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Trust is the Power, CEO Kil Youngmin of JK FILM That Produced Hero

Dec 20, 2022
  • Writerby KIM Subin
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"Even if there is a restriction, we must do our best in it"

 


 

The Korean film, Hero, which will mark the end of the year, follows the true story of Ahn Junggeun, a Korean-independence activist and commander of the Korean righteous army. The film depicts the time when he leaves his family with the firm resolution of Korean independence, carries out a great revolt, and sacrifices his life for his country. It is also a musical film that has moved every number of Hero, a creative musical that premiered in 2009, to the screen one by one. Actor Chung Sunghwa, the symbol of the musical, plays and sings Ahn Junggeun, a hero and young man fighting for the independence of his country while Actor Na Moonhee plays and sings his strong mother, Jo Maria. Let's talk about the film, Hero, with Kil Youngmin, the producer of the film and CEO of JK FILM, who has produced Korean blockbusters, including Haeundae, Ode to My Father, the Confidential Assignment series, Keys to the Heart, etc. 

 


 

- Due to the Pandemic, it would not have been easy for you to set the release date of Hero. What did you consider most when you decided the date? 

= Shooting Hero was done in December 2019. We planned to release it in August 2020 on the National Liberation Day of Korea, but it was delayed for more than two years due to COVID-19. Hoping that the situation would get better, we waited for 6 months from the point and then a few months more, and after being delayed more than 1 year, we gave up going back to normal at some point. However, everybody in the movie industry must have thought that we needed to set a good date to release under the harsh situation. There was no special reason for setting the release date as it is now. Our first plan was to release the film in August 2020, and more than 2 years have passed since then, so we thought we shouldn't delay it any longer. At the end of the year, Avatar: The Way of Water was planned to be released, which is a gigantic rival, but such big rivals have been around us all the time. That's why we decided to release Hero this winter without delaying any further.

 

- Confidential Assignment 2: International was released during the Chuseok Holiday, attracting nearly 7 million viewers and achieving as much box office success as the previous episode. What kind of reaction did you expect while preparing for the release? 

= I can only thank the audience. Somehow, Confidential Assignment 2: International became the sole winner that monopolized the theater district around that time. Usually, when we hold a distribution preview, we can get analysis materials using existing data. The data expected about 6 million viewers for the film but we could attract some more viewers than that. Also, the screening period has been a little longer these days. Top Gun: Maverick also could have 1 million or 2 million viewers more at the end of the screening period as it went on for a long time. So I think our film was also loved for a longer time than I expected.

From the perspective of filmmakers, we want a lot of people to come to the theater. However, from the perspective of marketing strategies, attracting audiences who want to watch other movies to our movie is totally different from drawing people who don't watch movies at all to come to watch our movie. It's harder to attract the audience as a sole winner without any pacemakers in the theater district. I think it's much better when the theater district is crowded with audiences who have many choices to watch. So, I sometimes think Confidential Assignment 2: International could have a long run if there were more audiences in the theater during the season.

 

- In that respect, the marketing strategy for Hero seems to be slightly different. Is it close to a marketing strategy that encourages audiences to watch your movie as well as the other new films, including Avatar: The Way of Water

= I hope both Hero and Avatar: The Way of Water can be successful. It is said that Avatar: The Way of Water is such a well-made work, and I also remember watching the first episode while being surprised and kept saying, "Oh, there is such a thing in the world." I hope Avatar: The Way of Water can pave the road to attract a lot of audience to the theater first so that both films can do well as buddies running together. We call it the 'Double Pacemakers.' In the past, the best seasons for theaters were usually in-between the end of the year and the beginning of the new year, the end of July and the beginning of August, etc. At that time, the environment was mature enough for the two movies to maintain their box-office success together. I still hope it can happen again in the future. However, some audiences will think that they can watch two movies at the end of the year, while others think they afford to watch only one film because the movie ticket price has gone up. In that case, we have to fight to be the audience's first choice. The situation in the theater district is different every time, and it is changing now.

 


 

- Did COVID-19 cause any difficulties in shooting the film overseas or making you stop filming it at the filming site? 

= Luckily, we didn't have such difficulties caused by the Pandemic. We filmed Hero in Latvia before the outbreak of COVID-19. However, the location was replaced by CG in line with the Pandemic. At the beginning of Confidential Assignment 2: International, there comes a scene in the backdrop of New York. Originally, we were planning to go to places in Canada or New Zealand to film the scene because the concept of the scene was an FBI branch office in a quiet and remote place in the countryside or a mountain. However, since we couldn't go there, we made the background using CG. Then again, since we had to go with CG anyway, we said, "Why don't we change the background to New York?" We completed the film according to the Pandemic situation because we had restrictions. My idea is that if we have an inevitable situation, we should do our best in it to get the result we want.

 

- Tell us the reason you decided to make the musical Hero into a movie.  

