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[HanCinema's Film Talk] Siblings in Cinema: The RYOO Brothers


Siblings don't always get along. Even when working within the same field family members often choose to keep their personal and professional lives separate to keep the peace. Personal histories, grudges, and just knowing one another as well as they do can cause friction and frustration in the workplace. Not so though with renowned South Korean actor Ryoo Seung-bum and his moviemaking brother Ryoo Seung-wan. The brothers' most recent effort, "The Berlin File" (2013), marks another successful family collaboration that rocked Korean cinemas earlier this year.

The brothers both came into the spotlight with their 2000 début feature "Die Bad"; a collection of four hard-boiled short stories that follows two teenagers and their descent into the violent world of organised crime. The film was written and directed by Seung-wan and stars himself and his younger brother Seung-beom. Seung-wan has sometimes been described as the Korean Tarantino, while his talent younger brother has been likened too the American-Canadian comedy actor Jim Carrey. At the time, film journalist Kim Kyu Hyun described "Die Bad" as "one of the most astonishing début films in recent memory". The film represented the genesis of two very lucrative careers, a promising partnership that these two talents seem keen to keep alive whenever they can. The brothers followed up their initial success with the action noir "No Blood No Tears" (2001/2) which, in addition to Seung-beom, starred Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Hye-young-I, and Jung Jae-young. Two years later they were at it again with action flick "Arahan" (2004), which put Seung-beom centre stage as a cowardly cop on his way to becoming the world's saviour. "Arahan" claimed more than two million admissions at the box office, once again affirming the Ryoo brother's decision to work together on-set.

However, it wasn't until 2004, with the release of "Crying Fist", that the Ryoo brothers really positioned themselves as the star-studded talents we now know them to be. In "Crying Fist" Ryoo Seung-bum starred alongside veteran actor Choi Min-sik ("Old Boy", "I Saw the Devil") and played a rough juvenile with a talent for boxing. Min-sik's character (Tae-shik) is a troubled Olympic silver medallist who, after reaching rock bottom, takes the jagged Tae-shik under his wing to win the fight of his life. The previous year Min-sik starred in Park Chan-wook's awarding-winning cult film "Old Boy", so his presence in Seung-wan's film was highly influential in getting the attention it deserved. Although the film claimed fewer admissions than Seung-wan's previous film, it was critically acclaimed effort that cast a positive attention on the Ryoo brothers.

Their next collaboration was three years later, but before then Seung-beom starred in a string of films including "The Beast and the Beauty" (2005), "Bloody Tie" (2006), the bizarre animation "Aachi And Ssipak" (2006), and "Underground Rendez-vous" (2007). Meanwhile, his brother was involved in two other feature films, the first of which was the omnibus documentary "If You Were Me 2" (2005) and also starred the oldest brother Ryu Seung-ryong. In 2006 Seung-wan wrote, directed, and starred in the action flick "The City of Violence" alongside Jung Doo-hong (who also starred in "If You Were Me 2" and "Arahan").

The Ryoo brothers found each other again for the 2008 "Dachimawa Lee", a spy film that was originally conceived by Seung-wan as a 35-minute short film in 2000. Seung-beom was not the lead in "Dachimawa Lee" (which is actually an idiom used within the Korean film industry to refer to "thrilling action"), but did take centre stage in the brothers' next two films: "The Unjust" (2010) and this year's blockbuster "The Berlin File". "The Unjust" was the eighth highest grossing Korean film of the year, claiming 2.7 million admissions and winning both brothers several awards including Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Film across a number of award ceremonies. That same year Seung-boom starred in "The Servant" which came just ahead of "The Unjust" with 3 million admissions in Korea's 2012 top ten films. It was a great year for Seung-beom and his brother, one that helped to set-up their most lucrative project to date: "The Berlin File".

Released earlier this year, "The Berlin File" is an international espionage thriller that had to compete with two hugely successful films: Lee Hwan-gyeong's "Miracle in Cell No.7" (12.8 million admissions) and Park Hoon-jung's "The New World" (4.6 million; which Seung-beom actually also had a cameo role in). Seung-wan's spy thriller enjoyed seven weeks in country's top ten, ultimately collecting 7.1 million admissions-making it Seung's highest grossing film and the second highest in Korea for this year. Its success earned it a place at a number of international film festivals, including the Udine Far East Film Festival, the New York Asian Film Festival, and it also helped Ha Jung-woo ("The Terror Live", "The Yellow Sea") earn the Best Actor award at this year PaekSang Arts Awards.

Ryoo Seung-wan and Ryoo Seung-bum are at a peak of their already impressive careers. Each of the brothers have gone off and been involved in a number of their own projects and productions, but the two have found each other and their stride with "The Berlin File". Their last two films together have attracted nearly 10 million to Korean cinema, making this family duo a highly entertaining and profitable pair, one to keep a close eye on in the future.

- C.J. Wheeler (@KoreaOnTheCouch)

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