'Chun Tae-il' may be the next big animated movie

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'Chun Tae-il' may be the next big animated movie

Myung Films CEO Shim Jae-myung poses with cutout cardboard characters from upcoming animated film "Chun Tae-il," based on the labor activist Chun Tae-il (1948-70). [MYUNG FILMS]

Myung Films CEO Shim Jae-myung poses with cutout cardboard characters from upcoming animated film "Chun Tae-il," based on the labor activist Chun Tae-il (1948-70). [MYUNG FILMS]

 
After “Leafie: A Hen into the Wild” (2011) sold over 2.2 million movie tickets during its time in theaters — a first for an animated movie in Korea — Myung Films is hoping to bring another new hit animation to the big screen next month.
 
Myung Films' new piece “Chun Tae-il” talks about the life of labor activist Chun Tae-il (1948-70), who set himself on fire to raise awareness on the poor labor conditions in the 1960s. The company used the motif from a children's cartoon on the same historic character made by cartoonist Choi Ho-chul when turning the real-life story into an animated film.
 
The movie, set to hit theaters on Dec. 1, was first seen in the 26th edition of the Busan International Film Festival that ended on Oct. 15. It was screened twice, and the theater's 70 seats were all occupied on both occasions.
 
“The life of 22-year-old Chun, who wanted to change the working conditions of labor workers even if by setting himself on fire, was no different from the burdened life many young people experience now,” said Myung Films CEO Shim Jae-myung during a video interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily.
 
The film shows the dramatic end of Chun's life when he speaks up and asks people to follow the labor law, which did already exist but was not enforced.
 
Shim said in the period during which Chun was living, life as a labor worker wasn’t easy. But she added that the situation young people experience now might even be worse.
 
“Now, the discrimination in the labor scene is much sneakier and more evil,” she said, adding that such a reality can be seen with delivery workers and others working at delivery platforms. “After all, the movie was made to share the very basic and ordinary value on how to live like a human being in society.”
 
Myung Films has continuously released movies that convey ongoing social issues, such as “Joint Security Area” (2000), “I Can Speak,” (2017), and “Cart” (2014).
 
“The company cares much about the real historic figures, some social issues or labor problems in the society,” said Shim. “We hope an even larger number of people will go see the movie on the life of Chun.”
 
The plan to make this upcoming movie was first laid out as soon as “Leafie: A Hen into the Wild” was released. Since the company had trouble convincing big companies to invest in the production of “Leafie,” it assumed that getting investments for the new film would prove to be much more difficult or even impossible, given the dismal subject of the film. The production cost was about 3 billion won ($2.5 million) and the marketing fees totaled around 1.5 billion won. The 700-million-won fund it received from the Korean Film Council early on set the tone to invite more people to join. Many organizations related to animation films, those who value Chun's works and about 10,000 ordinary citizens invested.
 
 A scene from upcoming movie "Chun Tae-il" [MYUNG FILMS]

A scene from upcoming movie "Chun Tae-il" [MYUNG FILMS]

 
At the end of the movie, over 10,000 names of these investors who chipped in to produce the movie went on for about nine minutes. Together, they invested about 170 million won.
 
The company planned on releasing the movie last November, in time for the 50th anniversary of Chun's death, but the release was delayed due to the pandemic and delayed production.
 
A scene from upcoming movie "Chun Tae-il" [MYUNG FILMS]

A scene from upcoming movie "Chun Tae-il" [MYUNG FILMS]

 
Q. Is it still difficult to get investment, even after the success of “Leafie”?
 
A. The market for animated films in Korea is much smaller than the market for movies in general. It is very rare to turn an animated series into a film script, and it is very difficult to have that bring forth a remarkable accomplishment. “Leafie” was a truly extraordinary case. In the year following the release of “Leafie,” TV channel EBS gathered 1 million audience members to its “Speckles: The Tarbosaurus” in 2012, there was no record like that seen in the market in Korea. Also, from the investors’ point of view, the storyline of “Chun Tae-il” might be too harsh for them to choose to invest in.
 
 
Why did you push to make “Chun Tae-il” even though you were aware of all these difficulties?
 
Chun Tae-il is a very important historic figure in modern Korean history, and a symbolic one when it comes to the labor movement. If we were to make the surroundings of the '60s and '70s into a real set, the budget of 10 billion won probably wouldn’t even be enough. So making the story into an animated film can be more efficient than [making a real film] in terms of minimizing the budget. Also, I saw a possibility to make this big from the original cartoons done by Choi. The characters Choi drew are in their late teens and early 20s, so I figured it could appeal to youngsters, just like Makoto Shinkai did with his animated film “Your Name” (2016). I thought the animated film could be more approachable than a real film, like the 1995 movie “A Single Spark.”
 
 
Did you intentionally make Chun's character seem friendlier?
 
The design of the characters, in the initial stage, was more realistic. Then we thought that such a description might come across as old to the teens of this generation, so we started to change things. We also used the process often used in Hollywood animated films, which is recording the voice of actors first and then drawing the scenes. That made the [voices] sound like they fit the faces of the characters even better.

BY NA WON-JEONG [kjdculture@joongang.co.kr]
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