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Ko - production in Busan
  • Stealing locations with 'The Thieves'
  • Sep 07, 2012
  • Stealing locations with 'The Thieves'

    Written by 'The Thieves' producer Kim Seong-min
    10 thieves, one diamond – The action begins!
    Thieves Popeye, Anycall, Chewing Gum and Jampano work as a team. After pulling off a spectacularly successful art museum robbery, they get word of a plan, hatched by Popeye's former partner, Macau Park, for a new job in Hong Kong. The team is joined by uninvited guest Pepsi, a safe-cracker recently released from jail, and the five head for Hong Kong with dreams of the biggest heist of their lives.
    In Hong Kong, a quartet of Chinese thieves – Chen, Andrew, Julie and Johnny – awaits its Korean counterparts. As the group of specialists comes together, the Korean and Chinese thieves soon stop trusting each other. As the tension rises, Macau Park appears and reveals the object of his plans: a rare diamond, named “Tear of the Sun,” hidden in a Macau casino. The plan is fraught with danger and success is far from certain, but the thieves, unable to resist the sweet temptation of 20 million dollars, get working on their operation to steal the jewel.
    Secretive Macau Park's true intentions, however, remain a mystery; Popeye is forever looking for a chance to get one over Park; Pepsi is unable to forget her past betrayal by Park; Anycall always puts her own immediate interests beyond those of the team; and the Chinese thieves don't trust their Korean partners in crime Each of the ten thieves, who came together for a single heist but all have different aims, slowly starts making plans of his own...

    A film set principally in Seoul, Hong Kong and Busan – support and passion from Busan Film Commission and many other bodies makes Busan a top shooting location
    The plot of The Thieves runs through four cities in and outside Korea: Seoul, Hong Kong, Macau and Busan. Busan is the main setting for the second part of the film: “mansions” (luxury apartment blocks) and the international ferry terminal in downtown Busan provide the background for some spectacular action scenes. When director Choi Dong-hoon first planned the screenplay for “Thieves,” he visited various locations in Busan with the help of Busan Film Committee's Creative Space Support Project and was inspired by several places. Busan, like most historic cities, strikes a profound and atmospheric combination of the past and the present while boasting many of the exotic scenes unique to coastal towns. These play an important role in graphically embodying the overall mood of “Thieves,” through places such as the Busan's run-down yet unique buildings, perfect for the hideouts of thieves and their lives of secrecy; the mansions and alleyways that lie at the heart of the city but are old and seem steeped in the affairs of the past; and the ferry terminal and docks, which seem to convey the thieves' fate of being constantly pursued and forced to flee. Busan also proved an excellent alternative location for shooting overseas scenes, and was used to shoot action that was hard to organize abroad thanks to being a coastal city like Hong Kong and Macau. The interiors of contemporary buildings such as BEXCO (Busan Exhibition & Convention Center) and Design Center Busan proved ideal for filming scenes in official settings both in Korea and overseas.
    Busan thus proved to have many benefits not only in terms of its artistic elements but in terms of allowing efficient filming, too. I think this was made possible by a combination of cooperation and support from numerous organizations, including Busan's local government and Busan Film Council, and local citizens' understanding and love of films.
    Locations at a glance – tracing Busan's main shooting spots and stories
    Operation 1: The thieves' hideout – The old Sarabeol Hotel.
    Location: Daecheong-dong, Jung-gu

    The film used the former Sarabeol Hotel as its location for the office of head thief Popeye and the thieves' general hideout. Once one of central Busan's top hotels, the Sarabeol has fallen victim to aging and a changing downtown environment, and is currently used as a temporary parking lot. After some artistic preparation, it was used as the set for the thieves' den. The peculiar harmony between the location's imposing atmosphere, testifying to its past life as a hotel, and its current state of partial demolition made it a fitting location for conveying the clandestine feel of a thieves's lair – a place that seemed to be hiding something.

    Operation 2: Mansions – Busan Department Store Mansions.
    Location: Donggwang-dong, Jung-gu
    Busan Department Store Mansions were used to shoot scenes of a mansion containing episodes from Macau Park's past, making them a key location in the later part of the film. This old complex of mixed residential and commercial “mansions” houses a variety of small shops and businesses on its first floor that were ideal for conveying actual scenes from downtown Busan. Its rear entrance, meanwhile, along with the spaces to either side of it and the well-placed roadside trees and crooked alleyways on the opposite side of the street, were perfect for shooting the various movements and gatherings of film's main characters.
    This location was important due to the atmosphere of the mansions themselves but, above all, because the structure of its roads and alleyways was similar to that described in the continuity. I remember being delighted at how easily we had found, in the first days of our location hunting in Busan, a place that corresponded almost exactly to the continuity. In contrast to the plain sailing of location scouting, however, we hit some big rocks just before actual filming was due to begin. The government had ordered that asbestos ceilings in Busan Department Store Mansions be removed ahead of a scheduled refurbishment for the complex, and the removal work had to be done during the scheduled filming period. Neither shooting nor asbestos removal could be postponed. Thanks, however, to swift mediation by Busan Film Commission, a schedule was agreed with the contractor and the Busan Department Store cooperative, resulting in a concession of precisely one day for filming. Luckily, all the planned shooting was completed thanks to rapid work on the part of the crew – I would once again like to extend my thanks to the officials at the construction company and the Busan Department Store cooperative, local residents and, especially, the citizens of Busan and the officers at Busan Jungbu Police Station, who offered their cooperation even when we were forced to partially close roads for three days of filming.

