‘Ashfall’ brings new threat to Seoul: a volcano: Disaster movie asks what people will do to protect their loved ones

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‘Ashfall’ brings new threat to Seoul: a volcano: Disaster movie asks what people will do to protect their loved ones


From left, actors Lee Byung-hun, Bae Suzy, Jeon Hye-jin, Ha Jung-woo, and co-directors Lee Hae-jun and Kim Byung-seo pose for the cameras after a press conference for their upcoming film “Ashfall” at Apgujeong CGV in southern Seoul. The film is set to be released next month. [YONHAP]

A zombie apocalypse, poisonous gases and unknown viruses have all descended upon Seoul in movies over the past few years, so why not a volcanic eruption?

Over the years, directors have enjoyed bringing several “what if?” situations to the screen with the help of state-of-the-art movie technology and some of the country’s best actors.

This time, directors Kim Byung-seo and Lee Hae-jun are introducing a plausible crisis situation that hasn’t been seen in a local movie before through their upcoming film “Ashfall,” which asks the question: What if Mount Paektu, which has been dormant since 1903, erupts again?

Mount Paektu is an active volcano situated on the Chinese-North Korean border. The “Millennium Eruption,” one of the most violent eruptions in the last 5,000 years, occurred during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) from 946 to 947. Geologists and earthquake experts say that although there is no guarantee that the volcano will erupt again anytime soon, there is always a possibility.

For the whole cast except for Ha Jung-woo - Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Hye-jin and Bae Suzy - the film was their first opportunity to work with large-scale CGI technology, but they all found that the film’s set was closer to reality than they’d imagined.

The many lifelike situations in the film were thanks to the fact that the director was able to close off the Jamsu bridge across the Han River in Seoul for the first time in local cinema history to shoot a scene. Director Lee wanted the audience to experience the disaster as vividly as possible, even though it’s on a screen.

“In order for the audiences to feel like it’s happening to them, we needed a familiar place that we see often,” said Lee Hae-jun at the press conference on Tuesday. “Naturally, those are locations where there are a lot of people. We also filmed at Gangnam station [in southern Seoul] and although the scene is less than five minutes long, we had to [have many] takes to get all the necessary scenes.”


Actors Ha Jung-woo, left, and Lee Byung-hun as agents Jo In-chang and Lee Joon-pyung in “Ashfall.” [CJ ENTERTAINMENT]

Ha, although he’s had plenty of experience working on disaster films, such as “The Terror, LIVE” (2013) and “Tunnel” (2016), said that he was again attracted to the disaster scenario because the characters’ actions and words weren’t predictable.

“Although people were going through an apocalypse, their dialogue wasn’t cliche,” said Ha, who plays the character Jo In-chang, the leader of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). “I mean, no matter how much of a calamity we’re in, we are not facing difficulties 24/7. So I found it freshening to find humor and sincerity in how people dealt with their predicaments.”

Actor Ma Dong-seok plays geology professor Robert Kang, who suggests solutions to the upcoming disaster.

While making the film, Ma explained his character as “a person who uses his brain more than his body.” Using his own sense of humor, Ma’s character brings the laughs in between moments of tension.

Meanwhile, actor Lee Byung-hun, for the first time in his 28-year career, plays a North Korean agent. His character, Lee Jun-pyung, forms an unlikely coalition with Jo to prevent the impending doom.

“But [the film] is also a buddy movie, as Lee and Jo gradually learn to collaborate with one another,” Lee Byung-hun added.

“The rapport between Jo and Lee is definitely one of the most attractive aspects of the film,” Ha agreed. “Although I have play characters in several disaster films in the past, I felt less-pressured because in ‘Ashfall’ all of us were putting our heads together to resolve the problem.”

Although the two veteran actors have appeared in many films, they have never had the chance to work together until now.

While Ha and Lee Byung-hun play characters who are on the scene, Jeon’s character is the one behind the scenes who tries to formulate a new plan with Ma as the President for Civil Affairs.

“My character, Jeon Yoo-kyung is a leader who needs to have a firm hand to make the momentary decisions for a greater cause,” said Jeon. “Rather than debating over whether or not her judgements are right or wrong, she is someone with the determination to carry out what she believes in.”

Bae, on the other hand, represents the civilians struggling to survive. Her character, Choi Ji-young, is married to Jo and attempts to survive in the midst of chaos to meet her husband.

“I was actually lonely because I spend a lot of scenes apart from everyone else,” Bae said. “So in the rare moments where I was filming with the other actors, I was really energized.”

“The film itself was a new challenge for us because there never has been a local movie about volcano eruption,” said director Lee. “The story will offer a new spectacles that audiences haven’t seen before.”

“It’s about how the people stand up against the face of casualty to protect their loved ones” added Kim.

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]

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