From left, Choi Seung-hyun (T.O.P.), Kwon Sang-woo, Kim Seung-woo and Cha Seung-won in the poster for the Korean War (1950-53) movie ``71-Into the Gunfire,'' which is due in theaters in mid-June in the time for the 60th anniversary of the conflict. The film was inspired by the true story of 71 South Korean boy soldiers who fought against the North Korean armed forces. / Courtesy of Lotte Entertainment
By Lee Hyo-won, Han Sang-hee
The Korean War (1950-53) has unfortunately been dubbed ``The Forgotten War'' overseas, but for Koreans the deep scar it left behind is still sorely felt. In time for the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict, domestic movies and television series are zooming in on the human tragedy to provide drama, action and some history lessons.
Currently showing in theaters or due for release are films highlighting specific incidents during wartime and its aftermath.
Released last month, ``A Little Pond'' sheds light upon the No Gun Ri massacre, in which American soldiers shot to death South Korean refugees in Nogun-ri, North Chungcheong Province, in July 1950.
Reports of the number of casualty varies, ranging between 150, according to a South Korean military report, to 400, as cited by the Associated Press, and in 2001 then-U.S. President Bill Clinton issued a statement of regret.
The film brings together big names in the local theater and screen industries, such as Moon Sung-keun and Shin Myoung-cheol, and top movie stars Song Kang-ho, Moon So-ri and Yu Hae-jin make special appearances.
New in theaters is ``Daehan Minguk Il Peosenteu'' (Republic of Korea 1 Percent). Though set in modern times, the marine story serves as a reminder of the fact that the Korean Peninsula embodies the remnants of the Cold War ― it remains divided and still technically at war since a peace treaty with North Korea was never signed. And so, South Korean men are drafted for mandatory military service and the Marine Corps is reputed as being the toughest branch of the armed forces.
The movie takes an up-close and personal account of local marine life with a touch of ``G.I. Jane,'' as Lee Ah-i stars as the first woman to pass training in first place and struggles to lead her teammates. It's about bonding over sweat and tears, and the actors actually underwent some excruciating training sessions.
The film bears more significance as some 46 sailors recently lost their lives in the tragic sinking of the naval vessel Cheonan, and that it is being released posthumously for its late director Cho Myung-nam.
In time for the June 25 anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War comes one of the summer's much anticipated blockbusters ``71-Into the Fire.'' The star-studded cast includes member of the K-pop group Big Bang T.O.P, also known as Choi Seung-hyun, hallyu star Kwon Sang-woo, popular screen personality Kim Seung-woo and model-turned-actor Cha Seung-won.
The 11.3 billion won ($8 million) production is based on the true story of 71 teenagers who were drafted as boy soldiers to ward off North Korean forces at the Nakdong River border in August 1950.
``The Korean War is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century,'' director John H. Lee told reporters in Seoul, Monday. ``It marks the separation of a people, of family and friends. North Koreans are first and foremost people and even though the North and South were fighting conflicting ideologies, I wanted to show the human side of everyone.''
When asked about how he feels about the influx of projects about the Korean War, Lee said that his film stands apart in that it will be released in time for June 25. ``The cast is great,'' he said. ``But moreover I wanted to show war as it is, in a transparent manner, without drawing a special line.''
The film is making headlines for casting T.O.P in the lead role. ``The movie brims with humanism, and dared me to crave the part. It made someone from the young generation like myself think about the honorable sacrifice,'' the 22-year-old said shyly.
``It was a great honor to be a part of this project. Everyday was like a journey in a learning playground,'' he said. Kim Seung-woo, who co-starred with the singer in his acting debut piece, ``Iris,'' complimented the younger star.
``The audience will be beyond impressed (by his performance). When Seung-hyun (T.O.P) was shooting `Iris' he had no experience and had to play a rather stilted character, so it made onlookers feel uncomfortable. But this time, he really lived and breathed the part as he stayed in character during the course of the production… It made me wonder how I would have acted when I was his age.''
