‘Hanbando’ director merges fact, fiction and fear of Japan

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‘Hanbando’ director merges fact, fiction and fear of Japan

Director Kang Woo-suk, 46, has witnessed the gamut of reactions to his new film, “Hanbando,” which opens Thursday.
“Some critics described the film as too strident and confrontational,” Mr. Kang said.
“One compared the president’s character in the film to the current Korean president. Some people have even asked if I plan to enter politics, but I have stressed the fact that this film is set in the future.
“It has been difficult for me to deal with these responses,” he says.
Set in the near future, “Hanbando,” which translates as “Korean Peninsula,” tells the story of a unified Korean government trying to reconnect a railroad between Shinuiju, North Korea and Seoul.
In the course of construction, the Korean government discovers that Japan still has the rights to the railroad under the terms of a 1907 treaty.
When the Japanese government tries to exercise those rights, a Korean historian races to prove that the state seal used to validate the treaty is a fake, by finding the genuine seal.
Q. In the movie, the Korean president (Ahn Sung-ki) wants to prove the seal is fake, but hoping to avoid confrontation with Japan, the prime minister (Mun Sung-keun) obstructs efforts to find the genuine seal.

A. I sympathize with the character of the prime minister. I thought it would be ideal if the president, who aims to recover the pride of the Korean people, clashes with the prime minister, who is being realistic. That’s why I ended the film with a freeze frame of the president and the prime minister passing by each other [in opposite directions].
North and South Korea, and the ruling and opposition parties [in the South] operate in a similarly opposing manner. Yet they all claim to be working for the country and the Korean people.

Do you expect that audiences will compare “Hanbando” with modern politics?
When the controversy over the Dokdo islets flared up again, people said it was going to help the movie. To begin with, I thought [Japanese Prime Minister] Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine might have the same effect.
However, [if viewers compare the movie with modern politics] they may find watching it a very unsettling experience.

King Gojong [the penultimate king of the Joseon Dynasty] plays a key role, and is often compared with the president’s character. Yet King Gojong was a failure, wasn’t he?
According to writings by foreign diplomats in Korea, he was knowledgeable and made great strides in politics. He was passive, but he kept trying to send emissaries overseas, which made Japan angry.
He was a failure because Korea had no power. I thought future presidents would be able to fight Japan all the way. My point is rather about overcoming Japan rather than overcoming anti-Japanese feeling.

Why did you make “Hanbando?”
Japan is careful about other countries but always provokes Korea.
If we eventually receive a sincere apology from Japan, and gain some sense of having prevailed against Japan, I think the movie will have done what it set out to do.

by Lee Hoo-nam
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