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Director of SMUGGLERS aims to balance freshness and familiarity

Jul 31, 2023
  • Source by Yonhap
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"I constantly made efforts to create different films"


Director Ryoo Seung-wan's action thrillers are known for an inventive plot, colorful characters and daring action scenes, and his new film Smugglers has it all and ventures into new territory: female-centric narratives.


Released Wednesday, Smugglers revolves around female divers who are tangled up in a high-stakes smuggling scheme, starring veteran actresses Kim Hye-soo and Yum Jung-ah. Set in a small fishing town in the 1970s, sea women, locally called "haenyeo," struggle to collect decent harvests after a chemical factory is built near the seashore, and they begin to salvage smuggled goods thrown into the sea to make money. Their risky business comes to an end when customs officers swoop in and results in tragic consequences. Years later, Chunja (Kim) and Jinsuk (Yum) reunite to retrieve diamonds thrown into the sea and take revenge on those responsible for their painful past.




Ryoo Seung-wan, director of crime action film Smugglers, is seen in this photo provided by the production company NEW. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)



During a group interview, Ryoo said he was inspired by a story of female divers who smuggled daily goods in the 1970s for a living, and took interest in creating a maritime action thriller featuring haenyeo. "While smuggling today is associated with drugs, the concept of smuggling in the 1970s was different. As the country was under strict control, daily necessities, such as food and clothes, were smuggled. I have childhood memories of seeing people trading smuggled goods in cafes," the 49-year-old Ryoo said.


Ryoo said he wrote the screenplay while having Kim and Yum in mind, and the amazing ensemble between the veteran actresses and other cast members, including Zo In-sung, Park Jung-min and Go Min-si, is worth watching. "As the story is about haenyeo, it is natural to feature female protagonists. Rather than projecting their gender identity, I focused more on friendship between the women and their twisted relationship," he said.


One of the riveting scenes was the fight scene between female divers and knife-wielding male gang members equipped with oxygen tanks in deep water where sharks lurk. To create realistic and captivating scenes, Ryoo said the filming crew asked for advice from veteran female divers and a synchronized swimming team coach. "As the women are not strong enough to match the guys on land, it seemed more realistic to have conflicts underwater as they experience water resistance instead of gravity. Although action scenes sometimes use slow motion to highlight their movements, an underwater sequence is naturally slower than on land," he said.



A scene from the crime action thriller Smugglers is seen in this photo provided by the production company NEW. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap) 



It is also fun to watch the bloody confrontation between Kwon Sang-sa (played by Zo In-sung), a merciless kingpin of a nationwide smuggling business, and Jang Do-ri (played by Park Jung-min), a sailor-turned-gangster boss in a narrow hotel alley. "I wanted to portray stylish but extreme action scenes to foreshadow a dangerous situation that awaits haenyeo," he said. "I wanted their action to be seen as very dangerous, intense and cathartic, but heads toward an unpredictable direction. I asked the martial arts director to design movements in a way that maximizes the genre's thrills."


Since his impressive debut in 1996 with Die Bad, the director has tried his hand at different genres, including The Berlin File (2013), Veteran (2015), The Battleship Island (2017) and Escape from Mogadishu (2021), and vowed to keep reinventing himself.


Ryoo said he has recently completed shooting the sequel of Veteran and begun editing, expecting it to be released in the winter season of 2024. "There is nothing as risky as relying solely on past success to achieve success again. I constantly made efforts to create different films," he said. "Balancing between familiarity and freshness is the most challenging."



By Kim Eun-jung

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