Park Chan-wook will adapt The Sympathizer for TV, with Robert Downey Jr. on board

RDJ will portray multiple antagonists in the new take on Viet Thanh Nguyen's novel.


Charles Bramesco


Big things are a-brewing for Park Chan-wook, who hasn’t released a new feature since The Handmaiden in 2016. That should change soon with Decision to Leave, an espionage thriller set in his native Korea that’s been in the can for some time now, but he’s already lining up another major undertaking that will most likely have more mainstream appeal for audiences in the west.

Deadline has the exclusive that Park will return to TV following his John le Carré adaptation The Little Drummer Girl, with a small-screen take on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer. And depending on your view of the film industry, the buried lede here is that Robert Downey Jr. will take a starring role in his first major post-MCU gig.

Thanh’s Pulitzer-winning genre hybrid charts the winding path of a French-Vietnamese communist spy in the years after America withdrew its military presence, as the unnamed character makes his way from Saigon, to Los Angeles, to the Philippines, going from refugee to improbably film consultant to prisoner. A worldwide search is currently on for an unknown actor to portray the lead role, though his antagonist has already been settled.

Downey Jr. will play multiple roles, all of them united by their foundations in an institutional American whiteness opposing the leading man — a rising Californian congressman, a CIA operative, and a movie director representing Hollywood’s viewpoint, to name only a few. It’s been a good long time since we’ve seen the former great do any heavy-duty acting, his talents constrained within the iron shell of his superhero costume.

Though this is as much of a comeback for Park as it is for his cast, the director joining forces with A24 and HBO, the studio-network partnership that brought us Euphoria. The director has demonstrated a versatility between tones and genres in his varied body of work, so he’s an ideal choice for a far-spanning text that oscillates between political intrigue, black comedy, and intimate portraiture of racial identity during a historical flashpoint.

Published 15 Jul 2021

Tags: Park Chan-wook Robert Downey Jr

Suggested For You

Park Chan-wook has begun work on his next film, a romantic murder mystery

By Charles Bramesco

Decision to Leave marks the director’s return to Korea following his English-language miniseries The Little Drummer Girl.

Six of the best Park Chan-wook scenes

By Kambole Campbell

From Oldboy to Stoker, here are some of the South Korean director’s most memorable moments.

Discover the military thriller that put Park Chan-wook on the mapf

By Anton Bitel

2000’s JSA – Joint Security Area was one of the first significant films of the so-called Korean Wave.

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.