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Year of the thriller for Korean movies

2010/01/12 | 9977 views |  | Permalink | Source

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Hits came from all quarters in Korean cinema last year, with big blockbusters "Take Off" and "Haeundae", auteur films "Thirst" and "Mother - 2009" and indie sleepers "Old Partner" and "Breathless" all filling seats.

Disaster flick "Haeundae" was the first locally made film to top 10 million tickets sold in three years. Industry-wide box office returns hit a record high of 1.08 trillion won ($964 million), about half from Korean-made films.

The state-funded Korean Film Council forecast in a recent report that the local movie market will continue its incremental growth over the next five years, and 2010 is expected to be another bonanza for the local film studios. But the most hotly anticipated movies inside the industry aren't quite as diverse as 2009's top sellers - on the contrary, they're all in a single genre: thriller.

Korea's thriller renaissance, kicked off by "The Chaser" in 2008 and continued by "Secret - 2009" at the end of last year, continues with "No Mercy", the first big, locally made release of 2010.

According to a recent survey by the JoongAng Ilbo of 20 film experts including producers, investors and critics, the three most highly anticipated films scheduled to be released this year were all thrillers. "The Housemaid - 2010", a remake of a local classic, came in first, followed by "The Yellow Sea" (working title), which will reunite "The Chaser" director Na Hong-jin with his two leads from that film. In third was "Moss" (working title) by veteran director Kang Woo-seok.

"The Housemaid - 2010", a remake of the 1960 film "The Housemaid - 1960" by the late director Kim Ki-young, was chosen as the No. 1 most anticipated Korean movie in 2010 by a majority of the respondents. The movie tells the story of a man who has an affair with the maid, eventually leading to the destruction of his life.

Though it may sound riddled with old clichés, the film is still considered a classic for the legendary director's aesthetic prowess. Critics say it's no one thing that makes the movie special: There are its comments on the downfall of the middle class, its tinge of eroticism and its taut plotting.

Last year, the Korean Film Archive restored a black-and-white original print of "The Housemaid - 2010" that had been damaged with the aid of the World Cinema Foundation, a nonprofit organization led by world-renowned director Martin Scorsese that works to preserve neglected films from around the world.

When the remake was announced in late 2008 it set the local movie industry on fire - especially later, when the project fell into the hands of Lim Sang-soo, the bold and unique director of "The President's Last Bang" (2005) and "A Good Lawyer's Wife" (2003), whom film critic Kim Bong-seok describes as "the most provocative director in Korea".

Adding to expectations for the project is its star, Jeon Do-yeon, the beloved Korean actress who exploded onto the world stage with a Best Actress win at Cannes in 2007. Jeon will play the titular character.

"I look forward to seeing Jeon's version of "The Housemaid - 2010", as I know she can pull off the role of a femme fatale so perfectly", said Lee Jin-hoon, director of the Korean cinema team at Lotte Entertainment.

Actor Lee Jeong-jae, who co-starred in "Typhoon" with Jang Dong-gun, and the young and promising actress Seo Woo, who caught the eye of the industry with her performance in "Paju" last year, have been cast as the husband and wife.

"I can't wait to see the results - the meeting between the director of the moment and one of the best films in Korean cinema", said Jeon Chan-il, regular programmer of the Pusan International Film Festival.

But the seemingly blessed remake was recently marred by a very public conflict between the writer and the director.

Screenwriter Kim Su-hyun, who has built up a reputation as a hit-maker with numerous popular TV dramas and several award-winning movies, was invited by the producer to write a script for the highly anticipated new "The Housemaid - 2010". The project ground to a halt after the director who had been attached to it initially quit, and Kim suggested Lim take the reins.

All seemed to be going well until Kim finished the script and handed it over to Lim. The director made changes, reportedly to suit his provocative style, and Kim expressed her dissatisfaction. The matter seemed settled when Lim apologized, but later problems would crop up again when Lim took his version of the script to the producers. Kim claimed the director had agreed to cooperate on the script in the future, but took his version to the studio apparently without consulting her.

The enraged Kim withdrew from the project and later posted a note on her Web site that read, "I've been stabbed in the back by someone I trusted [and] have no mind to go on with my work".

Despite the turmoil, the producers have decided to adopt Im's changed version of the script. Shooting is scheduled to begin this month with the hope of bringing the film to theaters this year after only minor delays, according to Mirovision, the production company.

Second on the list of most anticipated Korean movies was "The Yellow Sea", mainly for its trio of "The Chaser" veterans. The 2008 hit directed by Na Hong-jin and starring Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yoon-seok attracted about 5 million viewers, about on par with its genre predecessor "Memories of Murder".

"The Yellow Sea" tells the story of a man from Yanbian, China who is smuggled into Seoul as a contract killer to pay off his debt, but ends up threatened by another hit man.

Ha, who found his breakout role in "The Chaser" and confirmed his rise to stardom with the 2009 hit drama Take Off, takes the lead role opposite Kim, who has now become one of Korea's most prolific actors, appearing in such well-received films as "Running Turtle" (2009) and "The War Of Flower" (2006).

Unusual for Korea, "The Yellow Sea" has also drawn some Hollywood money, with its estimated production cost of 11 billion won partially paid by Fox Korea, the local branch of the Twentieth Century Fox film studio, which finalized its contribution late last year. Shooting started last month, and the finished product is scheduled to be released this summer, according to its distributor, Showbox.

"The movie will be the one in which director Na will show his real ability, a glimpse of which we got through "The Chaser"", predicted Kim Young-jin, a film professor at Myongji University.

A famous director is also behind the third selection on the list, "Moss", helmed by the filmmaker known internationally for "Silmido" (2003) and "Public Enemy" (2002). Kang made his directorial debut in 1988, making him an "old man" of modern Korean cinema.

"Moss" brings together Kang's cachet with the hugely popular online graphic novel series on which it's based, drawn by Yoon Tae-ho. The cinematic adaptation, featuring well-known names including Park Hae-il, Jeong Jae-yeong and Yoo Hae-jin, follows a young man who comes to a rural village after hearing about his father's death and later becomes embroiled in its hidden secrets.

The movie is currently in production and will hit local theaters around the first half of the year, according to the production company Cinema Service.

By Ki Sun-min, Park Sun-young

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