A Safecracker Who Stole the Box Office

    January 15, 2004 20:14

    Baek Dong-ho, 49, who has been convicted eight times and is known as one of the most skilled safe-crackers around, is the author of "Silmido," the original book that the recent hit movie was based on. He began nvestigating the Silmido case, which had only been a mere rumor, and wrote the novel in 1999.

    Baek made his first connection to the Silmido case while in prison. At the time, he was serving his eight-year six-month sentence for trying to crack a safe holding W2 billion. Baek said, "A man came in 1988. Known as K, he had been a trainee at Silmido who had managed to survive. I heard about the Silmido case from him for the first time. The story was so incredible, and I was so moved by their tragic fate, that I decided to write a novel on the story, even though I hadn’t learned much about it."

    Baek was released from prison in 1994. That year, he wrote the autobiography, "Daedo," which sold 400,000 copies. With the capital earned from the book sales, he began his pursuit, tracing back to the case of Silmido.

    He went to the actual spot to find persons connected to the case. "At first, the people avoided my questions, saying that the past was evil, and the case was national classified information," he said. "However, I was persistent, and even the people who didn't seem at all eager to open their mouths at first began to talk, hoping they could make their innocence known. Of course, some criticized me, accusing me of suspicious ideologies and threatening that the National Intelligence Service would take me away. People living near Silmido told me, though, that I was the first person to ask such questions, and remembering rumors of the past, introduced me to the related people."

    When asked why he was so persistent, he said, "People who have not lived a falsely accused life do not know how it feels." Baek says that although he has committed many crimes, he has fought against injustice. "The reason I tried to track down the story of those falsely accused lives was because I didn't want to end my life with the sole memory of being a thief."

    "For a more tragic ending, director Kang Woo-seok ended the film with the death of all the trainees and the suicide of the unit commander, played by Ahn Sung-ki," Baek said. "However, in real life, at least one trainee of the whole 24 is still alive. Also, the unit commander did not commit suicide, but was in fact beat to death with a hammer by a trainee. The director felt that a tragic ending was necessary for the film to become a box-office hit."
    (Choi bo-sik, congchi@chosun.com)
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