Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • On Set in Seoul with Chinese Film URBAN GAMES
  • by BAEK Jong-hyun / 11.30.2012
  • Extreme Movie, Extreme Seoul!
    In October last year, a large Sino-American production team entered Korea to film. The title of the film was Urban Games. An ambitious work benefitting from around 7.5 million dollars (around 9 billion won) worth of funding from the China Film Group Corporation (CFGC), Urban Games was created by a production team that comprised the United States, China and Korea.

    CFGC, the famous film investment, production and distribution body behind words such as Fearless, The Warlord, Forever Enthralled, CJ7, The Karate Kid, The Founding of a Republic and Beginning of the Great Revival, is famous throughout the world.

    Directed by Bob BROWN, Urban Games is drawing a lot of attention. A veteran martial arts director who has taken part in the production of at least 150 films, BROWN has also been in charge of action scenes in films including Transformer, Iron Man, Mission: Impossible II, Terminator 2 and Mr & Mrs Smith.

    Urban Games is BROWN’s first work as a director. Based on the subject of extreme sports, it has brought expectations of a stylish action film resulting from collaboration between American filming and production teams, a Korean special effects team and a Chinese art team. It tells the story of young people taking on the challenges of a new extreme sport called “urban games”, and surviving a variety of extreme situations.

    The location chosen for the filming of Urban Games was urban Korea. Based principally in Seoul’s Gangnam and Incheon’s New Songdo City, it is due to feature dynamic extreme sporting scenes. To film these, core U.S. production staff and a Chinese production team of up to 100 members visited Korea. 50-60 Korean crew members also worked on the film. It was shot by BROWN under strict secrecy and features a star cast of Chinese and Korean actors.

    On November 9, we visited the shoot of Urban Games in Seoul’s Samseon-dong. The production team was filming the star of Urban Games visiting various locations around Seoul. Following a scene in which the star exchanges secret messages against the background of the long, narrow alleys and steep slopes of Samseon-dong, shooting took place in front of a grocer’s shop with a strong Korean character. The scene was noteworthy for its total lack of any prior set preparation.

    Urban Games is expected to capture the unique atmosphere of the Korean urban environment, being shot at locations in Seoul and Incheon. This is due to its judgment that Korea’s urban scenes have a film-like charm all of their own, combining high-rise buildings and low-rise houses, and the present and the past. Before the Samseon-dong shoot, filming for Urban Games had already taken place in the Nonhyeon-dong and Apgujeong-dong area of Gangnam, Sinchon, Oksu, Daehangno and New Songdo City in Incheon.

    A large-scale motorbike action scene was shot in a high-density shopping area in New Songdo City, while extreme sport highlight scenes involving skateboards, bicycles and parkour were shot in the back alleys of Sinnonhyeon Station in Gangnam and a redevelopment zone in Oksu.

    Following 17 rounds of filming in Korea, from October 23 to November 11, Urban Games is due for release throughout Asia in 2013. Its combination of Korean, Chinese and American staff has raised expectations, and it looks set to become a positive model for global commercial films.
    ▶ Interview 1 
    Director Bob BROWN - “I Fell in Love with Seoul’s Fantastic Duality”
    - What is your impression of Seoul?
    We had a wide choice of cities when planning Urban Games, but I really wanted to film it in Seoul. I really like the area around Gangnam Station, especially. Every alleyway in Gangnam is full of neon signs. The buildings there remind me of an old American downtown. But when you leave the alleyways, you see a splendid, modern road like Broadway in New York. Gangnam is a really fantastic place.
    - Did any other areas impress you?
    In the film, we shot the scene to follow the one in Gangnam in Apgujeong-dong. When we were filming in Apgujeong-dong, we discovered a tunnel full of graffiti: I really liked the feel of it. So when we went over to China and were making a set, I ordered them to base it on a similar concept, to link it to the tunnel in Apgujeong-dong.
    - What image of Seoul do you want to portray in the film?
    The duality of the city. The subject of Urban Games is extreme sports. Extreme sports look very flashy from the outside, but in fact they’re extremely intense. I thought this aspect of extreme sports was well-matched to the duality of Seoul, where the past and present coexist.
    - I’ve heard the film is set in China and Seoul.
    The film begins in China. We did some filming in Beijing, but in the mountains, so that nobody watching the film will know where those scenes were shot. In Seoul, on the other hand, we shot more of the film and brought out the character of the city.
    - How much of the film is set in Seoul?
    We shot at least 75% of the film in Korea; at least half of that was in Seoul
    - Did you have any difficulties with the combined crew of Korean, Chinese and American staff?
    Communication wasn’t easy, because of the language issue. Even getting people from the same country to agree with each other is hard, so imagine what it’s like with three. But we gradually all came together as filming went on.

