Four leading Korean directors working on overseas projects
With leading Korean directors PARK Chan-wook, BONG Joon-ho, KIM Jee-woon and RYOO Seung-wan all working on overseas productions, journalist JU Sung Chul examines the details of their projects for <Korean Cinema Today>
The year 2012 looks like it will see an unprecedented rush of Korean directors working onforeign projects. This phenomenon seems similar to the situation back in the late 1990s when Hong Kong directors John WOO, Ringo LAM, TSUI Hark, Kirk WONG and Ronny YU all directed films produced in Hollywood.What’s different is that whereas they were inclined to make films only in Hong Kong’s specialty genre - the action film, their Korean counterparts are expected to make films that will retains the directors’ varyingstyles and sensibilities. Park Chan-wook’s <Stoker> and Kim Jee-woon’s <The Last Stand> are produced by Hollywood-based companies while Bong Joon-ho’s <Snowpiercer> and Ryoo Seung-wan’s <The Berlin File> (working title) are to be co-productions.
Park Chan-wook’s <Stoker>
At the recent Busan International Film Festival, Logan Lerman, who plays the role of D’Artagnan in <The Three Musketeers>, did not hide his regard for director Park Chan-wook’s work. Although it’s now commonplace to hear high praise for Park from international critics and cinephiles, it was refreshing to hear it from an up-and-coming teenage actor from Hollywood. Also as one who is interested in directing, Lerman proclaimed<Old Boy> as a one of his personal favorites and that he hopes to one day work with Park. He also expressed curiosity about the director’s first Hollywood film <Stoker>.
Principal photography for <Stoker>, which began in Nashville, Tennessee this fall,has recently been completed. The story is that India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) loses her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a car accident and as her family is holding a funeral for him, an uncle called Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to visit them. Mia has been living with her mother (Nicole Kidman) in a state of virtual mental instability and after her uncle’s arrival, strange and inexplicable things start to happen, driving India to have doubts about her uncle. Colin Firth, who had been a prospective to play Uncle Charlie, is not participating in the project after all.
One aspect of <Stoker> that has been the talk of the town even before shooting began is the fact that Wentworth Miller, the star of <Prison Break> wrote the script. Many thought this rather odd, but in fact <Stoker> was on the 2010 Hollywood“Black List”ofhot scripts that should have been made into films. Incidentally, the script for <The Social Network> also made the same illustrious list of unproduced projects back in 2009. According to some, Miller originally wanted to play the role of the mysterious Uncle Charlie himself.
Other interesting aspectsof Park’s film are that it is co-produced by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions and that Fox Searchlight Pictures is co-financing and releasing the film.In addition, cinematographer JEONG Jeong-hun (<Sympathy for Lady Vengeance>, <Thirst>), who has oftenmoved as one with Park, is also participating.
Park has a great interest in the vampire genre which was amply demonstrated in his <Thirst> and many thought his latest project, named after Bram Stoker, would be another vampire film.But Park says, “Stoker is a writer that I’ve always admired so the title is an homage to him, but the film itself will only be similar to Stoker’s work in that it has the atmosphere of a gothic thriller.”Judging from what he says, it doesn’t sound like an actual vampire film. In an e-mail interview Park also said that his “current workload is unimaginable to the extent that we have meetings while having meals,”and that he’s working hard to put across his “own colors and style in the midst of the tremendous differences in systems”. The film is looking at a release early next year.
Bong Joon-ho’s <Snowpiercer>
Director Bong Joon-ho left for the Czech Republic on Oct. 13 to prepare for the production of his latest project. <Snowpiercer> is based on a French graphic novel and is set in the future where many people have died of extreme cold weather created by climate change. Survivors get on a train called the Snowpiercer,equipped with food and water, but as necessities start to run out, the train becomes a lawless place where anything goes. Park Chan-wook is attached as a producer and its budget is known to be some KW40 billion (US$35.3 million) with over 80% of its cast planned to be from English-speaking countries. It’s mostly about what happens on the train and the plot is said to be brimming with non-stop action moving forward in the train.
It’s a multi-national co-production between Korea’s Moho Film and film companies from France and the U.S. amongst others.About 90% of the shooting will take place on the set of a train, making it necessary to have a large-scale set. Moreover, the train set has to be some 80 to 90 meters long, which means that filming in Korea would be a virtual impossibility. Bong says, “We ultimately had two choices, the Czech Republic and Hungary. After thinking long and hard, we decided to go for the Barrandov Studios near Prague in the Czech Republic as the country has a long tradition of filmmaking and plenty of skilled film crews.” Barrandov Studiosis famous for being the set of <Amadeus> and more recently, it was where <G.I. Joe> was shot.
A producer already went to the Czech Republic in September to start negotiations, and a local production office opened on the 17th. The make-up of the staff and crew will be as diverse as the multi-national financing: Korea’s Hong Kyeong-pyo will be in charge of the cinematography, computer graphics will be supervised by an American, production design will be done by a Czech,and costume design will be done by someone from the U.K. Since a great number of the actors will be Englishspeakers, a casting director is meticulously searching through Hollywood.
With such a multi-national crew, meetings were always conducted via video conferencing. Bong says, “After video conference meetings with me in Korea,the producerin the Czech Republic,the C.G.I. supervisorin Los Angeles and the special effects director in Germany, held over different time zones with a wild mix of Korean and German accents, I would get completely exhausted.”
