Korean movies looking southIt’s been the backdrop to Middle Earth, 19th-century Japan and a Korean island. Now New Zealand will play host to the South Pole as Korean director Im Pil-seong shoots his latest project, “Namgeugilgi” (“Antarctic Journal”).
New Zealand has been featured in many movies, such as “The Piano” (1993) by New Zealand director Jane Campion, and the TV show “Xena: Warrior Princess” (1995-2002). But since the first “The Lord of the Rings” movie came out in 2001, the country has drawn even more attention from filmmakers, including Koreans, for its striking beauty, geographical diversity and well-organized film industry.
Mr. Im is among several Korean filmmakers who are either currently shooting or considering New Zealand as the setting for their new movies. In the past few years, highly successful Korean films such as “Old Boy” (2003) and “Silmido” (2003) have been shot in New Zealand. The sound-mixing for “Musa” (2001) was also done in New Zealand.
David Taylor, the New Zealand ambassador to Korea, began organizing meetings between New Zealand and Korean film production companies last year after observing how popular the “The Lord of the Rings” series was in Korea and how the Korean film industry began going abroad more often for production, releases and promotion.
In July 2003, when New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark visited Korea to promote film industry ties between New Zealand and Korea, the two countries officially started negotiations on a bilateral film co-production agreement. Under such a deal, Korean filmmakers could apply for New Zealand Film Commission funding through their New Zealand co-producer and an expedited immigration process for crew and actors.
“This deal will create economic opportunities for New Zealand in cooperation with Korea’s vibrant film industry,” Mr. Taylor said.
As for the latest Korean project in New Zealand, Mr. Im became inspired to make a movie set on the South Pole one autumn day in 1999. Best known for short films, “Brushing” (1998) and “Baby” (1999), the 31-year-old director will make his first full-length feature film with “Antarctic Journal.”
In September 1999, Mr. Im and his crew flew to New Zealand and met with Richard Taylor, who was in charge of special effects, costume and animetronics for “The Lord of the Rings.”
Surveying the area near Queenstown, where snow blizzards occur, Mr. Im could envision a re-created Patriotic Hills, which is near the Antarctic coast.
Now in the Snow Farm near Wanaka, about 50 Korean crew members, including the director and six leading actors, are shooting “Antarctic Journal,” which is scheduled to open early next year. The first batch of the production group left last month and are scheduled to stay there for eight or nine weeks, filming about 50 takes.
Tcha Sung-jai, president of the entertainment group Sidus, is aiming high with this movie: “This is going to be a big, commercial movie. We’re expecting 2 million [ticket sales] as the minimum. We might go for the American film market, Cannes or Milan.”
Mr. Tcha said a number of Korean directors, including Bong Jun-ho of the 2002 movie “Memories of Murder,” are also contemplating future projects in New Zealand.
The IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with Mr. Im Pil-seong and Song Gang-ho, the leading actor in “Antarctic Journal,” before they left for New Zealand:
Q: What is your role?
Song: The movie is based on fiction, with no fixed date or year. There are six Korean men on the expedition team to the South Pole, and I will be playing the leader with the indefatigable spirit.
Did you get any physical training for this movie?
Song: Of course, I got training for three straight days in ski resorts, cross-country skiing and sledding last year, and when we arrive in New Zealand, I will get to train more in the snow. When the “Silmido” team was there, the actors told me it was very cold there because they didn’t wear much clothes. It will be better for us because we’ll be wearing a lot of clothes.
Are you nervous?
Im: Yes, it will be my first feature film, which is also highly commercial. ... It’s been quite a long time since I began preparing for this film. It took me five years to write the script.
What is your budget?
Im: The cost of production is 5.5 billion won ($4.6 million), not including the marketing cost of 2 billion won. Filming will be done in New Zealand, but post-production will be done in Korea.
by Ines Cho