August 26, 2005 22:54
A fantasy movie about the Korean War is not only setting box office records for the year but also accomplishing the difficult task of reaching out to all age groups. Between its release on Aug. 4 and Friday, “Welcome to Dongmakgol” drew some five million viewers nationwide, taking only four weeks to break this year’s record, which it took “Running Boy” eight weeks to set.
The success is all the more remarkable since “Dongmakgol” is an odd tale about the war set in the virtual space of the title and makes do without top stars, featuring instead an accomplished ensemble cast. The exceptionally broad viewer spectrum ranges from teenagers to those in their 60s.
On Thursday, poised to record their 5 millionth viewer, director Park Gwang-hyeon and three leading actors Shin Ha-gyun, Chung Jae-young and Lim Ha-ryong got together to toast their success.
“I got phone calls from lots of people lately. I am invited to TV shows. I’m often told I'm a good actor,” Lim Ha-ryong says. “I haven’t been this happy since I was a newcomer.” Shin Ha-gyun says children now recognize him in restaurants even though he never starred in any movie for kids. Chung Jae-young adds, “I was especially happy to hear elderly people of the same age as my mother flocking to the theater.
Park Gwang-hyeon, 34, is a former director of commercials. He still seems still baffled to have made the big time with his debut feature. “As a first-time director, I was on pins and needles. The budget was tremendous, and 80 percent of the cast and production staff were obscure first-timers. I couldn’t sleep till my film captured 3 million viewers,” Park says. “I also cast unknown actors as villagers so I could lead viewers into a fantasy world in due course without causing any prejudice.”
The makers deny that the film peddles a pro-North Korean and anti-U.S. ideology. A U.S. soldier, Smith, plays an important part as a friend, and it’s clear from the movie that the North Korean regime started the war, the cast says. “I’d like to explain to everyone who misunderstands me that I don’t dislike the U.S. and that my film is neither ideological nor political,” Park says. “On the contrary, some people are complaining that an American appears in a movie promoting Korean unification, but my film isn’t for Korean unification. I hope people see it as a film aiming to console innocent people. I’m a novice director, I do have my limitations.” The atmosphere became a little tense, but Chung Jae-young put an end to the debate by saying, “All these controversies are raging, but that’s because the film is successful. So I appreciate the constructive criticism.”
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