In a way, the two jobs are actually very similar to each other. They are both about conveying ideas and building the bridges. They are both about conveying ideas and building the bridges. The jobs also required giving reminders and sometimes input where appropriate. If director Park's job was to create this film according to his vision,  my job was to help him and his producers make sure the right elements came together and worked harmoniously in very much the way the director intended. It also was to make sure the communication between him and everyone else was everything it should be: timely and clear.

KH: What was it like to work with Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode?

Jeong: Actors and actresses are very observant and instinctive people. They are also very sensitive to language, and well-aware of how one’s facial expressions and body movement change when delivering their words.

All of the actors and actresses had their chance to observe director Park during the pre-production phase, and it showed while shooting the film on the set. Director Park always said those who can act shouldn’t have many problems with the language barrier, and I think he was right from the very beginning.

Nicole very often understood what director Park said in Korean even before I started translating. She would sometimes understand what director Park wanted by looking at his finger pointing in a certain direction. It was very magical.

Matthew was also brilliant; such an intelligent guy. And Mia was a very hard worker, on top of her obvious talent. She’d always bring her copy of the script, filled with Post-it notes, to discuss her thoughts and questions whenever she’d have a casual lunch with director Park.

KH: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while translating?

Jeong: I knew the time pressure was there, because director Park was only given half the amount of time he usually spends for shooting. That was also stressful to me, so I tried to understand everything about the shooting process during the pre-production phase. I wanted to avoid the kind of situation where things would be delayed because I didn’t understand what director Park said and have to ask him for explanations.

KH: I hear you never received proper training in Korean-English translation.

Jeong: No. But being in the Korean community in New Zealand offered me countless opportunities to be an interpreter. Growing up, I took many part-time jobs as a translator for business occasions and events held by the Korean Embassy in New Zealand.

KH: You’ve been working very closely with director Park. What is he like in person?

Jeong: He is very gentle and articulate. He is a singular visionary and is a very collaborative person. And yet he is a very particular person because when collaborating, he always selects what works the best all the time. And he is the most cultured man that I know.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation