Year of the thriller for Korean movies

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Year of the thriller for Korean movies


The Housemaid
Above, a scene from “The Housemaid” (1960), the classic Korean thriller directed by Kim Ki-young. Right, Im Sang-soo will direct the remake of the film, while Jeon Do-youn, left, will star. [JoongAng Photo]

Hits came from all quarters in Korean cinema last year, with big blockbusters “Take Off” and “Haeundae,” auteur films “Thirst” and “Mother” and indie sleepers “Old Partner” and “Breathless” all filling seats.

Disaster flick Haeundae was the first locally made film to top 10 million tickets sold in three years. Industry-wide box office returns hit a record high of 1.08 trillion won ($964 million), about half from Korean-made films.

The state-funded Korean Film Council forecast in a recent report that the local movie market will continue its incremental growth over the next five years, and 2010 is expected to be another bonanza for the local film studios. But the most hotly anticipated movies inside the industry aren’t quite as diverse as 2009’s top sellers - on the contrary, they’re all in a single genre: thriller.

Korea’s thriller renaissance, kicked off by “The Chaser” in 2008 and continued by “Secret” at the end of last year, continues with “No Mercy,” the first big, locally made release of 2010.


The Murderer (working title)
Above, Ha Jung-woo stands during the shooting of “ The Murderer” (working title). Provided by Showbox / The new thriller will be directed by Na Hong-jin, right, who is rejoined by Ha and actor Kim Yun-seok, left, his stars in “The Chaser.” [JoongAng Photo]

According to a recent survey by the JoongAng Ilbo of 20 film experts including producers, investors and critics, the three most highly anticipated films scheduled to be released this year were all thrillers. “The Housemaid,” a remake of a local classic, came in first, followed by “The Murderer” (working title), which will reunite “The Chaser” director Na Hong-jin with his two leads from that film. In third was “Moss” (working title) by veteran director Kang Woo-suk.

“The Housemaid,” a remake of the 1960 film by the late director Kim Ki-young, was chosen as the No. 1 most anticipated Korean movie in 2010 by a majority of the respondents. The movie tells the story of a man who has an affair with the maid, eventually leading to the destruction of his life.

Though it may sound riddled with old cliches, the film is still considered a classic for the legendary director’s aesthetic prowess. Critics say it’s no one thing that makes the movie special: There are its comments on the downfall of the middle class, its tinge of eroticism and its taut plotting.

Last year, the Korean Film Archive restored a black-and-white original print of “The Housemaid” that had been damaged with the aid of the World Cinema Foundation, a nonprofit organization led by world-renowned director Martin Scorsese that works to preserve neglected films from around the world.


Moss (working title)
Above, the online hit graphic novel series “Moss” was taken as the inspiration for director Kang Woo-suk’s latest film, an adaptation of the same name. Provided by / Actor Park Hae-il, left, plays the lead role in “Moss” by director Kang, right. [JoongAng Photo]

When the remake was announced in late 2008 it set the local movie industry on fire - especially later, when the project fell into the hands of Im Sang-soo, the bold and unique director of “The President’s Last Bang” (2005) and “A Good Lawyer’s Wife” (2003), whom film critic Kim Bong-seok describes as “the most provocative director in Korea.”

Adding to expectations for the project is its star, Jeon Do-youn, the beloved Korean actress who exploded onto the world stage with a Best Actress win at Cannes in 2007. Jeon will play the titular character.

“I look forward to seeing Jeon’s version of The Housemaid, as I know she can pull off the role of a femme fatale so perfectly,” said Lee Jin-hoon, director of the Korean cinema team at Lotte Entertainment.

Actor Lee Jung-jae, who co-starred in “Typhoon” with Jang Dong-gun, and the young and promising actress Seo Woo, who caught the eye of the industry with her performance in “Paju” last year, have been cast as the husband and wife.

“I can’t wait to see the results - the meeting between the director of the moment and one of the best films in Korean cinema,” said Jeon Chan-il, regular programmer of the Pusan International Film Festival.

But the seemingly blessed remake was recently marred by a very public conflict between the writer and the director.

Screenwriter Kim Soo-hyun, who has built up a reputation as a hit-maker with numerous popular TV dramas and several award-winning movies, was invited by the producer to write a script for the highly anticipated new Housemaid. The project ground to a halt after the director who had been attached to it initially quit, and Kim suggested Im take the reins.

