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Actor Cha Seung-won plays Joseon era cartographer in new film

One of the most famous maps in Korean history is the 1861 Daedongyeojido, meaning “the great map of the east land.”

Measuring 6.7 by 3.8 meters and depicting the entire Korean Peninsula, it has long been lauded by historians for being astonishingly accurate, detailed and advanced for its time.

In “The Map Against the World,” a new historical drama flick set for release on Sept. 7, actor Cha Seung-won takes up the role of Kim Jeong-ho, a late Joseon era geographer, cartographer and maker of the highly esteemed map.

Actor Cha tried to focus on the character’s inner thoughts, tenacity and “human aspects,” he told reporters after a press screening of the film in Seoul on Tuesday. He added that the role had been an “incredible burden.”

“I think there are more downsides than upsides to playing a famous historical figure,” said Cha. “There’s no way to portray that greatness.”

The movie is based on historical documents, and traces Kim’s obsession with maps and his family members’ resulting frustration. Another major plot point is the conflict between Kim, who wishes to distribute the map to the public, and persecution from government officials who seek to confiscate the map, defining it as a classified document.

Actor Cha Seung-won smiles at a press conference for the film “The Map Against the World” in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Actor Cha Seung-won smiles at a press conference for the film “The Map Against the World” in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The film’s director Kang Woo-suk had been torn over whether to take on the project.

“After months of thinking, I decided I would regret it if I didn’t do (the film),” he said. “But I started to regret it immediately after I started.”

Award-winning director Kang rose to prominence with films like “Two Cops” (1993), “Public Enemy” (2002), “Silmido” (2003) and “Moss” (2010).

Kang asked that the audience view the film with “affection for the production staff’s hard work” just as “teachers don’t chastise students who have worked hard but end up getting poor results in an exam.”

The filming crew received permission from the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea to film the map’s original wooden printing blocks at the National Museum of Korea, Kang said.

“It was more moving than any drama scene I’ve shot,” said Kang. “I was in awe at how one person could have made all this.”

Kang expressed hopes for the film’s educational impact.

“If students can understand the map’s greatness and (Kim’s) philosophy through this movie, I think it will be very meaningful.”

The historical film also stars actors Yoo Joon-sang, Kim In-kwon and actresses Nam Ji-hyun and Shin Dong-mi.

By Rumy Doo (