Kwon, who returns as a married father, wears a high school uniform alongside T.O.P at the age of 33. ``I was almost not cast for the role because of my age,'' he said.
``Sang-woo is closer to me and Cha Seung-won in terms of age so we were a bit worried, but when we previewed the film he actually looks younger than (T.O.P). Besides, movies starring Sang-woo in a school uniform all did well in the box office,'' said Kim.
``I think I have matured in many ways during the past two years, including the way I look at scripts. There are scripts that don't leave your mind. I have great confidence in our movie; after the sinking of the Cheonan, I looked at the pictures of each and every one of the late marines, and read the articles. It made me cry, and I think it's because we are South Korean. Though the movie is a bit different I think we can all sympathize with the situation,'' said Kwon.
Cha, who plays the role of a coldhearted North Korean soldier, said ``It's the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. It's a great honor to take part of this movie, and I hope that the drama speaks to the audience.'' The film is slated for release mid-June. Distributed by Lotte Entertainment.
MBC and KBS have emotional and exhilarating tales about the Korean War coming next month.
MBC's ``Road No. 1'' offers a star-studded cast featuring So Ji-seop, Kim Ha-neul and singer-turned-actor Yoon Kye-sang. But the broadcaster's emphasis is on the storyline and backdrop.
``The drama is about friendship, comrades and a love story that spans over 60 years,'' the broadcaster said through a press release.
The drama focuses on the relationships between Lee Jang-woo (played by So), Shin Tae-ho (played by Yoon) and Kim Soo-yeon (played by Kim) its three main characters. Lee and Kim are in love, but the Korean War tears them apart. Lee promises his love to Kim and spends every day in combat thinking of her. Meanwhile, Kim spends her time helping injured soldiers as a doctor, and eventually bumps into the handsome and generous officer Shin. Kim, who believes that Lee had died in combat, finally decides to leave the past behind her and marry Shin. When Shin is sent to war in a command role, he discovers that Lee is not only alive, but is in fact counting the days until he can return home and reunite with his lover. The war may have caused a heartbreaking and uncomfortable situation, but it's what actually ties the three characters together.
``Road No. 1'' will finish filming right before the actual airing, which is scheduled for June.
Filming started early this year in January, with the crew searching for perfect spots for marching, explosions and combat scenes all over Gangwon Province. In order to bring real and raw footage of soldiers in combat, the crew had to go very deep into the mountains. The grueling winter weather didn't help either.
``There's nothing really to say but `it was freezing.' We tried so many different things to get warm, but it was just too cold,'' So said. Aside from the weather, So added that looking at the photos and papers regarding the war of six decades ago motivated him to do his best.
As for her role, Kim Ha-neul said, ``She's not just a character, but she represents all the women who had to go through the sad, difficult times of war."
The drama had a 13 billion won budget and is expected to remind older generations of the hope that remained amid the treacherous times in Korean history while the younger generations can reflect on the hardships that their parents and the country experienced.
Alongside MBC's ``Road No.1,'' KBS is presenting ``Comrade'' (working title), a remake of the popular television soap that aired in 1975.
The 20-episode series stars veteran actor Choi Su-jong, who will play a South Korean commander who finds out that his girlfriend has defected to North Korea and became a commissioned officer in its army.
``We are hoping to bring the message of anti-war and peace through the sacrifice made by so many soldiers,'' producer Kim Hyeong-il said.
The original version of the drama was a big hit in the 1970s, starring actor La Shi-chan. The actor unfortunately passed away in the middle of filming and fellow actor Song Jae-ho had to wrap up the hit series. Another version of the series was aired in 1983.
``Instead of focusing on the ideologies of South and North Korea, the drama will be about ordinary people who had to go through the war, similar to the U.S. series `Band of the Brothers' or the film `Saving Private Ryan,''' Kim added.
With a budget of 8 billion won, ``Comrade'' will also start airing next month.