By Shim Sun-ah
SEOUL, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) — From “Assassination” (2015) to “The Battleship Island” (2017), films about heroes and victims of the Japanese colonial era are booming in Korea in recent years.
The latest in the trend is “Captain Kim Chang-soo” (English title pending), based on the real-life story of Kim Koo, a prominent independence fighter and nationalist politician.
Kim, whose real name is Kim Chang-soo, led the provisional government in exile in Shanghai from 1940 until the country’s liberation at the end of World War II. Korea was occupied by Japan from 1910 to 1945.
The film written and directed by Lee Won-tae depicts the story of the young Kim who is sent to prison after killing a Japanese assassin of Korea’s Empress Myeongseong in 1896. From there, he witnesses the persecution of his fellow countrymen and begins his lifelong fight for independence.
Why did the filmmaker choose to use Kim’s less known original name rather than his famous rechristened name?
“When we recall the greats of history, there is a stereotype that everyone has in their mind. Kim was a premier of the provisional government of the Republic of Korea, but I thought there are lots of things that we do not know because of this typical knowledge,” Lee said during a news conference for the film at a Seoul theater on Tuesday.
“I think even though the shining moments of the greats are important, we also should know the time of suffering and darkness that they had experienced before the shining moments came. Not all greats suddenly become great.”
He recommended audiences to see it as a coming-of-age story of a plain young man rather than the story of Kim Koo.
Cho Jin-woong, who plays the title role, said he initially rejected the director’s offer to work with him, feeling that acting as one of the most respected heroes from Korean history was too difficult. But the story’s message that even a low-born and common person can become a hero slowly moved his mind, he said.
“I wanted to express a bit of the painful history, but I couldn’t handle one 10-millionth of it. Compared to the real story, we shot the film in a comfortable environment. In fact, I felt even imagining (Kim’s ordeals) was so sinful,” said the actor. “I desperately wanted to meet him for just a little while.”
Actor Song Seung-heon, one of the leading stars of “hallyu,” or the Korean pop culture craze worldwide, played a villain for the first time in his acting career spanning over 20 years.
His character is Kang Hyeong-sik, a cruel and cold-hearted Korean prison director who treats his fellow countrymen harshly for his own gain.
Song said before going into shooting, he only really had one question, and that was how to beat other actors “well” without actually hurting them.
“In fact, it’s not easy to actually beat grown-ups. So I was very nervous before shooting such scenes,” he said, smiling.
The film opens in local theaters on Oct. 19.