<Snowpiercer> looks set to be an action thriller with the train as the centerpiece. The core of the film is what happens in this space that runs back to front, a long connected and straight line. Bong says, “When I was filming <The Host>, I wanted in a way to makesuch a definitive film set around the Han River that other directors wouldn’t be able to shoot there again. (laughs)With <Snowpiercer>, I’m working with the mindset that ‘there will be no more train films’.” In other words, Bong is hoping to make the definitive train film to end all films set on trains including those made in the past and possibly in the future.
About Korean actor SONG Kang-ho, who is set to appear in the film, Bong says, “He isn’t one of the lead actors, but he’ll play a very attractive character like Han Solo in<Star Wars>.”
<Snowpiercer>aims to start shooting around March next year fora release before the end of 2012.
Kim Jee-woon’s <The Last Stand>
Kim Jee-woon had opportunities from Hollywood relatively earlier than Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. It may be because Kim has a more distinct genre style. He was originally set to do a remake of Claude Sautet’s 1971 film<Max et les Ferrailleurs>, but the project saw many delays and so heended up directing <I Saw the Devil> (2010) instead. Last month, Kim started production on his Hollywood debut thriller<The Last Stand> in New Mexico and Nevada.
The film’s script was also on the 2010 Black List along with that of <Stoker>. Produced by Lionsgate,<The Last Stand> is also former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger’s comeback film. Schwarzenegger recently admitted to having had an extra-marital affair with a housekeeper resulting in the birth of a son and his Hollywood career had been clouded with doubts after the revelation. The project had already lost Liam Neeson who had been in the cards to take on the role of the sheriff and similarly it nearly lost Schwarzenegger due to this scandal, but managed to come back to life.
In <The Last Stand>,drug cartel leader Burrel (Peter Stormare) escapes from a courthouse and using a race cartries to cross the border into Mexico. The fastest car in the U.S. arrives at the slowest village on the border and encounters Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger). There begins the fierce fight between the drug cartel and the sheriff. (An interesting fact is that Lionsgate also produced Sylvester Stallone’s comeback film for the Rambo series, <Rambo IV>.)
<The Last Stand> has a budget of some US$30 millionand, as we can see from the setting, it’s reminiscent of <The Good, the Bad, the Weird>. The conflict between those on the run and those in pursuit is similar to Kim’s previous film but the set-up of “a fast car in a slow town” makes us expect something humorous from Kim as he has never failed to make the most of his strengths.
After making <I Saw the Devil>, Kim said about <The Last Stand> that it would be like “a mix of <Die Hard> and <High Noon>” and that it will be “about men who are willing to risk their lives protecting something”. At the beginning of this year, Kim was attending a film festival in aid of art films and said in reply to a question about <The Last Stand>that it might look like he had been asked to direct a typical Hollywood film, but that he wanted to make it in his own style. <The Last Stand> has just begun shooting with an aim to release in January, 2013.
Ryoo Seung-wan’s <The Berlin File> (working title)
Ryoo Seung-wan started working on <The Berlin File> as soon as he completed his last film<The Unjust>. Budgeted at US$9 million, <The Berlin File> is an espionage thriller about what happens when a North Korean spy who, after infiltrating a South Korean group, is cut loose by the North.
While preparing for the film, Ryoo met with several North Korean defectors and shot the documentary <Spies> for Korean broadcaster MBC as part of a special series that aired a few months ago. He is said to be planning to use a similar tone and manner as the TV documentary in the dramatized feature film.
Ryoo’s film project was also part of the Asia Project Market (APM)selection at this year’s Busan International Film Festival. Of course, compared to Park, Bong and Kim’s projects, <The Berlin File> is in an early stage and as CJ E&M has stepped forward as the main investor, strictly speaking it is not (yet) a co-production. However, it will be shot 100% on location in Europe, so even if it is not financially a co-production, it will need cooperation on many fronts – from local production services to cast and crew.
Taking a more detailed look at the plot, the South Korean intelligence service is working on emptying the secret European bank accounts centered in Berlinbelonging to North Korea’s“royal family” member. As South Koreaputs more pressure on them, a rift occursamongst the North Korean officials in Berlin. Information about a double agent preparing to defect leaks out, and North and South Korean agents come head to head in Berlin. In the process, a North Korean agent who has been betrayed by the authoritieswith his wife tries to escape the system, and in the end, North Korea sends other frightful agents to purge them.
As we can see from the plot, <The Berlin File> is a spy thriller reminiscent of <The Bourne Identity>. It is also planned to be set in a train station and other places as in that film. ButRyoo confides, “The Brandenburg Gate and the American Embassy right next to it, as well as the Holocaust Memorial next to that will feature as tremendously important places.”
He says, “I was thinking of calling it simply <Berlin>, but when director Park Chan-wook heard about the project, he said the title sounded like it was missing something and that I should just add anything to it,so it became <The Berlin File>(laughs). I intend to make a realistic, fast-paced, Korean-style espionage action film about South Korean agents discovering North Korea’s secret accounts and how political dynamics between the two Koreas get involved.”
On an emotional level, he says he is focusing on the solitude and sorrow of those who live as secret agents. Seasonal aspects will play an important part in the film as well. Ryoo hopes to start shooting end of February or beginning of March next year to capture the eerie chill of Europe.
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