Mining for gold to bring back a star

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Mining for gold to bring back a star

The local film scene made a fuss over the recent box-office hits “Silmido” and “Taegukgi” for their budgets exceeding 10 billion won ($8.6 million) each ― huge for Korean cinema. Each film attracted more than 10 million viewers, setting a new standard for Korean blockbusters.
Now, Shin Cheol, a Hollywood-based Korean film producer, has an even bolder plan. He wants to make a 100 billion won film that he’s confident would attract more than 100 million viewers.
Mr. Shin’s ambitious idea is bring the late, legendary martial arts actor Bruce Lee back to the screen through the use of computer graphics. His tentative title for the project is “Dragon Warrior.”
Who knows? Maybe Mr. Shin, 47, will pull it off.
He became prominent in Korean film in the early 1990s with the hit “Gyeolhon Iyagi” (Wedding Story). Two years later, he became the first Korean producer to use computer graphics, in “Gumiho” (A Fox With Nine Tails).
He remained a step ahead of the pack in 2001’s “Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo” (My Sassy Girl), whose lead female character was a take-charge kind of girl, unlike the typical Korean movie heroine. But despite his accomplishments, he felt the need to test himself in a much bigger arena: Hollywood.
Thirty years have passed since Bruce Lee died, but Mr. Shin firmly believes he can revive the legend. There’s a rather significant hurdle, however: a price tag that he expects to approach $100 million.
And so Mr. Shin mined for gold at Hollywood studios, where he also hoped to secure the computer graphics know-how. As part of his mission, Mr. Shin has established a branch office in Los Angeles, where he’s spent the last two years.
“To be a part of Hollywood indeed was a tough job,” Mr. Shin said. “I didn’t know whom to meet and which door to knock on.”
Finding another producer was his No. 1 priority. Mr. Shin managed to interest William Teitler, whom he calls a “quasi A-grade” producer who’s worked on such films as “Jumanji,” “The Hurricane” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”
The next step was arranging a special effects team.
“This is the first time anyone’s tried to describe human facial and body movements in detail using computer graphics,” he said. “When it comes to dinosaurs or to Gollum [of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films], viewers have some patience. But in the case of humans, they’ll easily notice even the slightest bit of awkwardness. To imitate skin and expressions, I needed the cream of the crop.”
By hook or crook, Mr. Shin assembled the team of his dreams: Hoyt Yeatman, whose resume includes “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Blade Runner” and “Armageddon,” and David James of the “Matrix” series.
This past week, the team was in Seoul giving a presentation on visual effects for potential Korean investors, before repeating the sales pitch in Japan.
“This presentation was not solely to gather investors,” Mr. Shin explained. “This is not something that’s completely decided, but we’ve got a major Hollywood distributor that wants to be the sole investor in the film.
“They’ve got a plan to distribute ‘Dragon Warrior’ to the world and take all the profit, I guess. We have a stronger voice, however, when we, Korea or Asia have a bigger part in the project.”
Production of “Dragon Warrior” starts next year; the goal is to complete it by 2006. Mr. Shin wants it to become Asia’s version of the James Bond series.
“We’re pretty much done with the script; the thing now is to get the right director,” Mr. Shin says. He thought about hiring Ang Lee of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” but gave up on the idea. “I think he’s short on popularity compared to his huge talent,” Mr. Shin says.
His thoughts turned next to Quentin Tarantino, who’s a big fan of martial arts films. “Tarantino also has a great sense for Asian sentiment, but he does not have experience making blockbusters, so I again gave up on the idea.”
Mr. Shin also thought about bringing on Lee Tamahori of “Die Another Day,” but Mr. Shin thinks Koreans have harbored unpleasant memories of the director since rumors surfaced that he’d tried to cast South Korean actors like Cha In-pyo in a North Korean villain role in the Bond film.
The idea of “Dragon Warrior” first came to Mr. Shin eight years ago. “I thought it would take three years at most, which was completely wrong,” Mr. Shin said. Just getting the rights to use Bruce Lee’s images from surviving family members took a few years, and seven lawyers.
“I guess I got to know how the Hollywood system works,” Mr. Shin said.
“Hollywood is an attractive market for young Korean producers only if they’ve got new ideas good enough to please Hollywood. I want to be the pioneer.”


by Lee Young-ki

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