= Chung Sunghwa is a representative actor who makes 'Sold Out' in the musical world. And he also wanted to appear in movies. So, he actively participated in movies, regardless of supporting roles or villain characters. In Dancing Queen we produced, the actor played a friend of Jungmin's (Hwang Jungmin). After the film was released, Actor Chung Sunghwa invited me to his musical, Hero, and I went to watch it with Director JK Youn and Director Lee Seokhoon. I got the impression that the musical has very profound stories. Watching the story of Ms. Jo Maria, I cried. I really liked the musical numbers, too. At that time, Hero was a musical that had been performing for more than 10 years. Later, I met Yoon Hojin, CEO of the theater company, and talked about making the musical into a film. However, there were many concerns about the genre of musical movies. Musical movies have rarely been successful in Korea, and there was also the question of who would make the film version. While hesitating, we were busy making other movies, and the project seemed to be forgotten. Then, one day, Director JK Youn brought it out that had been in oblivion. It happened around 2017, and I said, "Let's give it a try." We prepared for it for 2 years from 2017 to 2018, and finally, the filming began in 2019. I felt that the genre itself was a kind of challenge.

 

- Was turning the musical Hero into a movie intact your first goal? 

= That's right. Our top priority was making the musical Hero match the characteristics of the movie frame successfully. Instead of reinterpreting the musical Hero or borrowing some concepts from it partially, we planned to make the whole musical into a movie. So we used all of the musical numbers in the movie. In the musical, there is a famous scene in which a Japanese policeman named Wada chases Ahn Junggeun. The scene creates tension by going up and down in a limited space without grand music or songs. We went to Vladivostok to film the scene to show it in a realistic way but other scenes in the movie were filmed using stages, lighting effects, etc. for cinematic expression.

 


 

- It seems that you tried to revive the individuality of the movie media by moving the cameras actively. 

= Director JK Youn and I talked about the part a lot because the director's key task is to turn the script into the movie. The director considered a lot about the camera because famous musical films, such as Les Miserables, Aladdin, and La La Land, took close shots of the actors while they were singing. They do that to show the facial expressions that convey the characters' feelings. However, I thought it might be a little boring if we did that in our movie. Also, if we divided or edited shots like a regular movie, I thought the emotions couldn't be conveyed properly. The audience can't see the actors' mouths and doesn't know if they're lip-syncing or actually singing. That's why we used a lot of long takes. I think we found a way to convey the characters' feelings without making the audience get bored. Since we had a lot of time after finishing the shooting, we could do additional shooting or re-shooting and use new equipment to improve the movie. That's why the post-production stage was a lot longer than other films. For example, when we came up with the idea of trying live music, we just tried it. Since the live performance has to be sung on the spot, the pitch and beat may be slightly out of tune, and the music can be less perfect, but the emotions can be delivered so realistically. We were able to overcome so many worries by repeating trials and errors.

 

- Tell us the background you cast Actor Chung Sunghwa. 

= Director JK Youn and I often said that Actor Chung Sunghwa would be the only one who could play the character. It's because the actor and the character are meant to be together. There are so many movie actors who can sing well but when playing Ahn Junggeun character in the movie Hero, they have to be compared with Actor Chung Sunghwa of the musical version. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to be superior or no less than his singing skills, so will there be anyone who can be confident enough to play the character? Moreover, the character is not just an ordinary man but Ahn Junggeun, a hero. I don't think it would be easy for me to choose the character because of the burden if I were in that position. I thought it would be very different persuading an actor who seemed to be able to sing and act for the role from casting THE actor who has lived acting Ahn Junggeun for 10 years. We had no other choice but to cast Actor Chung Sunghwa in the situation. The actor also said that he poured his soul and mind into the work when he greeted the audience on the stage.

 

- Director JK Youn and you have run JK FILM together since the early 2000s. Did you in sync with him as the producer and the director from the beginning? 

= We've been friends since middle school, so we can communicate with each other very well. Usually, some matters make a director and a producer feel uncomfortable or there can be some difficulties between them. It's because the director has to extract the best picture in the process of turning the script into a video, while the producer should not only pay attention to the budget but also follow the flow of the market. From that point, we can have a difference in perspective, but Director JK Youn and I can communicate well with each other.

 


 

- Can you pick one film that became the turning point of JK FILM? 

= I think Haeundae is the turning point that changed the company a lot. We also changed the name of our company from 'Dusaboo Film' to 'JK FILM' around that time and the color and identity of the company changed, too. Frankly, nobody expected the huge success of Haeundae. At that time, we were making two movies, including Harmony, and we even talked about closing the office and renting a cheap studio in case both of the films failed, bearing 1 more year for the last time. So, Haeundae is the savior that created an inflection point for us.

 

- What kind of work are you working on now? 

= I'm preparing a series of romantic comedies, and we also bought the copyright of a Japanese movie. I am planning two or three movies and two or three TV series. Just like the case of My Dear Desperado, I'm also thinking about changing the media using our existing IP. In addition, after the M&A with CJ ENM, we're frequently collaborating in many areas. JK FILM is operated as a separate corporation, but such collaboration is helpful when we make global OTT series and when we use its IP.

 

- Is Dog Days (working title) the first JK FILM movie we can meet after Hero? It's said the movie is about people connected through their pet dogs. 

= Yes, this movie is almost complete, but I'm thinking about when it'll be released because it's a seasonal movie. Since the Christmas season is the background of the film, you should watch it when the weather is cold. I think it will be released in the second half of next year or at an appropriate time. 

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