Joseon era (1392-1910), $17 million, star-studded casts and historical films are some of the defining words of the Korean film industry for the summer of 2014.
It is no coincidence that three large-scale period movies will open in theaters in July and August, only weeks apart from each other. “Kundo: Age of the Rampant” will be the first to open on July 23, followed by “Roaring Currents” on July 30 and then “The Pirates” on Aug. 6. These films are part of the box-office trend in which historical films are a summer blockbuster staple in Korea.
The three films have many characteristics in common. For each, gargantuan amounts of money, ranging from $13 million (“The Pirates”) to $17 million (“Roaring Currents”), were spent on production. This amount may seems trivial in a Hollywood context, where “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” topped the list of most expensive movies with $300 million in 2007. However, in the Korean context, a movie costing $17 million falls in the top 10.
Also, the films are all set in the Joseon era.
“Joseon is the closest era to modern Korea today, extending to the current generation,” said Jeon Chan-il, a film critic. “Historical films don’t just remain history, but they transcend time and speak to the people of today. That makes the historical film genre more attractive, and stories on Joseon all the more compelling because of its proximity to us in time when compared to other eras.”
It was not long ago that the genre of historical films began yielding box-office hits. In 2011, “War of the Arrows,” a period movie which came after a long hiatus following 2005’s “The King and the Clown,” marked the beginning of the historical film craze. “War of the Arrows” was the highest-grossing Korean film of the year with a total of 7.5 million viewers. In 2012, “Masquerade” attracted 12.3 million viewers, and last year the “The Face Reader” drew 9.1 million viewers.
Following this trend, the three upcoming historical films have created much hype and anticipation. Whether their race will turn out to be a “win-win” or “survival of the fittest” match remains to be seen.
“Kundo: Age of the Rampant.” (Showbox/Mediaplex)
‘Kundo: Age of the Rampant’
“Kundo: Age of the Rampant” is directed by Yoon Jong-bin and his favorite actor, Ha Jung-woo (“Love Fiction,” “The Chaser”), also known as Yoon’s persona in their past three films together. As Yoon and Ha have enjoyed stardom with their collaborations, “Kundo” will serve as a test of whether the pair is able to achieve more success.
“Kundo” is set in mid-19th century Joseon, in the 13th year of King Cheoljong’s reign. Dol Moo-chi, played by Ha, is a butcher representing the lower class of the caste system at the time, who stands up against the raging corruption and exploitation of the ruling class. Dol is angered by the unceasing oppression, which provokes him to organize a group of bandits named Kundo to fight for the oppressed.
In this Robin Hood-type story, heartthrob Gang Dong-won joins the cast to play Jo-yoon, a nobleman’s son who fights against Dol.
“Roaring Currents.” (CJ Entertainment)
“Roaring Currents” is directed by Kim Han-min, following his recent success with the historical action film “War of the Arrows.” Choi Min-sik (“Oldboy,” “I Saw the Devil”) stars in the film as one of the most revered admirals in Korean history, Yi Sun-sin.
The film tell the story of the historical Battle of Myeongryang during the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598), in which Adm. Yi used strategy to destroy 133 Japanese warships with only 12 ships under his command. This battle is regarded as one of Yi’s greatest victories.
“Roaring Currents” has already caught people’s eyes with the story of Yi Sun-sin and scenes that are filmed at the actual battle site. Iconic actor Ryu Seung-ryong (“Miracle in Cell No. 7,” “All About My Wife”) joins as Gurujima, the Japanese admiral who fights the epic battle against Yi.
"The Pirates" (Lotte Entertainmet)
Popular actress Son Ye-jin (“A Moment to Remember,” “My Wife Got Married”) and Kim Nam-gil (“Queen Seondeok,” “Bad Guy”) reunite following the recent TV drama “Shark” in which they played a couple. In “The Pirates,” they meet as rivals.
The film, directed by Lee Seok-hoon (“Dancing Queen”), takes place on a pirate ship, centering on the story of a royal seal that went missing during the Joseon era. Based on the true story of the missing seal, the movie fuses history and imagination in recounting the search for the artifact.
The movie features two groups, one of pirates, headed by Yeo-wol (Son Ye-jin) and the other of bandits, headed by Jang Sa-jung (Kim Nam-gil), who desperately try to hunt for a whale that swallowed the seal.
Ahead of the three releases, attention is being focused on which will draw the largest number of viewers.
“It’s hard to say which film will win the race, but if we look at past box-office patterns, we will get the best win-win outcome when two films compete with one another,” Jeon added. “Because they can complement each other. But when it comes to three films, it is not too easy for all of them to be successful. One of them will be more of a hit than another, and the other will be less of a hit.
“It’s a matter to be determined more by the quality of the movie with elements of fun and not that serious of a plot,” he said.
As a fierce ticket war will begin in theaters this summer, audiences will face a wide array of film choices. The end of the summer, will show which actors, directors and major distributing agencies will smile in the end.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com)