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‘Hanbando’ and the Nationalist Rage of Kang Woo-seok

2006/06/21 Source

With a budget of around US$10 million, this summer's most talked-about film "Hanbando (The Korean Peninsula)" is set to hit the theaters on July 13. Director Kang Woo-seok, who landed 10-million ticket blockbusters with 2004's "Silmido", is not one to beat about the bush, or for that matter affect modesty. "If it weren't me behind it, this movie would never have been made and could never be made", he says.

"Hanbando" is being marketed with posters lined with provocative statements like, "The Korean Peninsula has never been ours". It plays out in a Korea on the verge of reunification and blends fact and fiction about national emergencies and conflicts. North and South, the premise is, have made a pledge to reconcile, and as a symbol of that pact, the Gyeongeui cross-border railroad has at last been completely reopened. But Japan, citing the 1907 Eulsa Treaty with the Empire of Korea, seeks to throw a spoke in the wheels and deploys troops to the East Sea. To overcome the crisis, the protagonists try to unravel a mystery surrounding the "Great Seal",which has been hidden for 100 years.

Against this scenario, the movie indulges in spectacular battle scenes in the air and on water as well as a re-imagining of the killing of Emperor Gojong and Empress Myeongseong by Japanese thugs. The Chosun Ilbo spoke to the director.

▶ What is the idea behind "Hanbando"?

- History repeats itself. At any time, we can again be invaded by the foreign powers: the environment surrounding the Korean Peninsula permits it. I wanted to wake people up to that fact with my film. The story may seem overblown, but I did my best and I have no regrets.

▶ What do you say to criticism that you exploit nationalist sentiment for box office success?

- Is inciting patriotism or nationalism wrong? Our opinion of nationalism has been overly negative. Since when have we become globalized? Just look at China or Japan: we have to stick together. The movie doesn't force a message. It doesn't tell you what's right or wrong. I did justice to the characters that support Japan. It's more like: This is what I think, how do you feel?

▶ All your works seem to have a strong message.

- If a movie doesn't reflect our society, I just wonder what the point is. Social engagement is my driving force.

▶ Do you really feel that there is a danger of invasion by Japan?

- Yes, I do. And my normal feelings about Japan are not good. How brazen they are! If we look back on the issues of wartime comfort women, the Japanese prime minister's visits to the (Yasukuni) shrine, and the recent controversy over the Dokdo islets, a Japanese invasion seems eminently possible. I'm constantly angry because of that. But without this kind of anger, "Hanbando" wouldn't have been born.

▶ Some of Korea's leading actors including Ahn Sung-ki, Cha In-pyo, Cho Jae-hyun, and Moon Sung-geun appear in the movie. How did you cast the film?

- I chose the actors completely based on the script. I asked myself: Who fits this role best? And it made me wonder what I would have done if those actors weren't around.

▶ Your movie will be going head-to-head with The Host by Bong Joon-ho.

- The Host may appeal to the younger generation, but "Hanbando" will bring in audiences from youth to middle age. Besides",The Host" comes out two weeks after "Hanbando", so it is possible for it to be a win-win. Actually I want The Host to be a hit. In the case of "Silmido", it got a boost from the popularity of "Taegukgi".

▶ Do you have anything else to tell our readers?

- The movie's running time is two hours and 24 minutes. So far I haven't heard that my movie is boring, even though I've heard that it isn't much fun. It may seem long, but there is some comic relief. And I have confidence in the movie's drama as well. Audiences may come out of the theaters in something like a burst of anger.

Source :

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