Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, September 3, 2004

Director shows human aspect of war

 •  'Tae Guk Gi' buzz

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

From his directoral debut in 1996 with "The Gingko Bed" to his 1999 hit "Shiri" to the unprecedented success of his latest film, "Tae Guk Gi," Kang Je-gyu has distinguished himself as much as an artist of conscience as a director of immense popular appeal.

Kang Je-gyu wanted to show the confusion and human reaction to the Korean War instead of the politics that sparked the conflict.

Destination Films/Samuel Goldwyn Films photo

Kang spoke with The Advertiser (with the aid of a translator) by phone from Los Angeles, where he is promoting the U.S. theatrical release of "Tae Guk Gi."

Q. Roughly a third of all adult filmgoers in South Korea watched "Tae Guk Gi." What is it about this film that resonates with such a broad cross section of the Korean population?

A. I think there were some feelings that were kept inside that were brought out in the film. I tried to portray this film differently from other films about the Korean War. The purpose was not to differentiate between left or right, or communist and democrat.

People didn't understand why the war started at the beginning. It was a very confused state. I took out the political elements and focused on the human side.

Still, people who identify and believe in the political elements of the war complained a lot.

Q. Your father was a Korean War veteran. Did his experiences influence your vision of this movie?

A. Certainly. The big picture of war is politicized. But for the individuals who served, it cannot be political. My father felt that way.

Q. Given the United States' ongoing military action in Iraq, and the war on terrorism, how do think your film will be received by the American people?

A. Even though this film portrays the Korean War as a specific event in Korean history, in general the film is talking about the tragedy of war.

I think people in the U.S. will get the message about the tragedy of war and the meaning of family that this film is about. I think this is something they can understand easily.

Q. The Korean conflict is often referred to as the "forgotten war" and it has not been broadly addressed in our popular culture. What do you think your film, told from a Korean point of view, can contribute to the American understanding of that war?

A. My personal feeling is that even though the U.S. has participated in a lot of wars, this one is different. They sent 100,000 troops to Korea, and 55,000 of them lost their lives — so this was a very significant war for the U.S. It's become a forgotten war, but hopefully, for those who died and those who came out of it, this film is an accurate portrayal.

Q. With a budget of $12 million and 25,000 extras working on the battle scenes, "Tae Guk Gi" is generally regarded as the most ambitious and most expensive Korean film ever. What was it like being at the helm of such a massive undertaking in only your third film?

A. Obviously, this was a very difficult undertaking.

First of all, the budget was big for any Korean film. There were a lot of battle scenes, and a lot of people were injured early on. There were constant location shots, so we were battling the weather elements — cold, wind and heat. During the shooting, a typhoon blew the set away and we had to rebuild it.

Q. What was it like working with Jang Dong-gun and Won Bin, two established stars known more for their romantic roles?

A. The film had a huge budget and we needed name stars that were were recognizable even outside of Korea. I was not sure if they could pull off the military aspect, but they are known for their acting ability and I felt I could work with them.

Q. Any final thoughts?

A. The world is in a terrorism phase. Terrorism is a violent activity that can be seen as a kind of war. Hopefully, people will watch this film, understand the casualties of war, and see that this is something we should not get into.