", released on Feb. 14, is expected to turn a profit this week, heralding a much-awaited triumph for its producer Lee Kyeong-gyoo who has long struggled to shed a negative image.
" sold 1.49 million tickets as of March 7, and the film's marketing team expects the box office sales to reach 1.6 million soon, a break-even point for the film that cost 4.8 billion won ($5.07 million) to make including marketing expenses.
"Right after the release, the box-office totals weren't good, and I was really anxious. But audiences began to react positively through the Lunar New Year's Day holiday, which was a tremendous relief for me", Lee Kyeong-gyoo said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
Lee expressed his displeasure about the haunting negative image generated by his former movie project. Back in 1992, the leading television personality produced and directed an action film, playing the title character as well. The film, "A Bloody Battle for Revenge", however, ended up drawing a "bloody" box-office record, and earned a not-so-enviable association with "a huge flop in the move industry".
"There are plenty of failed movies, but strangely enough, people remember my failed project as the most famous one. Frankly, I wanted to hide the fact that I have produced 'Highway Star
', but, you know, it's impossible", Lee said. Lee was fully aware of the skeptical views about his filmmaking stint. He is hosting one of the country's famous television comedy shows, named "Hidden Camera", and no one questions his talent as a comedian. But his filmmaking career is yet to be tested, so Lee has decided to keep a low profile instead of stepping forward to publicize "Highway Star
" through his powerful television influence.
It is not certain whether Lee's humble attitude has had a real impact, but what's certain is that people did not dump "Highway Star
". One of the crucial factors is that Cha Tae-hyun
, one of the Korean Wave stars, plays the title role - a clueless yet talented singer who happens to find his true calling in the genre known as "trot" that is similar in its throat-vibrating melody to Japanese enka.
"I really appreciate Cha's decision to join the project", Lee said. Cha, who was fully aware of Lee's filmmaking career, opted to play the role only after he confirmed that Lee was not directing.
To minimize negative publicity, Lee did not go overboard in promoting the film on television shows, and yet he did all he could do to help the film succeed in private. For instance, whenever he finds some free time, he drives to theaters in rural areas to meet with local audiences and talk up the film's positive aspects.
The lingering question is why Lee, a successful comedian, wants to try his luck in the risky film industry. "Comedy is my current job, but filmmaking is my lifelong dream. Since childhood, I have many thoughts and dreams about movies and filmmaking. I gave up my dream when my first attempt became a failure, but recently it just dawned on me that I'm running out of time and have to try filmmaking again right now", Lee said.
Asked about whether he will produce or direct a new film, Lee said, "I'll look into the results of 'Highway Star
', and there are many options".
By Yang Sung-jin