All seemed to be going well until Kim finished the script and handed it over to Im. The director made changes, reportedly to suit his provocative style, and Kim expressed her dissatisfaction. The matter seemed settled when Im apologized, but later problems would crop up again when Im took his version of the script to the producers. Kim claimed the director had agreed to cooperate on the script in the future, but took his version to the studio apparently without consulting her.

The enraged Kim withdrew from the project and later posted a note on her Web site that read, “I’ve been stabbed in the back by someone I trusted [and] have no mind to go on with my work.”

Despite the turmoil, the producers have decided to adopt Im’s changed version of the script. Shooting is scheduled to begin this month with the hope of bringing the film to theaters this year after only minor delays, according to Mirovision, the production company.

Second on the list of most anticipated Korean movies was The Murderer, mainly for its trio of Chaser veterans. The 2008 hit directed by Na Hong-jin and starring Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yun-seok attracted about 5 million viewers, about on par with its genre predecessor “Memories of Murder.”

The Murderer tells the story of a man from Yanbian, China who is smuggled into Seoul as a contract killer to pay off his debt, but ends up threatened by another hit man.

Ha, who found his breakout role in The Chaser and confirmed his rise to stardom with the 2009 hit drama Take Off, takes the lead role opposite Kim, who has now become one of Korea’s most prolific actors, appearing in such well-received films as “Running Turtle” (2009) and “The War of Flower” (2006).

Unusual for Korea, The Murderer has also drawn some Hollywood money, with its estimated production cost of 11 billion won partially paid by Fox Korea, the local branch of the Twentieth Century Fox film studio, which finalized its contribution late last year. Shooting started last month, and the finished product is scheduled to be released this summer, according to its distributor, Showbox.

“The movie will be the one in which director Na will show his real ability, a glimpse of which we got through The Chaser,” predicted Kim Young-jin, a film professor at Myongji University.

A famous director is also behind the third selection on the list, Moss, helmed by the filmmaker known internationally for “Silmido” (2003) and “Public Enemy” (2002). Kang made his directorial debut in 1988, making him an “old man” of modern Korean cinema.

Moss brings together Kang’s cachet with the hugely popular online graphic novel series on which it’s based, drawn by Yoon Tae-ho. The cinematic adaptation, featuring well-known names including Park Hae-il, Jung Jae-young and Yoo Hae-jin, follows a young man who comes to a rural village after hearing about his father’s death and later becomes embroiled in its hidden secrets.

The movie is currently in production and will hit local theaters around the first half of the year, according to the production company Cinema Service.

By Ki Sun-min, Park Sun-young []
Related Korean Article

하녀·황해·이끼 ‘빅3’… 스릴러 바람은 계속 분다

지난해 한국영화계는 ‘해운대’‘국가대표’‘7급공무원’ 등 상업영화와 ‘박쥐’‘마더’‘잘 알지도 못하면서’ 등 작가영화가 보기 좋은 균형을 이뤘다. 바짝 얼어붙은 투자환경 속에서 이뤄진 결실이라 더 알차 보였다. 3년 만의 ‘1000만 영화’ 탄생 등으로 극장 매출이 처음으로 1조원 시대를 맞기도 했다. 이중 절반 가까이가 한국영화가 올린 실적이다.

올해라고 충무로에 ‘선수’가 없는 건 아니다. 눈에 띄는 흐름 중 하나는 한국전쟁 발발 60주년을 겨냥해 줄줄이 제작되고 있는 전쟁 블록버스터다. 한국전쟁 당시 북한군에 맞선 학도병 71명의 실화를 소재로 한 이재한 감독의 ‘포화 속으로’, 연평해전 영웅들의 이야기인 곽경택 감독의 ‘아름다운 우리’와 백운학 감독의 ‘연평해전’, ‘태극기 휘날리며’의 장동건과 강제규 감독이 다시 만난 300억원 규모의 대작 ‘디데이’등이 선보일 예정이다.

장르적으로는 2008년 ‘추격자’의 대성공 이후 계속되는 스릴러 바람이 여전할 전망이다. 코미디나 휴먼드라마가 강세를 보였던 지난해와 달리 무게감 있는 소위 ‘남성영화’가 많다. 제작·투자·평론 등 영화계 분야별 전문가 20명이 올해의 기대작을 3편씩 선정했다. 임상수 감독의 ‘하녀’, 나홍진 감독의 ‘황해’, 강우석 감독의 ‘이끼’가 ‘빅3’로 꼽혔다. 3편 모두 스릴러다. 여간 해선 칭찬 듣기 힘든 게 스릴러라지만 기대감을 갖게 되는 건 이들의 이름값 때문이다.

