How Famed Directors Park Chan Wook And Bong Joon Ho Changed The “Room Salon” Culture In Korea’s Film Industry

“I wanted the culture to end sooner than later…”

Korean movie directors Park Chan Wook and Bong Joon Ho are seen as national treasures.

Park Chan Wook | Joong Ang Ilbo
Bong Joon Ho | EyesMag

The directors are regarded as two of the best directors of their generation, and have brought worldwide acclaim to Korean cinema.

Park Chan Wook is the Cannes Film Festival winner responsible for masterpieces such as The Handmaiden, Decision To Leave, and the cult-classic noir film Old Boy. The director won the 2022 Cannes Film Festival award for best director for his film Decision To Leave.

Bong Joon Ho is equally decorated and is the winner of the 2020 Golden Globe Award and 2020 Academy Award for best director. He has directed classics such as Memories Of A Murder, Okja, and Parasite, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival and four Academy Awards.

The two directors solidified their positions at the forefront of a new generation of Korean directors and brought many changes to the almost 100-years-old Korean movie industry.

One of those changes apparently surrounds the infamous Korean room salons.

Ha Jung Woo (center) at a room salon in movie Nameless Gangster | Fine Films

Room salons are high-end host bars where patrons drink with hosts. There are both room salons that cater to men and women. It was frequented by many businessmen back in the days but now has become closely associated with prostitution.

According to a post on a Korean online community, famed economist Woo Suk Hoon (also known as Sŏk-hun U) once wrote that most movie deals actually occurred in room salons, that is until Park Chan Wook and Bong Joon Ho came brought in a new regime, that has made business in these seedy places almost obsolete.

As the room salon culture disappeared, the movie industry conducted business differently, and through this, the industry as a whole changed.

— Woo Suk Hoon

The economist directly credited the change to the two directors stating that the two disliked the culture, and due to their status, the industry began to change with them.

Bong Joon Ho and Park Chang Wook are what you would call titans in the movie industry. Their emergence brought about many changes in the movie industry. One of them was the fact that the two directors didn’t like room salons. Before them, most contracts were negotiated and signed in room salons. But as the two directors detested them, and their movies did so well, the industry changed to cater to them.

— Woo Suk Hoon

Park Chan Wook had previously stated in a 2016 interview with film magazine Cine 21 that he had always disliked the room salon culture.

What has always bothered me since long ago is the fact that many people in the film industry frequent room salons.

— Park Chan Wook

The director revealed that he was close to naming his first production company NRS to stand for no room salons.

In the early 2000s,that type of culture was seen as tradition. I wanted the culture to end sooner than later, so much to the point I almost named my first production company NRS to stand for no room salons.

— Park Chan Wook

Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and it seems the two directors understood the assignment perfectly.

Park Chan Wook (left) and Bong Joon Ho (right) | Zum News
Source: Wikitree