By Won Ho-jung
Choi Dong-hoon, the director of “Assassination,” is no stranger to big box-office success.
The 44-year-old film auteur, who has become this year’s first Korean director to attract over 10 million viewers with the historical action flick, already topped the 10 million mark once before in 2012 with the caper film “The Thieves.”
Crimes and schemes have been Choi’s trademark and forte since his 2004 directorial debut with “The Big Swindle,” which brought him almost every major award for director and screenplay at the end of that year.
With an airtight plot about a group of grifters and hustlers who steal from the Bank of Korea with realistic and savvy dialogues, the heist film was not only critically acclaimed but also was a commercial hit, bringing in over 2 million moviegoers according to KOBIS, the Korean Film Council’s box office tracking service.
As it turns out, that was just the warm-up. Choi’s sophomore film “Tazza: The High Rollers” in 2006 made him a household name with its colorful and dynamic portrayal of Korea’s card gambling underworld. With nearly 6 million seats filled, it was an unequivocal hit. The movie won him top honors at the prestigious Baeksang Arts Awards that year.
The 2010 fantasy action movie “Woochi” took Choi’s filmography to a new direction. Starring the wide-eyed Kang Dong-won as a mythical hero chasing down goblins, the film was lauded as Korea’s answers to superhero blockbusters. “Woochi” brought in over 6 million viewers, marking another milestone for Choi.
In 2012 came “Thieves,” the star-studded caper film that left Choi’s mark on the Korean cinema history.
With its cast including Jun Ji-hyun, Kim Hye-soo, Kim Yun-seok, Lee Jung-jae and Kim Soo-hyun, Choi spun a tale of the masters of the underworld teaming up to steal a precious diamond in Macau. Choi’s strong characters, crisp dialogues and well-planned action sequences made the film the must-see of the year, eventually attracting nearly 13 million people to theaters.
Although many people compare “Assassination” to “The Thieves” because of its strong ensemble (including Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-jae from “The Thieves”) and grand-scheme storyline, Choi told the press ahead of the film’s release that “Assassination” was a new stylistic attempt.
“I wanted it to be different from ‘The Thieves,’” he said.
“I wanted to take out the cheerful, lively and skill-focused aspects and make it more classic.”
Although “Assassination” has strong dialogues, he said the characters were designed to be more reserved.
“While the personality of each character was revealed quickly in ‘The Thieves,’ in (“Assassination”) I wanted it to be slower, to make the audience understand the characters bit by bit.”
“Assassination” ― about a group of freedom fighters targeting Japanese and pro-Japanese officials in the 1930s during Japan’s imperial rule of the Korean peninsula ― hit the 10 million mark in ticket sales on the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day on Aug. 15.
It became the 12th Korean movie to hit the milestone, according to KOBIS.