When popular novelist Gong Ji-young started publishing her online serial novel “Dogani” (The Crucible) in 2008, readers were shocked that it was based on a real-life story. Inspired by the mass sexual abuse at a school for hearing impaired children in Gwangju from 2000 to 2004, the novel attracted more than 16 million online readers.
The novel’s film adaptation, which stars actor Gong Yoo and actress Jung Yoo-mi, aims to once again raise awareness on the shocking real-life case in which the offenders ― the teachers of the school including its principal ― received probation and 10-month prison sentences.
|Actor Gong Yoo and actress Jung Yoo-mi pose for a photo during a press meeting promoting their upcoming film, “The Crucible,” in Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap News)|
Director Hwang Dong-hyeok, whose last film “My Father” (2007) was also based on a true story of a Korean-American adoptee, said he had to think over for a month to decide whether or not he should direct the upcoming movie.
“I was hesitant because it was a based on a true story,” Hwang told reporters during a press meeting held in Seoul, Monday.
“And ironically, I decided to go with it because it deals with a true story. It had the right reason to be told to the world.”
For actor Gong Yoo, who is still best known as the cocky yet charming cafe owner in the 2007 MBC hit drama show “Coffee Prince,” the upcoming film could very likely be a turning point in his career.
He stars as Kang In-ho, a newly-appointed art teacher at the school for hearing-impaired children. The character eventually becomes aware of the terrible physical and sexual abuse that his students have been enduring, and tries to unveil the case against his fellow teachers and superiors along with human rights activist Seo Yoo-jin (Jung Yoo-mi).
It was Gong, after all, who initiated the whole project. He read the hard copy edition of author Gong Ji-young’s novel while he was serving his military duty, as his superior gave him the book as a gift when Gong got promoted as a sergeant.
“My superior told me he thought the book would ‘suit’ my taste,” Gong told reporters.
“I was totally hooked when I read the book, and my heart was beating hard as I finished reading. During my last military vacation, I contacted author Gong and asked her if this story can ever be made into a movie.”
Often called “romantic” and “sweet,” Gong said he is not fully comfortable with the way he has been described by the media and the public.
“I think these adjectives have a lot to do with the characters I played in films and shows (more than me),” he said. “I try to focus on each and every film that I am given. I don’t plan ahead to play certain characters to be perceived in a certain way.”
Gong said that in the original novel the Kang In-ho character is portrayed as a much more ordinary, weak-kneed individual who is conflicted between his conscience and the need to financially support his daughter.
“I didn’t want to be portrayed as a hero, but the movie required some action scenes,” Gong said.
“There are scenes where my character tries to attack fellow teachers with a flowerpot and break the window in anger. And that anger was a complex one, one which contained all kinds of emotions and grudges against the world and himself. Expressing such anger was certainly challenging.”
Jung Yoo-mi, who is famous for her effortless acting style and performances in “Oki’s Movie” (2010) and “Caf Noir” (2010), said the acting itself wasn’t very difficult.
“I just had a lot of break time compared to others, and many days off,” she said. “I think that was rather challenging.”
Director Hwang said though he did not talk to any of the real-life offenders or victims, some of the extras who appear in the film in fact went to the school in Gwangju.
“Author Gong said her novel contained only the half of what actually happened, as the real case was too gruesome and terrible,” Hwang said.
“The movie ― because it contains both sound and visuals ― depicts even less than the half. But it still is shocking and powerful.”
According to the film organizers, the school principal died of cancer in 2011, while the rest of teachers continue to work at the same school.
“The Crucible” opens in theaters on Sept. 22.
By Claire Lee (email@example.com)