Saturday, January 20, 2007

Take My Breath Away,
A Kim Ki-duk Set Visit

Local journalists (even myself) were invited on Thursday to the set of Kim Ki-duk's latest film, BREATH (숨), to get an early glimpse at the movie, talk to the actors, and see how Korea's arthouse bad boy is doing these days. Around 50 of us press types showed up, despite the-less-than-stellar commercial appeal of Kim these days, confirming my general belief that it is a lot easier to be famous than successful in Korea.

Anyhow, filming is taking place at Seodaemun Prison, nestled in the narrow valley between Mount Inwang (Inwangsan) and Mount An (Ansan). The former prison closed in 1987 and has been a museum since 1992 or so, so it is a convenient site to shoot a prison story.

The story of BREATHE, as I understand it, is about a woman who falls in love with a death-row inmate. Or an inmate who falls in love with a woman at the prison. Or something like that. Said inmate is being played by the Taiwanese actor Chen Chang, known for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and THREE TIMES. Even though this is a fairly low-budget project, Kim apparently wrote the role with Chang in mind and, I was told, referred to the character in the script as "Chen" from the beginning.

These set visits are an odd bit of artifice in Korea. A horde of media types gather to watch a staged bit of fake film making, followed by a press conference where the director and actors tell you how great it is to work together, how much they have all admired each other's works, etc.

For the most part, the BREATH event followed the usual script. We crowded into the prison's narrow corridor to watch a couple of scenes. Usually the chaos of having so many journalists around means that the filming is faked, but I was told that Kim put film in the camera and wanted to use the stuff we saw. Given how Kim only has 10 days to shoot this movie (he usually really rushes his shoots), I would not be surprised.

The biggest "news" (such as it was) was watching how Kim Ki-duk interacted with the press. The man has had some well known spats with the Korean press over the years, especially last year when he bashed THE HOST (or sounded like it, anyhow), complained about how his movies are treated in Korea and threatened to stop releasing his films in Korea altogether. Kim received quite the smackdown for his little tirade (which, I am told, really chastened and upset him). For our event, though, Kim was quite polite, if a little passive-aggressive, talking repeatedly about how he considered this movie to be like an "export" into Korea (because his films tend to do better in France and Italy than here in their homeland).

Oh, and the press conference was held outside, where it was pretty darn cold, especially when you were just sitting around, not moving. My camera's batteries died before the conference began, but you can see the site below. Note, the Taegukgi flag was already hanging there, for reasons unrelated to the press conference or the movie.

On a few occasions, I have been lucky enough to actually visit actual sets when they were actually filming, which is much more interesting. I shared a bento lunch once with Kim Jee-woon and Lee Byung-hun (and producer Eugene Lee, who was kind enough to allow me to visit) on the set of A BITTERSWEET LIFE, in the basement of a well known hotel in the Cheongdam-dong area. It was remarkable for its laid-back atmosphere. The stars had side rooms set aside for them if they wanted, but for the most part, people just hung out, watching, talking. No big, private trailers for the stars to hide in.

Anyhow, big thanks to Sponge House, Cineclick Asia, Kim Ki-duk and everyone else for inviting me (us) aboard. I guess the aim is to have the movie ready for the film festivals in the spring or summer. I will save my comments/criticisms about Kim Ki-duk for then. But I hope this movie works out well for him.

1 comment:

Philip Jägenstedt said...

That's cool, I'm always very interested in Kim Ki-duks new movies. I don't what his appeal is, perhaps it's the dysfunctional and people that don't fit in. Sounds like the set for this film might make for another one of these films set basically in one place but still really enjoyable, like Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring or The Bow.