Therunaway box office success of Welcome To Dongmakgolhas driven home a point about the South Korean box office: films about NorthKorea sell.
Dongmakgol,based on a stage play by Jang Jin, is centered around two South Koreansoldiers, three North Korean soldiers, and an American pilot who meet in aremote mountain village during the Korean War.
Set tobecome the highest grossing feature of the year to date, the film joins KoreanWar epic Tae Guk Gi (2004,$64.9m gross); special forces film Silmido(2003, $60.9m); border crossing drama JSA(2000, $27.3m); and terrorist film Shiri(1999, $26.7m) as chart-topping hits that directly or indirectly take on theissue of a divided nation.
Significantly,all four films received major releases in Japan, where the Communist country isa constant presence on the evening news.
Ittherefore comes as little surprise that a number of upcoming productions willbe looking to recreate a similar mix of modern-day politics and 20th centuryhistory that has worked so well in the past.
Hanbando(meaning "the Korean peninsula") will see director Kang Woo-suk tryto duplicate the success of his earlier Silmidowith a political drama/action film set in a near future in which North andSouth Korea are on the verge of reunification.
Kang, whocame out this summer as an outspoken critic of the salary demands of Korea'sbiggest stars, has cast mid-level actors Jo Jae-hyun (BadGuy) and Cha Im-pyo (Mokpo,Gangster's Paradise) in the lead roles with thesupport of veteran actors Ahn Sung-ki (Arahan)and Moon Sung-geun (Jealousy Is My Middle Name).
Estimatedto cost upwards of $8m to shoot - high by Korean standards - thefilm will open production in October by Kang's own Cinema Service and will besold internationally by CJ Entertainment.
Meanwhileone of Korea's most consistent box office draws - actor Cha Seung-won of Blood Rain and the recent The Big Scene - has signed on to star asa North Korean who, half-intentionally, half-circumstantially defects to theSouth. Titled Gukgyeong-ui Namjjokmeaning literally "South of the Border", the film will be produced bySidus FNH (the result of a recent merger between production houses SidusPictures and Fun & Happiness) and is currently casting for a female loveinterest.
Finally,Korea's biggest budgeted film ever, the $15m Typhoonby KT Kwak, will draw off of inter-peninsular tensions in its story of amodern-day pirate who sets out to take revenge on both North and SouthKorea. Now slotted for a December 23 release, the CJ Entertainmentrelease features top star Jang Dong-gun (TaeGuk Gi, ChenKaige's The Promise) andfeatures location shooting in Thailand and Vladivostok.
Korea's top grossing films amass such high numbers ofadmissions by reaching out beyond the young demographic to pull in olderviewers, who rarely visit the theater. In this sense, films based on suchtimely issues as North-South relations have a built in advantage in beingeasily picked up and discussed in the mainstream media and on evening newsprograms. For this reason as much as any other, films with a politicalhook are likely to remain a staple of Korean production long into the future.