Beware, Hollywood: ‘D-War’ is upon you

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Beware, Hollywood: ‘D-War’ is upon you

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Comments left on the Internet Movie Database page for “2001 Yonggary,” (1999), one Korean producer’s attempt to out-stomp Godzilla in the rubber-suit monster movie genre, include the phrases “just terrible,” and “couldn’t look faker.” The film was not a success.
Shim Hyung-rae, the film’s producer, director and writer, apparently has decided that the problem wasn’t, god forbid, too much hype. It was bad acting, a ridiculous plot and special effects that left movie audience members rubbing their eyes.
Well, he’s not making that mistake again. Mr. Shim’s new film, “D-War,” cost tens of billions of won (1 billion won is about $1 million) to make and is nearly finished; its release is planned for the second half of this year. All the special effects are being done by his company, Younggu Art Entertainment, using effect techniques he claims his studio developed.
“‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘King Kong’ are no match for ‘D-War’,” Mr. Shim said. He claims to have met with top executives at major Hollywood studios, who he says offered him $200 million in contracts. “The new film has more computer graphics and computer-generated characters than ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Spiderman’.”
Acting is another department where Mr. Shim is concentrating on for improvement. The new film’s American cast includes the actor Jason Behr, star of “The Grudge” and the television show “Dawson’s Creek.” Most of the filming was done in Los Angeles.
“D-War” is a science-fiction epic about an imugi, a legendary creature destined to be reborn as a dragon. The imugi tries to capture a girl in a small Korean village 500 years ago and steal her magic jewel that grants wishes. He hopes to use the jewel to become a dragon, but instead winds up battling the girl’s knightly rescuer. The evil imugi, a good imugi, the girl and her hero all fall off a cliff, die and are reborn 500 years later in Los Angeles.
Mr. Shim touts the project as a way to inject a bit of Korean culture into Hollywood films. “The Western world was exposed to Chinese and Japanese culture through films like ‘The Last Emperor’ and ‘The Last Samurai’,” he said.

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Before he became the king of Korean B-movies, Mr. Shim was a comedian. But movies, especially science-fiction comedies, exerted a powerful lure. His comedy “Younggu and Ttangchiri” (1989), for instance, lured 4 million viewers - mostly under the age of 10 - to the cinema, and that was before Korea had fancy multiplex theaters. He claimed that in a poll of people they most respect, Korean kids ranked Mr. Shim fourth, to the detriment of Madame Curie and one rank below Thomas Edison.
Mr. Shim’s biggest enemy seems to be his own over-the-top approach to promotion. He convinced many people here that “Yonggary” would be the first Korean film to make it big in the United States, scoring a point of national pride. Those who watched the movie realized ― correctly ― that that would probably not happen.
“[Yonggary] targeted the international market from the beginning, which was a fresh attempt for a Korean film. It was a completely new concept,” said Cho Hee-moon, a film critic and Sangmyung University professor. “As a sci-fi film, the universality of its theme could have appealed to international audiences.”
It didn’t. More accurately, it never got the chance to: The movie was never shown in the United States, despite Mr. Shim’s repeated claims that he had millions of dollars in overseas contracts and that the film would be distributed by major studios. It was released on video, however, under the name “Reptilian.” Mr. Shim said “Yonggary” cost him 15 billion won to make and only earned 4 billion won, with middlemen in the United States cheating him of any returns on the video.
“The problem with ‘Yonggary’ was that it was overly promoted,” said Gwak Young-jin, a film critic. “There was a large gap between the quality of the actual film and how it was marketed.”
Mr. Shim was once heralded as a “New Intellectual” by the Kim Dae-jung administration and media, but soon after the release of the movie he faced a series of lawsuits from investors and inquiries from prosecutors, on charges of embezzling money from his studio. The media criticized him for creating the “hoax of the century” and called him a swindler.
“I was heavily criticized and barraged by insults,” Mr. Shim said. “People’s expectations were too high. They compared it to Hollywood blockbusters that cost billion of won to make.”
“Mr. Shim has no proper knowledge or training as a filmmaker,” said one critic who did not want to be identified. He said Mr. Shim should have been more modest rather than bragging about his films and comparing himself to the likes of Steven Spielberg. “He took filmmaking too easily. The only thing he can be credited for is doing something other Koreans didn’t do.”
The point, perhaps, is that Mr. Shim didn’t let his lack of access to special-effects technology to stop him from making a big-monster movie like “Yonggary.” He didn’t have CGI graphics, so he strapped a latex mask onto a kid and made him run around in front of a camera pretending to be a city-trashing monster. He didn’t have a fancy studio, so he had his staff members move a model of their antagonist around with their hands.
“When we started, we didn’t even have a computer,” Mr. Shim explained. “We knew how to do special effects in theory, but not in practice. There was no one to ask about special effects in Korea.”
Asked why he didn’t outsource the special effects or adopt foreign technology, Mr. Shim said, “If we hadn’t taken on these challenges, we would have never been able to learn. We could have done it once, but can’t do that forever.”
Outsourcing special effects costs money, something Mr. Shim seems to have much more of these days. The Internet Movie Database (which can be edited by almost anyone) recently reported that “D-War” cost $145 million to make. Mr. Shim didn’t provide an exact figure for the film’s cost, but said only that it would have cost that much if the film’s special effects were outsourced overseas.

Mr. Shim didn’t like talking about “Yonggary,” except as a point of reference for what “D-War” will not be. “D-War” features 256 “experienced actors and staff members,” he said, including Hubert Taczanowski, a director of photography who uses a special camera that is said to move at speeds of up to 140 kilometers (87 miles) per hour.
The special effects were made through a mix of models, computer images and live shots of Los Angeles. The images were combined on a special high-capacity computer (“The only one of its type in Asia!” a Younggu Art representative said).
Critics have been pleasantly surprised by the film’s 20-minute trailer. “The film is incomparable with ‘Yonggary’,” said Oh Dong-jin, a film critic and professor at Dong-eui University. “It’s up to international standards.”
Younggu Art warned that the film is still being made and needs to be fine-tuned, which is a good indication that they realize the special effects are a far cry from “Jurassic Park”-quality. Then there was the opening scene, in which an army of soldiers wearing heavily stylized Western armor march into a Joseon Dynasty castle. Big-budget, maybe ― historically accurate, no.
But then, it’s hard to expect Mr. Shim to have time to check every little historical detail. After all, he’s a busy man.
“Mr. Shim stated his career as a comedian, and then became an actor, producer and director,” Mr. Cho pointed out. “He was in charge of planning, directing, production and promotion. The work [for his movies] was not efficiently divvied up. Mr. Shim handles too much work.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Shim is confident that the film will be a smash hit. After all, how many other movies have you seen about resurrected Korean dragons battling in Los Angeles?
“Hollywood is in a dilemma. It’s running out of new ideas, which is why they’re making a series of remakes and sequels,” Mr. Shim said. “If they try to make this kind of film by themselves, it would cost them a lot of money. They need this film.”


by Lim Jae-un

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