Im Kwon-taek’s 100th film

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Im Kwon-taek’s 100th film

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Jangheung, SOUTH JEOLLA ― After 99 films, Korea’s most celebrated director is finally ready to tell a new type of story.
Awarded Best Director at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival for “Chihwaseon” (Painted Fire), and winner of the UNESCO Fellini Gold Medal, which recognizes directors who focus on peace and culture, Im Kwon-taek is known for exploring the morality, social restrictions and customs of old Korean dynasties.
But for the upcoming 100th film, he plans to address something very different ― a love that hurts deeply.
“All these years, I kept pushing this idea aside because I didn’t want to hear that I was making a fool out of myself by attempting something I have never tried before,” said Mr. Im in an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Daily on the set of his new movie in Jangheung, South Jeolla province.
“I think I am old enough now to talk about love. I think I gained a little confidence too,” he said with a smile.
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Of his past work, “Chunhyang” (2000) was closest to a romance, as it dealt with two lovers who secretly wed and then separated. But it was based on a popular folk tale about a woman’s faithfulness to her lover, while emphasizing the oppression women faced in the old days, one of Mr. Im’s favorite themes.
The new movie is about a forbidden love between a step-brother and a step-sister, and is based on a story by novelist and long-time friend Lee Cheong-jun. Fans and movie critics were more than delighted to hear of their latest collaboration, and are eagerly anticipating the release of “Cheonnyeon Hak” (Thousand-year Crane).
Mr. Lee wrote “Sopyonje,” a book about a family of pansori singers that Mr. Im made into a highly acclaimed film in 1993. “Thousand-year Crane” is based on the book’s sequel, titled “A Vagabond of Seonhak-dong.”
“Many asked me whether this film is just going to be a second-rate Sopyonje. I said ‘never,’” said Mr. Im.
“Sopyonje” was a sublime film introduction of Korean pansori ― a musical form where a female singer tells folk stories accompanied by a male percussionist. The movie followed an itinerant father and daughter pansori team. They meet an orphaned boy on the road and adopt him on their musical tour, which turns out to be disastrous for the girl and the boy.
While that film stuck to describing the beauty of pansori and what a person must do to create the right sound, “Thousand-year Crane” will focus on the relationship between the two children, who having grown up separately, now meet again as professional pansori performers.
“Thousand-year Crane” will not have much pansori music, however. Mr. Im said he’s put enough of that in previous films. The new movie will use a combination of traditional sounds and modern pop to express the agitated emotions the two main characters as they face a dangerous love.
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The same actress who played the young woman in “Sopyonje” returns in the sequel. Oh Jeong-hae, now 35 years old, plays the female singer Songwha, who was blinded in the earlier story when her father poisoned her so she could concentrate on singing better.
A real-life pansori singer, Oh says she is more nervous now than when she started acting. “I hope I can again fall into the same trance I did 13 years ago when I played the young Songhwa.”
Mr. Im had wanted to shoot the film years earlier, but couldn’t find the right beauty until he saw Oh, who had won the Miss Chunhyang contest, a regional pageant that evaluates traditional beauty in hanbok-clad contestants.
Similarly, the new film had to await the development of CGI before it could be done properly. The crane in the film’s title refers to a mythical bird that appears every thousand years, and soars over the Korean mountains.
“I’ll need plenty of CGs to express the phantasmal feel of the children imagining the legendary crane flying,” said Im.
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Ironically, having found his courage to tell this story and sufficient CGI to express it, “Thousand-year Crane” was then delayed by a lack of funding.
Despite being known as “the most famous director in Korea” making his 100th film, initially no producers wanted to finance the project because it lacked a “star celebrity” in the male lead ―Mr. Im had wanted to cast a theater actor.
“I was very upset hearing that,” Mr. Im said. “I didn’t know that the success of the filmmaking depended whether you can cast a ‘star’.”
It wasn’t until actor Cho Jae-hyeon, who starred in several hit films including one by the director Kim Ki-duk, did the money appear.
“I am worried I might look like I have stolen a young actor’s place,” said Cho. “But I am honored to be part of director Im’s film.” Cho will play the role of the adopted son, Dongho, who runs away from his insane adoptive father only to return years later after the father has died and left his step-sister in poverty.
Shooting for “Thousand-year Crane” started on March 11 in Jangheung, South Jeolla province, where the story is set. It is scheduled for theatrical release in April 2007 and will be submitted to next year’s Cannes Film Festival.


by Lee Min-a
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