Moviemakers Push Bigger-Is-Better Idea

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Moviemakers Push Bigger-Is-Better Idea

With Korean films raking in more won than ever before and budgets skyrocketing, film sets are also growing and becoming more expensive. Each film tries to outdo the previous in scope and spectacle, requiring more and more to grab the attention of sophisticated viewers.

At Seoul Cinema Complex, located in Namyangju city, Kyonggi province, you can find some of these. One of the most popular is the set of "Joint Security Area," the Korean hit film released last year.

It cost 800 million won (about $624,000) to build the set for "Joint Security Area," which was an unusually large amount for a Korean film. Due to the film's huge success at the box office (it was the highest-grossing Korean film ever, until "Friends" broke the record this year), the movie set at Seoul Cinema Complex has became a popular tourist attraction.

The newest addition to the Seoul Cinema Complex is an outdoor set for "Chuihwasun," a film directed by the celebrated Im Kwon-taek. The film, based on the story of Jang Seung-up, a gifted painter in the late Choson Dynasty, will be shot mostly on a set that revives the Jongno area of Seoul as it was in the 19th century.

The Jongno set covers about 6,600 square meters and cost about 1.1 billion won to build - almost 20 percent of the total production cost of "Chuihwasun."

The set includes 55 buildings, such as traditional tile-roofed houses, straw-thatched houses, all kinds of stores and gisaeng (geisha) pubs. The Jongno set was completed only recently, with small details such as houses papered with hanji, Korean traditional paper, and gardens of seasonal flowers.

The producers of the Jongno set did everything to make it true to history.

For instance, all the buildings in the set were constructed in a traditional way that uses no nails, but joints at every juncture. Hundreds of doors were collected from antique shops around the country to finish the houses.

Also, the stone fences were built using the rocks that had been brought from an old area soon to be rebuilt in Kwangju city. "We did some serious studies on historical evidence for the sake of cinematic reality," said Ju Byeong-do, the artistic director of "Chuihwasun." Mr. Ju continued, "the film will re-create scenes of the time Jang Seung-up lived, in a manner as real as possible." After the filming of "Chuihwasun," the Jongno set will be preserved permanently at Seoul Cinema Complex.

"Cheongpung-myeongwol" ("A Cool Breeze and a Bright Moon" in English), a martial arts film directed by Kim Ui-seok, has opened to the public its lakeside set in Chuncheon city prior to its filming, scheduled early next year.

The set includes a pontoon bridge that cost 1 billion won, about one-eighth the total cost of the film. The floating bridge is made of 38 boats and is about 250 meters long. It will be used to re-create scenes from about 400 years ago when King Jeongjo of the Choson Dynasty crossed the Han River.

"Last Witness" ("Heuksuseon" in Korean) is a mystery-action film directed by Bae Chang-ho. The set re-creates the remains of a prison camp from the Korean war at Geojedo, an island in South Kyongsang province.

The city of Geoje provided about 500 million won to remodel the war camp to the original state. The changes made in the camp include adding five new barracks to the existing facilities as well as replacing the lawn for dirt and mud.

Building the set was a win-win strategy for both the city and the producers of the film since the city intended to develop the set as a tourist attraction and the producers had their set subsidized.

And it is not just the permanent sets that require a large amount of money. For instance, "Libera Me," an action film about firefighters that was released last year, spent more than 250 million won to create some explosion scenes.

"2009 Lost Memories," a futuristic action film directed by Lee Shi-myung, to be released sometime later this year, spent 450 million won and 200 million won to produce gunfight scenes at a Japanese antique market and a Japanese police station.

Gang Seung-ok, who helped build the sets for "Last Witness" and "Libera Me," said, "As Korean films become more diverse, the scope of expression in Korean films is broadening as well."

As movie sets grow in size, producers are looking for government help. Jeon Yeong-taek of Pacific Entertainment said, "In America, federal and provincial governments announce each year the number of days military facilities such as aircraft and tanks can be rented for filming, as well as possible tax reductions for producing films in the country. The power of Hollywood films comes from such well organized support."



by Park Jeong-ho

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