From left: Actor Byun Yo-han, director Kim Han-min and actor Park Hae-il pose after a press conference held at Lotte Cinema World Tower in Seoul on Tuesday. (Lotte Entertainment)
When creating a movie about a heroic figure central to Korean history, there is always the risk of making “gukppong” content, a usually derogatory Korean term for nationalistic works.
Director Kim Han-min, who is returning with a movie about the country‘s beloved Adm. Yi Sun-sin titled “Hansan: Rising Dragon,” said he aimed to create a motion picture that is more than just nationalism.
“I tried to portray the genuine spirit of Yi Sun-sin in the film with sincerity. I would like to define our movie as a nationalistic movie that is more than just a gukppong film,” Kim said during a press conference held at Lotte Cinema World Tower in Seoul on Tuesday.
The director added he is well aware that simply using Adm. Yi to attract more audiences can easily lead to making a movie full of cliches.
“I also am wary of creating such cliched content,” he added.
“Hansan: Rising Dragon” depicts the historical Battle of Hansan, which took place five years before the Battle of Myeongnyang Strait, a subject he explored in his previous hit “Roaring Currents” (2014).
The new film is the second in the Adm. Yi trilogy that the director aims to complete.
His first Yi movie, “Roaring Currents,” remains the most popular movie ever in Korean theaters, attracting over 17.6 million cinemagoers in a country of about 51 million people.
During the press conference, Kim noted he did not expect “Roaring Currents” to be so successful and attributed the sensation partially to the impact of the Sewol ferry disaster, which took place the year it was released.
Park Hae-il stars in “Hansan: Rising Dragon.” (Lotte Entertainment)
“The disaster happened near that sea where the movie (‘Roaring Currents’) was set, so I think watching people saving ships in the film was consolation for the audience,” Kim said. “I learned from that film how important it is to capture social implications.”
Mentioning that the second Adm. Yi film was only possible because of the first, the director also talked about differences between the two.
“The biggest difference is that when filming ‘Roaring Currents,’ I filmed using ships out on the ocean. But for ‘Hansan’ we did not,” he said.
He explained that the naval battle scenes in his new movie were shot using visual effects. For scenes shot on land, a special set was built in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province.
“It would be hard to find familiar locations that you’ve already seen in other Korean movies (in the film),” he said.
Park Hae-il, who plays Yi in his 40s, talked about how he performed his role differently from the same character in his 50s as played by Choi Min-sik in “Roaring Currents.”
“My character is different from Choi Min-sik, who showed a fierce performance like a flamethrower. My character is calmer and cool-headed with detailed strategy, thinking that it is better to be safe than sorry,” Park said.
Byun Yo-han, who plays the leader of the Japanese forces battling Yi’s forces, had to perform all the lines in the movie in Japanese.
“It was my Japanese teacher who worked so hard for the movie. Since the character speaks old Japanese, he had to do research and then teach me,” he said.
Although Park and Byun never got to meet each other on set -- they were opponents in the naval battle -- the two actors showed off the bond they formed through the project.
“In the film, it looks like we are facing each other when battling, but we filmed separately. I think I met up with Park Hae-il more often at a raw fish restaurant than at the filming site,” Byun said.
”We ate fish because we played naval officers,” Park joked.
“Hansan: Rising Dragon” hits local theaters July 27.
Byun Yo-han stars in “Hansan: Rising Dragon.” (Lotte Entertainment)