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Major Korean directors set for comeback

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Updated : April 04 2016

Some of Korea’s most internationally renowned directors are gearing up for a comeback this summer with projects that are pricier and on a grander scale, promising audiences a vigorous movie scene in the upcoming months.

The level of Hollywood involvement in the local movie industry this year is significant, serving as an indicator that the country’s $1.52-billion film market -- led primarily by domestic films -- is becoming increasingly significant to foreign investors. It is also testimony to the substantial mark Korean directors are making in global cinema.

The following is a list of upcoming films that have been generating buzz:

“The Handmaiden” by director Park Chan-wook

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(CJ E&M)

Director Park Chan-wook -- nicknamed “Cannes Park” for his films “Oldboy” and Thirst,” which won at Cannes in 2004 and 2009, respectively -- is back with an adaption of the crime novel “Fingersmith,” by British novelist Sarah Waters.

The novel was originally set in Victorian England, but Park’s upcoming film is set in 1930s Korea and Japan. It centers on an heiress to a vast fortune, played by actress Kim Min-hee, a count who lusts after her wealth, played by actor Ha Jung-woo, and a maid, played by actress Kim Tae-ri.

The film created much buzz in December 2014 when audition details included the requirement that the role of the maid involved “nude scenes with maximum exposure” that “could not be negotiated.” Rookie actress Kim Tae-ri, 26, landed the part, beating some 1,500 others who auditioned.

In February, the film’s international distribution rights were presold to some 116 countries at the European Film Market, even before filming was completed.

According to an official from CJ E&M, the film’s local distributor, participants at the event had been “satisfied with the visual aesthetics of the seven-minute highlight (reel),” reports said.

“The Handmaiden” started shooting in the Japanese city of Kuwana in June last year and filming wrapped up in November. Its budget has been estimated at 10 billion won ($8.7 million).

“The film will open sometime in June, after the Cannes festival,” said a CJ E&M official.

This marks Park’s return after three years. His last film was the psychological thriller “Stoker” (2013), which was written by Wentworth Miller and starred actresses Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman.

“The Secret Agent” by director Kim Jee-woon

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(Korean Movie Database)

Another period piece gaining worldwide attention is “The Secret Agent,” coming from director Kim Jee-woon.

“The Secret Agent” is the first Korean-language movie to be financed and distributed by Warner Bros. The Hollywood major film studio has invested 10 billion won into the film and will be directly handling its release in Korean theaters, according to Variety, an entertainment trade magazine.

Starring actor Song Gang-ho, who is a familiar face to foreign audiences due to his role in “Snowpiercer,” actor Gong Yoo, who starred in “The Suspect,” and actress Han Ji-min, the film will be set in 1920s Seoul -- then called Gyeongseong -- and Shanghai during Japan’s occupation of Korea. It will follow the members of an independence activist group as they attempt to smuggle a bomb into Gyeongseong.

Production kicked off last October, according to reports, at locations in Korea and China. The film’s release is tentatively set for this summer, said WB Korea’s CEO Park Hyo-seong at a press conference.

This is Kim’s first film since his English-language debut film “The Last Stand” (2013), which featured actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and was produced by Di Bonaventura Pictures. His noir film “A Bittersweet Life” (2005), which starred Lee Byung-hun, is currently being remade into an English version by New Regency Pictures.

“Okja” by director Bong Joon-ho

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(Korean Movie Database)

The “Snowpiercer” director’s new movie “Okja” is set to begin filming this month in Korea. It has developed into a massive endeavor with Hollywood big-names such as Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Lily Collins confirmed to be involved. Others linked include actress Kelly MacDonald, who was in “Trainspotting,” and cinematographer Darius Khondji, who worked on “Midnight in Paris.”
Netflix has invested $50 million in the film, while Brad Pitt’s company Plan B Entertainment is coproducing the film. “Snowpiercer” previously held the record as the priciest film in Korean history, with a budget of around $39 million.

“Okja” will tell the story of a young girl from the mountains who befriends Okja, a monstrous-looking but gentle and warm creature, according to press releases.

“Gokseong” by director Na Hong-jin

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(20th Century Fox International Productions)

Director Na Hong-jin, whose film “The Yellow Sea” (2010) was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes festival, is returning with a drama-mystery that “seeks to thrill viewers without depictions of violence,” he said in a promotional video clip last week.

“Gokseong” is set in a country village gripped by the case of a serial killer and where strange rumors fly after an outsider moves in. Actor Kwak Do-won, who starred in “The Yellow Sea,” is set to play the lead as the investigator on the case, while Hwang Jung-min, of “Veteran,” plays the village shaman.

The film took three years to complete and will open in local theaters on May 12, its local distributor 20th Century Fox Korea said. Distributor Finecut, which previously released “Oldboy” and Kim Ki-duk’s “Pieta” to international audiences, will oversee international distribution.

“Net” by director Kim Ki-duk

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(Korean Movie Database)


Not much has been revealed about director Kim Ki-duk’s upcoming film “Net,” except that it finished its filming in just two weeks in February, according to reports, in line with the director’s notoriously idiosyncratic style and cost-efficient work process.
The film centers on a North Korean fisherman, played by actor Ryu Seung-beom, stranded in South Korea. He develops a close relationship with a rookie intelligence officer of the South, played by actor Lee Won-keun.

Best known for his critically acclaimed film “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring” (2003), Kim has a number of international prizes under his belt, including the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival for “Pieta” and the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2011 Cannes fest for “Arirang.”

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)

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