    - Can you tell us in advance about the most high-impact scene you filmed in Korea?
    We shot an action scene for the second half of the film in New Songdo City in Incheon. It's an action scene that uses motorbikes – it’s great. We had the roads shut down for filming. It’s a scene where you’ll see motorbike jumps and all sorts of tricks.
    - What was the hardest part when it came to making Urban Games?
    The story. It’s an action movie, but we didn’t want to just make a film for the sake of action. The storyline is pretty complex, too. It’s got a father-son conflict, an older brother's death, a younger sister’s kidnapping and a love story all tied up in it. When you plan action, the first thing you have to think about is harmony with the plot. Action is just a tool for conveying the story.
    - Are any of the previous films you worked on similar to Urban Games?
    I referred more to the films of other directors than to the ones I had worked on. I can't cite any other films similar to Urban Games, but it might feel something like a mixture between the Triple Game series and Blade Runner.
    - The film is about extreme sports. What sets its scenes apart from those of other movies?
    Extreme sports like skateboarding and BMX have become so popular that you can often see them on TV nowadays. I wanted to try something a bit different with Urban Games. We first started planning the film in 2004. At the time, one of our ideas was to have a scene with the star of the film jumping out of a helicopter in a wingsuit and landing on a moving car. Everyone who heard about the plan said we were crazy. But times have moved on, and I think it’s become perfectly possible now. In Urban Games, we wanted to show scenes that were possible but that no one had yet attempted. There are scenes with a parachute jump from a helicopter, floating in the air above a giant fan, and flying in the air. There are fantastic martial arts scenes that feel like watching ninjas. We focused on attempting new things, rather than relying on existing knowhow.

    ▶ Interview 2 
    Producer JEONG Yong-il - “Seoul is a Powerful Location” Interview 2
    - What did Korea contribute to Urban Games?
    You could call it production services. Put it simply, it’s not a joint project using Korean capital, but Korea helped with it. Korea provided locations, and Korean staff worked on lighting, props, production, costumes and makeup.
    - Did you have any difficulties during filming?
    Communication was a problem, but we reduced it by using staff that spoke English. When it comes to filming, everyone’s a pro so there are no serious difficulties.
    - Why do you think Urban Games noticed Seoul?
    Seoul is a powerful location. I think foreigners find its combination of forests of high buildings and elaborate alleyways quite novel. They also like its nighttime culture, with the flashy neon signs and large numbers of people even after midnight.
    - What are the advantages of Seoul as an overseas location?
    As far as I know, there’s an incentive system of sorts. I think foreign production teams get some kind of reduction if they spend a certain amount on filming in a Seoul location.
    - Did you have any difficulties filming in Seoul?
    Getting permission to use locations is critical; thanks to the help of Seoul Film Commission and government offices, we had no major difficulties. We were able to close roads while filming in New Songdo City, and we got help from Seocho Police Station when filming in the vicinity of Nonhyeon-dong in Seoul, too. It seems that government offices take a positive view [of filming] too, because it brings publicity for Seoul.
    Photo by Kim Jin-woong
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