By Song Ho-jin
“It made my blood boil."
It all started with the photograph of a young Korean man. Drafted into the Japanese army [under the Japanese Colonial Rule] and then dragged off by the Soviet military, he was captured again after being sent to fight in German uniform in the fierce Battle of Normandy during the Second World War in 1944. Seeing a documentary about the photograph at the National Archives in the United States, Director Kang Je-gyu got goosebumps.
“It was a shock,” Kang said. “I thought, ‘What a thing to have happened in this world.’ Imagine it, a young Korean on the battlefield at Normandy. I said to myself, ‘I have to make a movie about this.’ I thought, ‘This is a gift from modern history to Kang Je-gyu the filmmaker. Could I make another movie with this kind of history while I am alive?’”
Kang set aside the science fiction film he had been planning for four years as his entree into Hollywood and went straight to work on the new film. He dedicated fourteen months just to preproduction beginning in 2009. Filming took seven months and 20 days from October 2010. It was a blockbuster with the largest budget in Korean cinema at over 30 billion won ($25.8 million; production costs of 28 billion won, not including marketing).
Speaking to the Hankyoreh at a showcase for “My Way” at a downtown Seoul theater Thursday, a laughing Kang said, “I had planned on never making another war movie after ‘Taegukgi.’ Is this my fate?”
“At this point, I could probably stop and take it easy, but I do not think I can stop because of the idea of expanding and challenging Korean film,” he added.
With its debut set for Dec. 22, “My Way” is the director’s first film in seven years. It tells of the long march through the Japanese, Soviet, and Germany armies to the Battle of Normandy for Korean marathoner Jun-sik (Jang Dong-kun) and Japanese marathoner Tatsuo Hasegawa (Odagiri Jo). Chinese actress Fan Bingbing also stars.
“The hardest part was filming the Battle of Normandy, which was a first for Korean film,” Kang said. “Lots of films have shown Normandy, including ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ but you have to do it within budget constraints so that the people of the world can see the Battle of Normandy from our perspective.”
The director said the battle was filmed in Latvia over one month at a cost of $3 million.
“I think it came out well,” he added. Various computer graphics were used for 2,000 of the film’s 8,000 shots.
“It is the story of a person who does not lose hope even amid the whirlwind of world war, and of people who meet as enemies and come to forgive and understand each other,” Kang explained.
Kang provoked a societal reaction with previous films such as “The Ginkgo Bed” (1996), “Shiri” (1999), and “Taegukgi" (2004), with the last of these drawing some 11,740,000 viewers. Given its scale, some observers are saying “My Way” has to pull at least 10 million viewers to save face. The film opens in January 2012 in Japan and China, and plans are under way to arrange a March premiere in the United States.
“It all depends on how much it moves viewers,” Kang said. “I would like to see ‘My Way’ giving new hope to Korean film and becoming a success story in Asia so that it can be a leader in the growing Chinese film market, too.”
“My dream is to make quality commercial films, and I want ‘My Way’ to be a hit so that people can see my next one, too,” he added.
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