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Ko - production in Busan
  • They Were There! In Gukje Market
  • Nov 28, 2014
  • They Were There! In Gukje Market.
    If I don’t make it back, we’ll meet in Gukje Market!
    Go on! Take good care of our family!

    In December 1950, many people evacuated in the wake of an attack by the Chinese Red Army from Hungnam, South Hamgyong to Busan. Among them, there was a 12-year-old boy named Duk-soo. Over 60 years after settling in Gukje Market, he is now an old man aged 75. During the chaotic Hungnam evacuation, Duk-soo lost his youngest sister, and his father went to look for her, so he became separated from him. He still keeps his father’s last words, said to him before he left, while holding his hands. “If I don’t come back to you, we will meet at Gukje Market! So, take good care of our family!” While waiting for his father and missing younger sister, Duk-soo, a child head of the household, worked hard for his family: as a miner in West Germany, as a voluntary soldier in the Vietnam War. In this way, he lived through the painful modern history of Korea with every fiber of his body.
    A ‘Busan film’ as described by Director JK YOUN

    The director of the film Ode to My Father, JK YOUN originated from the city of Busan, and his filmography consists of six feature-length films. He can be considered one of the leading filmmakers in Korea. In fact, his two most recent feature films Haeundae in 2009 (11.3 million admissions) and Miracle on 1st Street in 2007 (2.8 million admissions) were shot in Busan. Ode to My Father has been in the planning stages for 7 to 8 years; he wanted to depict a story about our father’s generation, recalling their effort and self-sacrifice, with a humorous and moving touch. Most of the film was shot in Busan except for some overseas filming, thus all attention is focused on Busan.
    The film shot for 49 days in Busan from September 3 to December 10, 2013, and the main locations were the following: Gukje Market, Jagalchi Market, Dadaepo Beach, Gamcheon Port, Gijang Pottery Village, Busan Yachting Center, the Korean-style house in Gijang Seoburi, Busan Cinema Complex, Busan Commodore Hotel, the residential area in Chojangdong and Yongdusan Park.
    There is one thing that we should remark on regarding the employment system, in that contracts were signed with the following conditions: that the entire crew received the four major types of insurance including the National Pension, Health Insurance, Unemployment Insurance and Occupational Health and Safety Insurance, plus they were paid according to the number of shooting days. Henceforward, this employment system might become standard usage, and then if it is well applied to the Korean film industry, it will help support many competent crewmembers. Therefore, in the end, it will make for strong human infrastructure in the Korean film industry.
    60 years of Gukje Market

    On February 26, 2013 we received an application letter for location support from the Ode to My Father film production team. The most important location in their request was Gukje Market in Busan where the main character Duk-soo settled down after the evacuation and lived his new life from the 1950s to the 1980s. To reenact this atmosphere and the movie set, 3000 square meters of space was needed for 6 months of time, otherwise, the production team would not be able to set up its base camp in Busan. For this reason, we researched the appearance of the 1950s’ Gukje Market. We might describe it in the following way.
    Gukje Market was prepared as an evacuation area in case of the US armed forces’ bombing during the Japanese colonial rule in World War II, and after liberation, this place became a 10,000 square meter empty lot. However, this huge empty space turned into a flea market for the Japanese where they sold their belongings to make some cash. Right after the liberation, Gukje Market was called Dotdaegi Market. The name originated from the Japanese verb ‘’(Dotda) meaning a scramble between merchants for buying more stuff in the market: the place for doing ‘Dotda.’ It also used to be called ‘Dotda Market,’ which has more Japanese color. The products sold at Gukje Market at that time were mostly from the American Army base, including about 60 different kinds of goods like t-shirts, clothes, canned foods, mechanical components, fruits and vegetables, grains and general goods. The daily business volume averaged 50 million won, and the average number of visitors was 25,000 people.
    The production company gave us a notice that they had an outdoor set in Jeonju city as an alternative, in case of emergency, even though the film is about Busan. The Busan Film Commission, as a forerunner in supporting location work, could not let that happen due to a lack of space in Busan. So we started looking for a place. First of all, we contacted the Gangseo Industrial Complex site which has the most spacious flatland, and then to the Youngdo Dongsam Innovation Area and to East Busan Tourist Complex which has the largest spot of reclaimed land. However, these were not available because they were still under construction or already parceled out.
    While we were busy looking for a site, we introduced a villa resort land in the East Busan Tourist Complex to the production team. At that time, Director YOUN was on a business trip to Germany for location hunting, therefore we communicated by sending pictures and exchanging phone calls. After receiving his consent on this site, we preceded with administrative works. However, when we were about to finish the business procedure with the responsible counterpart, Busan Metropolitan Corporation (since attracting film shooting has been a city undertaking), we faced an unexpected complication. That was a call from Director YOUN, who had just came back from Germany, and other head production members of the film, saying that they had visited the site and found it was not appropriate for shooting, so they wanted another site.