# 고전의 힘, 리메이크로 되살린다 -‘하녀’

가장 많이 지지를 받은 작품은 고 김기영(1919∼98) 감독의 고전을 50년 만에 리메이크하는 ‘하녀’다. 아내가 친정에 간 사이 하녀와 사랑에 빠진 남자가 파멸에 이른다는 내용의 이 영화는 지금도 여전히 미학적 완성도를 인정받는 작품이다. 지난해 한국영상자료원이 마틴 스코시즈 감독이 이끄는 세계영화재단(WCF)의 지원으로 디지털 복원판 DVD를 출시하기도 했다. 중산층의 몰락이라는 주제, 에로티시즘의 요소, 스릴러라는 형식 등 화제의 요소가 다분하다. ‘바람난 가족’‘그때 그 사람들’의 임상수 감독이 연출을 맡고, 칸영화제 여우주연상에 빛나는 전도연이 주인공 하녀 역을 연기한다. 주인 남자에 이정재가, 고참 하녀에 윤여정이 캐스팅됐다. 드라마 ‘탐나는도다’와 영화 ‘파주’로 지난해 뜨거운 시선을 한 몸에 받았던 샛별 서우가 여주인으로 나온다는 사실도 기대감을 증폭시킨다. 상반기에 개봉된다.

“한국에서 가장 도발적인 감독의 신작”(영화평론가 김봉석)

“한국영화사상 최고작과, 으뜸가는 ‘문제적 감독’의 만남. 하루라도 빨리 보고 싶다.” (전찬일 부산국제영화제 프로그래머)

“전도연식으로 재해석될 치명적 매력의 ‘하녀’. 그녀의 소름 끼치는 연기가 기대된다.” (이진훈 롯데엔터테인먼트 한국영화팀장)

#‘추격자’의 3인, 옌볜에서 재회하다 -‘황해’

‘황해’가 ‘하녀’ 버금가는 표를 얻은 이유는 순전히 이 세 사람이 빚어낼 화학작용에 대한 신뢰 때문이다. 나홍진·김윤석·하정우. 2008년 스릴러로서는 드물게 500만 관객을 동원한 ‘추격자’의 3인방이 다시 뭉쳤다는 사실이 크게 작용했다. ‘황해’는 빚을 갚기 위해 살인 의뢰를 받고 한국에 오지만, 또 다른 살인청부업자에게 생명의 위협을 받게 된 옌볜 남자 이야기다. 송강호·최민식·설경구에 이어 명실상부한 ‘연기파’ 대열에 합류한 김윤석이 잔혹한 킬러 역을, ‘국가대표’의 미워할 수 없는 입양아 밥으로 지난해 큰 사랑을 받은 하정우가 살아남기 위해 발버둥치는 남자 역을 맡았다. 나홍진 감독이 또 한 편의 스릴러로 ‘소포모어(2년차) 징크스’를 깰 지에 대해 많은 영화인이 기대감을 표했다. 할리우드(20세기폭스)로부터 투자도 받았다. 여름철 개봉 예정이다.

“‘추격자’에서 보여줬던 나홍진의 저력, 그 정체가 판가름 날 영화.” (김영진 명지대 교수)

“‘추격자’ 3인방의 재결합. 비정함의 끝에서 관객은 어떻게 반응할까.” (안수현 모호필름 프로듀서)

#‘1000만 감독’, 웹툰을 만나다 -‘이끼’

세 번째로 많은 표를 받은 ‘이끼’의 ‘강우석+윤태호’ 조합은 잘 어울리지 않을 듯 하면서도 그렇기 때문에 기대감을 불러일으키는 오묘한 만남이다. 80년대 데뷔해 20년 넘게 현역의 위치를 굳건히 지키고 있는 강우석 감독과, 인터넷에서 폭발적 인기를 끌었던 윤태호 작가의 그로테스크한 원작이 섞일 경우 어떤 폭발력을 지닐지는 누구도 가늠하기 쉽지 않다. 일단 ‘실미도’ 1000만 흥행을 비롯해 대중영화문법을 동물적 감각으로 읽어내는 강 감독의 저력이 주목된다. 아버지의 죽음을 계기로 한 시골 마을에 들어간 청년이 마을의 비밀을 파헤치게 되는 스릴러다. 박해일·정재영·유해진 등이 출연하며, ‘해피엔드’‘사랑니’의 정지우 감독이 각본을 맡았다. 상반기 중 개봉된다.

“충무로 파워맨 강우석의 실험과 도전. 그는 원작의 ‘세기(power)’를 어떻게 담아냈을까.” (영화평론가 오동진)

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