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No Gun Ri film fails to impress


After nine years in the making, "A Little Pond" - the film that portrays the events around the No Gun Ri Massacre during the Korean War - is finally ready to roll out in theaters nationwide.
The film had its first official press screening at the CGV Wangsimni in Seoul on Thursday to a packed house of reporters, critics and photographers.
It was a testament to the interest surrounding the infamous No Gun Ri Massacre - which rocked the nation in 1999 when a trio of Associated Press reporters headed by Choe Sang-hun uncovered the Korean War atrocity.
The production had been widely publicized as a labor of love, with most of the headlining actors forgoing pay to offset its lack of funding.
The film stars some of Korea`s most acclaimed acting talent, including film and theater veterans Moon Seung-keun, Kang Shin-il, Kim Roe-ha, Song Gang-ho, Moon So-ri and Yu Hae-jin.
But the film that required so much time, effort and passion got a lukewarm response from the local press and movie critics.
The post-screening Q&A session with the cast and director was an awkward affair. Reporters who were clearly unimpressed with the film were reluctant to ask critical questions out of respect for the subject matter.
Executive Producer Lee Woo-jung, who championed the project from day one, looked as though he had already lost confidence in the box office potential of the film.
"The most important factor for an investor is to recoup his money and maybe make a profit, but Director Lee Sang-woo wrote the script that went in a direction that made investors shy away from committing to the project," he said.
"And the conclusion we came to was that, realistically, there was no way we could appeal to investors` interest without compromising the integrity of the story."
From the pre-production phase to post-production, the film faced hurdle after hurdle.
Budgetary issues posed headaches for the production team as they tried to properly hash out the logistics of filming a key scene - the massacre.
"The massacre scene and the `50s era village setting were all done with CGI," he said.
"We couldn`t focus all of our attention on this aspect of our film, which slowed down the production longer than expected.
"We are a bit disappointed with a few scenes here and there."
It also didn`t help that the subject matter was viewed by investors as "unsellable" and "too controversial" for it to have any chance at box office success.
"In order to get the 40 billion won we needed for the film`s budget, we decided instead of trying to persuade them, we would find ways to curb costs such as getting the cast to agree to act in the film without pay," he said.
"I didn`t want to hear from people that the film didn`t look polished enough because of a lack of funds. Our thought was that we were not going to make a film that looked rough and unpolished."
On the film`s title, Lee says it holds "no particular meaning."
It is based on a famous song by Kim Min-ki which he felt had relevance to the tragedy.
The screening that day wasn`t the first time it was played to the public.
Last year, the long delayed film premiered in competition at the Pusan International Film Festival but failed to gain much buzz.
The film ultimately went home empty handed, but more worrisome was the lack of interest from both local and overseas distributors.
The cast and crew of the low-budget film should, however, take solace in the fact their passion will finally be released April 15.
"I did my best with this film and I hope the families of the victims and survivors of the tragedy will be consoled by it," said the film`s writer-director Lee Sang-woo.

By Song Woong-ki

Korea Herald daum