Event: Oldboy Special Event with live musical performance and Q&A with composer Cho Young Wuk.

Organiser: Korean Cultural Centre UK

Place: Odeon West End

Date: 25th September 2014

Cho Young Wuk

It seems bizarre to think of Oldboy as over a decade old. The film has left a lasting impact on the landscape of cinema and has opened up careers for all involved. Park Chan Wook continues to make exceptional pieces of work, while Choi Min Sik is one of today’s greatest living actors. However, the special event on the night of Thursday 25th September 2014 was all about legendary composer Cho Young Wuk. The Korean Cultural Centre have been presenting a series of films composed by Cho over the last few months, but on this night, the man was in attendance ready for a performance of his work by the Philharmonia Orchestra, a screening of the most famous film in which his work is included (OLDBOY), and a Q&A with the man himself.

Since 1997 THE CONTACT, Cho has composed scores to over 50 feature films. These include THE CLASSIC, Kim Jee Woon’s THE QUIET FAMILY, box-office sensation SILMIDO, MOSS, and PUBLIC ENEMY. His most famous compositions though are the ones where he has collaborated with Park Chan Wook. Their professional relationship has spanned such memorable works as JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA, SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, THIRST, and I’M A CYBORG, BUT THAT’S OK.

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As Philharmonia took to the stage, they began with the title theme from SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, a beautiful piece that sounds as though it has escaped from some Victorian era asylum. The slight plucking of strings sounding like dark but mischievous footsteps. Next up, and one of my personal favourites, was Under A Streetlight taken from THIRST. The tune was a dark and striking piece that perfectly captures the idea of romance and lust in the vampiric tale, but has enough power to resonate as a piece of music all of its own.

The next four compositions took a step back from Cho’s work, with the main theme from THE CLASSIC showing that Cho can even weave melodramatic melodies into genuinely heartfelt demonstrations of subtlety. One of the stand out tracks of the night, just for its completely different and more upbeat tone was 1982 from NAMELESS GANGSTER, a twangy guitar filled gradual escalation of Morricone style sounds with a Disney bounce. Themes from THE CONCUBINE and NEW WORLD followed, displaying further diversity from one of today’s greatest living composers.

Finally we were treated to a rendition of Cries And Whispers from OLDBOY before the film itself. Every track played was a slightly stripped down version of its cinematic equivalent but for such a personal venue as Odeon West End it was simply perfect. Every note filled the auditorium with soul and, as is the case with all of Cho’s music, you could almost see the notes in the air.

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Watching OLDBOY after such a collection of tracks meant that one could not help but focus more on the music this time. Cho’s score has always stood out, which is one of the reasons the film is such a classic. The remake of OLDBOY, with music from Roque Banos, was a rather dull affair all round, but the music was particularly generic. No surprise then that during the Q&A, Cho revealed that most of his music and themes were composed after one reading of the script. Spike Lee’s OLDBOY certainly comes across as having music just scored to already existing images.

After the film, Cho took to the stage with Dr. Christopher Letcher, to answer questions from the audience concerning his processes and thoughts. Cho revealed that he promised Park Chan Wook a mainstream theme for OLDBOY, with SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE, which Cho did not score, having not done so well at the box-office. Cho also delighted in the fact, when asked about his lesser known films, that all the films he has scored have been successes. Something he very much deserves to be proud about. Cho also revealed that he hadn’t been approached concerning the remake of OLDBOY, but wish he had been. A score from Cho would have at least made the misjudged remake a joy to listen to, if not watch.

A perfect precursor to the upcoming London Korean Film Festival, which takes place 6th – 15th November, before going on tour in Norwich, Aberystwyth and Hebden Bridge between 16th and 21st November, the evening with Cho Young Wuk reminds us of how much talent is still pouring out of Korea, and why it may very well be one of the key cinematic countries at this very moment.

The Korean Cultural Centre offers Korean Film Nights every fortnight. Find out more here!