[ENTERTAINMENT]Boxing Story to Move From Ring to Screen

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Boxing Story to Move From Ring to Screen

The most common Korean word you can see and hear almost everywhere these days is chingu, or friend. After the unexpected and huge success of the film "Friends," this land of fads and crazes has been flooded by everything related to friends - snack food, bars, cosmetic goods, TV commercials, you name it.

The film follows the nostalgic, male-bonding story of four close friends in Pusan from childhood in the 1970s to adulthood in the early 1990s. The movie attracted 8.2 million viewers nationwide during its long, three-month run, including 2.6 million in Seoul alone. "Friends" is now the most successful film produced in Korea, beating out past hits such as "Joint Security Area" and "Swiri."

Two of the major forces behind "Friends," the director Gwak Kyung-taek and the actor Yu O-sung are once again collaborating. Last week, they announced their new project, "Champion," the true story of the Korean lightweight boxer Kim Duk-koo. Kim was knocked out in a fight against the U.S. boxer Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini in November 1982, and died on the way to the hospital.

Most people expected the bout would be an easy one for Mancini, a champion then in his prime, going up against a relative unknown from Korea who would be fighting in the United States for the first time. Surprisingly, Kim dominated the fight, leading with a devastating jab. But toward the fight's end, Mancini finally found a hole in Kim's defense. Mancini connected with a straight right hand to the chin, Kim dropped and never recovered.

"I was shocked to hear that young Koreans have not even heard of the name Kim Duk-koo," said Gwak, 37. The director was 17 when he watched the fight on television. The outcome deeply touched him.

While "Friends" became the talk of the town, Gwak suddenly left town. Only later did people find out that he settled in a remote mountain in Gosung, Gangwon province, to concentrate on writing the script for "Champion." He came back after two months with a finished script. With his track record, it was easy for him to find investors, and he signed the same film crew and distributing agency as he used for "Friends."

The hardest part of preparing for the film fell to the actor Yu, whom the director thought the best choice to play the boxer. Much like Robert De Niro in "Raging Bull" (1980) and Denzel Washington in "The Hurricane" (1999), Yu had had to undergo a specially designed workout program full of sit-ups, push-ups, and running, in order to make his body look like a professional boxer's.

Gwak said that he will focus on the life of the boxer, both in and out of the ring. "Before becoming a boxer, he was greatly loved by his wife, and I am going to make the film as dramatic as possible," he said. Gwak sounded ambitious, saying that he will also create a film that is humorous, touching and nostalgic.

The film begins shooting at the end of October, aiming for a nationwide release July 2002.

by Chun Su-jin

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