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Korean filmmakers bet on large-scale projects

2008/01/03 Source

Many local movie productions suffered setbacks last year, due to increased costs and the strengthened position of Hollywood blockbusters. In 2008, leading filmmakers are betting on large-scale projects to turn things around for the embattled local film industry.

At the forefront of Korean films' counterattack is Kim Jee-woon's oriental western "The Good, the Bad, the Weird", whose production cost is estimated at a whopping 15 billion won ($16 million). Hedging the huge financial risk is none other than a star-studded cast. Well-known Korean Wave stars Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho and Jung Woo-sung play central characters for the film set in Manchuria of the 1930s.

Lee, who is enjoying soaring popularity in Japan, takes the role of a bandit, while Song turns into a train robber and Jeong becomes a bounty hunter. The trio stumbles onto a treasure map in the Manchuria region, a sort of Korean western -- a peculiar genre which is yet to be tested at the box office. The film is scheduled be released around the summer vacation season.

Another big-scale film set in the 1930s is director Jeong Ji-woo's "Modern Boy", a retro-style drama that harkens back to the vibrant days of Korea despite the suffocating colonial rule of Japan. Park Hae-il and Kim Hye-soo have embraced the title roles for the film featuring Korea's then penchant for Western culture typified in cafes, coffee and department stores.

Shingijeon, a rocket machine developed and used during the Joseon Dynasty period, is a key subject of veteran director Kim Yoo-jin's historical action film "Shingijeon". Top-rated actors Jung Jae-young, Ahn Sung-ki and Heo Joon-ho play central characters in the big-budget movie to be released around July.

Another much-anticipated film is award-winning director Lee Joon-ik's latest feature "Sunny" ("Nimeun meonkotae"), a Vietnam War drama that revolves around a wayward woman. High-profile actors such as Soo Ae, Jung Jin-young and Uhm Tae-woong have signed on to the film project whose release is slated for July.

"A Frozen Flower", another period drama, is directed by Yoo Ha, and what is notable is that it is set in the Goryeo period which preceded Joseon. Heartthrobs Jo In-sung and Joo Jin-mo play the fictional king and his body guard, with a homosexual theme thrown into the turbulent swirl of historical events.

While big-budget movies are expected to shape the domestic film industry in 2008, small-budget art-house features also aim to carve out a position. Director Lee Yoon-ki's "The Great Day" ("My Dear Enemy") is a case in point. Jeon Do-yeon, who grabbed the prestigious best actress award at the 2007 Cannes International Film Festival, plays a 30-year-old woman who reunites with her former boyfriend only for a day, with the cinematic emphasis placed on her mental landscape.

Director Kim Ki-duk's new feature "Bimong" ("Dream") is also a small-budget feature, but the public attention drawn to this Korea-Japan joint project is not so small. The reason is that Kim has pulled off a high-profile casting. Once top Japanese actor Joe Odagiri was confirmed to play the title role for the film numerous Korean female actors reportedly applied to play his counterpart.

Korean production companies are keen to reclaim their market share in the domestic market after suffering a bleak period last year. Even though a couple of big-budget Korean films led by "D-War", a monster flick by former comedian Shim Hyung-rae, sailed well at the box office, the majority of homegrown films failed to turn a profit last year, heightening a sense of crisis about the Korean film industry's overall competitiveness.

Meanwhile, Hollywood movies are increasingly expanding their share in the Korean film market, capitalizing partly on the reduced screen quota that allows local theaters to screen fewer domestic films.

By Yang Sung-jin

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