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'Sunny' offers a woman's Vietnam War

2008/07/02 Source

Director Lee Joon-ik built up a lofty reputation with "The King and the Clown", a surprise hit which sold more than 10 million tickets in 2005.

Naturally, expectations are high for his latest project, entitled "Sunny" (Nim-eun meongose)".

But Lee has expressed displeasure at the current film industry trend in which the public judges a film only in terms of ticket sales.

"Making films is not a record-setting competition", he told reporters on Monday at a news conference in Seoul to promote his new film, which cost a hefty 7.1 billion won ($7 million) to produce.

Lee's terse remark came in response to a reporter's question about his conjecture regarding the number of viewers.

"Nobody knows how many people will watch my film", he said. "Even though the film industry is now going through a drastic change, we should try to strike a balance between cultural value and economic value".

Set in 1971, when the Vietnam War was underway, the movie features Sun-i (played by Soo Ae), who takes up a performing arts job and embarks on an unlikely journey to reunite with her missing husband in the war zone.

Lee said he made particular efforts to highlight the role of a female character in "Sunny".

"I have been criticized for making male-oriented films, so I have tried to change my style to bring a female character to the front", he said.

The focus is placed on the troubled path of Sun-i, who belatedly searches for her husband (Uhm Tae-woong). She summons an incredible courage to track down her loved one, and, to that end, joins a troupe that is set to head for Vietnam to stage a performance for Korean soldiers. In the process, she relies on Jeong-man (Jung Jin-young) to make it to the dangerous region.

Lee stressed that Soo Ae, a queen of Korean melodrama, was a perfect match for the cinematic image he had conjured up for the drama.

"No other actress in Korea has the distinctively pure image that Soo Ae has", he said.

The character she plays offers a totally new perspective, in a departure from traditional war movies where male voices dominate and female characters are largely sidelined.

"A woman's point of view provides an objective angle that can reflect the war as it is", Lee said.

Soo Ae said she did a two-month training to refine her dancing and singing, which are poetically used in the film.

"I was very worried about whether I could pull off this character, and once the shooting started, the character itself was evolving on a daily basis, so I had to dig up the character to get it right", she said.

Jung Jin-young, who has long worked with Lee, said the role he takes in "Sunny" was an interesting trip to a new world. "He always brings me to a new, exciting place, and I'm curious about where I will be led when we work together again", he said.

The Vietnam War is an important - and troubling - chapter in Korean history. Back in the 1970s, Korea was desperate to kickstart its economic growth, and the country opted to join the controversial war. The movie, to be released here on July 24, tackles the issue from a fresh angle.

Lee said it's time to look back on the Vietnam War from a different, more objective angle.

"When men ponder the war, the result is almost always black and white, good and bad, in a chain of confrontation. But when women look at the war, all the men, whether they are Vietnamese, American or Korean, are by and large the same human beings", Lee said.

By Yang Sung-jin

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