    The site is close to the sea, and so in the case of a summer typhoon, the outdoor set would be likely to be damaged, besides, the strong wind would make synchronous recording difficult. That is why they had to recall their consent urgently before the final confirmation. We had to look again through the information we had, and we found a site in Gijang, where a Pottery Village is scheduled for construction. Actually, it had been one of the candidate places, but the site was far from being ready yet. For example, they hadn’t even flattened the ground after cutting the hillside, so that vehicle access was not possible. For these reasons, we had passed it over early. Several months later, we visited there again just to be sure, and surprisingly the ground of the site had been flattened and there was even an access road. Furthermore, the wind was very calm thanks to the surrounding mountains and fields. This was the site we had been looking for! Without any hesitation, we got the permission from Gijan County for building an outdoor set, and began to construct the set under the direction of art director Ryu Seong-hee. The art director is a well-known master in the film art domain, who previously collaborated on the Korean films Oldboy (2003), The Host (2006), Thirst(2009), A Bittersweet Life (2005), and The Front Line (2011).
    After the construction, I visited the site alone when there was no shooting schedule. There, when I faced the site, I got an impression as if I were watching the 1983 film Twilight Zone: The Movie. In this film aired on TV in Korea in the late 80s, the protagonist enters another dimension through an imaginative door, and interesting and bizarre stories ensue, like the protagonist is chased by Nazis or the KKK. This site reenacted the 1953-era Gukje Market perfectly, and took me to the past; the earthen floor of the market, street stalls made roughly in wooden boxes, the backstreet of the market where pickpockets seek their targets, a Pork and Rice Soup restaurant, a movie theatre for re-released films, a shoeshine trolley, a rubber shoes shop and a wholesale medicinal herb store. The market was a safe place from bombing, still the displaced people had pain in their hearts, even though they seemingly lived and worked hard to survive. The market of Gwangbokdong and Nampodong, during the chaotic wartime, was alive there.
    Everyone related to the film wished to keep the outdoor film set of Gukje Market, but the maintenance budget was tight. Therefore, it was demolished on December 10, after shooting the explosion scene. It is a big shame that we are not able to see anymore the greatest outdoor set in Busan film location history, however we can soothe ourselves with the fact that we can see it on the screen. The film will be released in December. If it becomes a box office hit, it might be an opportunity to reconsider naming Gukje Market as a Modern Cultural Heritage site in the Busan region, so that we could also shed new light on our father’s generation, a part of our roots. Here, I hope that this film might bring a further opportunity to re-build the outdoor set of Gukje Market, like a theme park.
    In addition, Gukje Market was shot in other places of Busan as well: the Hungnam evacuation scene with a lot of extras in Dadaepo Beach and Gamcheon Port, and the TV program scene depicting the search for displaced families by KBS took place in Suyong Yachting Center. The movie will be released on December 17.
    Written by Yang Sung-young of the Busan Film Commission
    Photographer Gwak Dong-min
    <Film Busan> (Busan Film Commission Quarterly Magazine), Vol. 48
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