From left, director Lee Jun-ik and actors Su Ae, Jung Jin-young and Choung Kyung-ho appear at a promotional event for `Sunny,' a love story set amid the Vietnam War. / Yonhap
By Lee Hyo-won
South Korean director Lee Jun-ik, 48, who marked an important chapter in Korean cinema with ``King and the Clown'' (2005), shows off a different cinematic theme through the Vietnam War love story ``Sunny,'' coming to theaters at the end of the month.
Some 320,000 Korean men were dispatched to fight alongside American troops in the Vietnam War. But unlike most war movies, and Lee's previous works, the film's protagonist is a woman. Top actress Su Ae plays the role of Sunny, an average housewife who becomes a singer in order to search for her husband. Many celebrities actually toured to provide entertainment for soldiers at the time.
``Working with historical stories made me realize that everything was history not `herstory.' Most works of art and literature are told from the point of view of males,'' said Lee, who himself was criticized for his overly male-centric movies. ``We're living in the 21st century, and I thought it would be meaningless to tell another war story from the male perspective. This is prevalent among American movies on Vietnam,'' he told reporters at a press event in Seoul, Tuesday.
``From a woman's eyes, there is no ally or foe. Everyone's running around with a gun,'' he said, further explaining that the film is not political. Rather, it is about the raw human experience.
However, the movie isn't free of the ideological ideals, said Lee. ``In most Vietnam War movies, which are American, we tend to sympathize with the U.S. and it doesn't affect us when Vietcong fall dead. It's been decades since Korea-Vietnam relations were normalized, and it's about time we offer a new perspective,'' he said.
The director also explained that this movie does justice to the fact that not enough cultural content is devoted to the subject matter here. Lee is known as a period specialist due to his box office smash story set in the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). But his last two works ``Radio Star'' and ``The Happy Life'' featured rock music. ``This is probably the epitome of my work,'' he said, as the film combines a historical setting and music.
Preview clips of the movie showed Su Ae singing the songs herself. The 27-year-old revealed that she had actually planned on debuting as a pop singer. But such plans were thwarted and she rose to stardom through the TV melodrama ``Love Letter.''
However, she said she was a terrible singer and had to receive vocal lessons for two months prior to the shooting. ``The director said that I was beyond terrible when he first heard me sing,'' she laughed. ``I don't have many lines, so I had to communicate through facial expressions. It was tough but very enjoyable.''
To this, the director added, ``Hey, it's no fun if it's easy, that's what actors get paid for, isn't it?'' and drew laughter from the room.
The movie also stars Lee's ``designated persona'' Jung Jin-young. About their fourth collaboration together, the 43-year-old actor said the shoot in Thailand felt more like a vacation. The director said the two were kindred spirits before they were cineastes, and exhibit great teamwork ``whether it's making a movie or selling cabbage.''
Rising star Choung Kyung-ho, 24, finally mixes lines with Jung. Before he played the part of a younger Jung in the movie ``For Eternal Hearts,'' so they never appeared in the same frame. Choung plays the role of a double bassist who helps Sunny find her husband while being continuously ripped off by their manager (Jung). The youngest in the batch, he said that the film enabled him to learn more about the Vietnam War, and that the explosions frightened him during the shoot.
``This movie is not just about a woman searching for her loving husband. Through the process she embarks on a journey of self-discovery,'' said the director. In theaters July 24. Distributed by Showbox/Mediaplex.