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About Kim Sung-soo: striking gold at the box office with 12:12 THE DAY

Dec 22, 2023
  • Source by Cine21
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A leading director in the Korean film industry during the revival of Korean cinema in the 1990s


After weathering a challenging year, the Korean film industry is now experiencing a much-needed resurgence. The landscape shifted noticeably following director Kim Sung-soo’s 12:12 The Day on November 22. Surpassing 9.31 million cumulative viewers in just 29 days (as of the December 21), 12.12: The Day now sets its sights on the coveted 10 million mark.


The spotlight shines on director Kim Sung-soo, who added another record-breaking blockbuster to his filmography with 12:12 The Day. Celebrating his 28th year since his feature film debut, he emerged as a leading director in the Korean film industry during the revival of Korean cinema in the 1990s. Amidst the emergence of directors who catalyzed generational shifts and significant commercial success in the 21st century, Kim Sung-soo stood out as one of the pivotal figures during an era marked by substantial industrial growth.



Rising as a Storyteller in 1990s


Kim Sung-soo embarked on his cinematic journey as a screenwriter, making his debut with the film Black Republic (1990) directed by Park Kwang-soo. His contribution was as a screenwriter, and assistance for directing. The film featuring Moon Sung-keun, Park Joong-hoon, and Shim Hye-jin, earned widespread acclaim. In the first inaugural Chunsa International Film Festival, the film secured top honors in multiple categories, including Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best actress and New Artist awards. In addition, it clinched Best Film and New Artist (for Moon Sung-Keun) awards at The Blue Dragon Film Awards and Baeksang Arts Awards, both prestigious accolades in Korean Cinema. Kim continued his collaboration with director Park in the subsequent year, engaging in Berlin Report (1991) for adaptation and serving an assistant director. His screen writing prowess was further evident in Blue In You (1992) and Sunset Into The Neon Lights (1995) directed by Lee Hyun-seung


During this period, he displayed his multifaced by not only excelling as a screenwriter but also stepping into the director's role for two short films. His debut Dead End (1993), depicted a protagonist who, after devotedly caring for his wife, becomes an inadvertent witness to a murder, embroiling himself in the ensuing case. This narrative style echoed elements later prominent in his successful film Asura: The City of Madness (2016). The subsequent year, he directed another short film Gyeolhon Mandeulgi (1994), exploring the drama genre.




Runaway (1995) 




Early career bloomed: with Jung Woo-sung, Lee Jung-jae, and Jang Hyuk


His films predominantly revolve around themes of conflicts and camaraderie among men, as he mentioned in recent interviews. His directorial debut Runaway (1995), laid the foundation of for this theme. The gripping storyline involves a man and a woman unexpectedly witnessing a murder in Seoul, thrusting them into a pursuit by a criminal syndicate. Lee Byung-hun, then a budding actor, garnered attention by clinching the New Artist award at Daejong International Film Awards for his role in this film.



Beat (1997) and City of the Rising Sun (1999)


Following his debut, Kim delivered two consecutive successful works collaborating with Jung Woo-sung in Beat (1997) and City of the Rising Sun (1999), each drawing nearly 350,000 viewers in Seoul alone. Beat depicted the poignant struggles of teenagers amidst chaos with characters: naturally gifted fighter Min (Jung Woo-sung), Taesu (Yu Oh-seong) and Hwangyu (Lim Chang-jung) who dreaming of success in gang. Also, City of the Rising Sun starring Jung Woo-sung and Lee Jung-jae stands out as one of South Korea’s iconic buddy movies portraying the fierce and gritty story of two youths relentlessly pursuing their dreams and money.



The Warriors (2001) 



Kim Boldly ventured into films with a different tone from his earlier works. The Warriors (2001), featuring Zhang Ziyi and Jung Woo-sung, unfolds as an action epic set across a vast continent of warriors abandoned in the middle of a desert during the Goryeo Dynasty. Please Teach Me English (2003), a surprise entry in the romantic comedy genre, starring Lee Na-young and Jang Hyuk. While neither film emerged as a box office hit due to differing audience expectations from Kim’s established style, they marked significant strides in his directorial career. The Warriors  showcased attributes of a Korean blockbuster while Please Teach Me English held significance as the inaugural production by 'Nabi Pictures,' co-founded with producer Jo Min-hwan, known for their prior collaborations. 



The Flu (2013) 



A decade later, Kim reunited with Jang Hyuk for The Flu (2013), a disaster film depicting the havoc wreaked across South Korea by the worst virus outbreak in history. The film regained attention in 2019 for its narrative parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these films not grabbing widespread attention, they continued to encapsulate the director's distinctive perspective on Korean society.



Blooms back: Asura: The City of Madness, 12:12 The Day


His career saw a resurgence with Asura: The City of Madness and 12:12 The Day, two recent works that rekindled the spotlight on the director, showcasing intense struggles among men in his distinctive style. 

Asura: The City of Madness ​(2016)

Asura: The City of Madness, boosting a cast including Jung Woo-sung, Hwang Jung-min, Ju Ji-hoon, and Kwak Do-won, portrayed a hellish war among antagonists, earning NC-17 rating due to its brutal depiction of violence. This stark portrayal caused audience division, resulting in a cumulative viewership of 2.59 million. Despite this, the film received an invitation to the 41st Toronto International Film Festival, affording it exposure to international directors. Critically acclaimed for its vivid representation of power’s violent facets through the clash of opposing forces, the film eventually surpassed the break-even point with additional profits from subsidiary rights.



 12:12 The Day ​(​2023)



Kim Sung-soo's recent success, 12:12 The Day revisits a historical period marked by a dictator’s military uprising that ignited the pro-democracy movement. Through the film’s depiction of the military coup overlapped with factual Korean history, sparking local outrage, the director’s imaginative lens intricately portrayed the strategic intricacies and combat within the military, offering an immersive cinematic experience that continues to earn ongoing widespread acclaim. 



by Chae Sora

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