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Director Kang looks to the world

2004/07/01 Source

Kang Jae-gyu's office in Gangnam, southern Seoul, is a cross between a bachelor pad and a lesson in modern interior decorating. Outfitted with a black leather furniture set, small metal trinkets and full-length posters of his movies, his office looks like something right out of a Nick Hornby novel.

But a Hornby novel protagonist Kang is not. While bachelors Rob from "High Fidelity" and Will from "About a Boy" are capricious and have difficulty sustaining serious relationships, Kang is married with children and emphasizes that, in life, family is the most important thing. While a Hornby bachelor is wayward and unmotivated, Kang is a commanding trendsetter who wants to bring Korean filmmaking to a whole new level.

Kang's domestic blockbuster "Taegukgi", starring Jang Dong-gun and Won Bin, who play two brothers drafted during the Korean War, opened in Japan on June 26 in 300 theaters. The movie garnered more pre-screening tickets than Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" and Chinese director Zhang Yimou's "Hero", said Kang. More than 130,000 people in Japan have seen the film over the first weekend of its run there, according to Showbox, its investor.

Kang's aspiration to release the film in Japan began well before "Taegukgi" attracted more than 10 million viewers in Korea, won awards for best sound editing, art direction and filming and reaped praise from U.S. distributors such as Universal Studios and Columbia. A desire to go international with his films began around the time his hit spy thriller "Swiri" was released in Japan in 2000 and harvested a fan base hungry for more of Kang's work.

"I just want to express my gratitude to my Japanese fans - that they remember me as a really good filmmaker", Kang said in an interview with The Korea Herald. "I do not want to disappoint my fans there".

Kang estimates that about 90 percent of critics in Japan speak of "Taegugki" in accolades for his depiction of the Korean War, while the number of critics in Korea who have given it positive reviews hovers closer to 50 percent.

"In Japan, people don't know much about me and the actors", Kang said. "But in Korea, everyone knows about me and the actors".

On Feb. 27, "Taegukgi" was featured alongside "Silmido" and "Memories of Murder" in a CNN BizAsia special on Korean blockbusters.

By September, "Taegukgi" will have spread across the globe in theaters in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and the United States.

But at a time when his film is boosting the Korean film industry into the international limelight and entering the lucrative arena of Hollywood, Kang is quiet and reflective about his near future.

"I want to rest", Kang said. "I want to get away from the judgment of other people and just be free".

Among Kang's estimated 50 percent of critics who didn't like his movie were those who said "Taegukgi" was too commercial, that his intention to garner huge sales and release his film overseas was transparent in the film, which was heavy on explosions and bouts of emotion - a Hollywood-like formula for a surefire blockbuster.

Some critics of the film also say it lacked political direction - that even though the movie was centered on the Korean War, it didn't provide any context for understanding its causes and results. However, Kang said this was intentional.

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