    Operation 3: Ferry terminal – Busan Ferry Terminal.
    Location: Jungang-dong 5-ga, Jung-gu / Docks – Grain docks. Location: Jwacheon-dong, Dong-gu
    The scenes that unfold at a passenger ferry terminal and on a dockside, in which the last action of the film takes place, were shot at Busan Ferry Terminal and grain docks, in Busan Port. These are state-owned facilities and secure areas, making cooperation from the relevant authorities essential. In order to secure permission to use the locations, the production team promised, through a series of meetings and presentations with port officials, to conform to security regulations. By presenting a shooting plan that included safety measures, they were able to film with no particular problems. Through the experience of scouting and using this location, I gained a sense of the favorable attitude of Busan officials, who offered their utmost cooperation when it came to shoots that conformed thoroughly to the rules. It occurred to me that this was one of the primary reasons that a large number of films are shot in Busan.
    In contrast to the relatively easy task of securing the location, the flocks of pigeons that gather to eat spilled grain and are thus a particular feature of the grain docks proved a big nuisance. The huge numbers of these birds that perch around the docks and factories create an environment that suggested the sense of terror I had felt watching Alfred Hitchcock's thriller masterpiece, The Birds, was about to become a reality. I did actually feel a little frightened. I remember how we ended up enjoying finishing the shoot by turning the situation on its head with the idea of using the pigeons as part of the mise-en-scène itself. I would also like to thank the employees of Useong Industries, who helped us complete the shoot without a hitch even as they kept their factory at the grain docks in constant operation, and to the officials at Busan Port Authority who offered their active support for our shoots at the ferry terminal and the docks.
    Operation 4: A levee in Macau – The breakwater next to the parking lot at Camellia Park.
    Location: U 1-dong, Haeundae-gu

    We therefore searched for a substitute location in Korea, ultimately settling on the site of the breakwater next to the parking lot at Camellia Park in Busan's Haeundae-gu district. This is a spot where the skyscrapers of Haeundae fill the skyline opposite Camellia Island so that another advantage of this location is its similarity to the glitzy buildings of Macau. Filming difficult scenes at home in Korea allowed us to make more thorough preparations and conform properly to safety regulations, which was yet another great advantage. This is a special area, administered not by local Busan authorities but by the Ministry of National Defense, necessitating permission from the ministry itself to film. With cooperation from Busan Film Commission, we received permission from the relevant military transportation command headquarters and were able to go ahead with the shoot unhindered.
    In addition to the above locations, we spent around 40 days crisscrossing Busan and shooting in a variety of places, including Grand Hotel, Novotel Ambassador, Centum Hotel, BEXCO, Design Center Busan, Opera Café on Dalmaji Hill in Haeundae, the public parking lot at Jagalchi Market and the road by Centum City.

    Busan: Korea's leading movie city through the eyes of a film professional

    My first experience of Busan, a city with which I previously had no connections whatsoever, was in 1996, when I was a freshman studying film at university and went there to attend Busan Film Festival, which was taking place for the first time that year. My memory of that time is of finding a place to stay in Haeundae for a week and traveling daily to Nampo-dong, the neighborhood at the heart of the festival, to watch three or four films every day.
    Coming into contact with a variety of international films that were hard to find in Korea in those days, a new and exciting experience for a film student, was a gift that Busan International Film Festival granted many film lovers. I still recall films I watched at the time, such as The White Balloon and August in the Water. I also have vague recollections of drinking at the street food stalls around Haeundae Beach while discussing films intensely, at a time when I had the empty pockets of a student and all that accompanied the drink was the sound of the waves hitting the shore. Occasionally, we would be lucky enough to pass directors and actors, dreaming as we did so of entering the world of film.
    After I graduated, and started working on film crews. In the empty periods between shoots, I remember attending “Sangsang Making Busan Film Festival,” an event held by Cine 21 and KT&G, working as a teaching assistant despite my scant experience and moving to and fro across Busan with students as they shot films during Busan International Film Festival that were then filmed at Busan Cinema Center.
    It was director Park Chan-wook's film Thirst that left me with the most vivid impression of Busan. It was thanks to Park, who has a natural love of Busan and is skilled at capturing its charms on film, that I had it in mind right from the beginning of my location hunting. As I spent a month filming key locations in the Jeonpo-dong neighborhood, the time I spent with the people I met gave me a deep sense of the city's charm. This charm could be summed up with the words “passion” and “loyalty.” I was deeply impressed by the feeling of passion, tangible through not only the enterprising spirit characteristic of coastal towns, but various other elements of life there, such as baseball. When I first met the local people, their full-on disposition felt unfamiliar and somewhat cumbersome; when I met them during location scouting and while filming, however, and they opened up and we formed relationships, I heard them offering help many times, as if my work was theirs too, and telling me to call them straight away if I had any problems, and I realized that loyalty is considered highly important in Busan. From then on, as I filmed Hindsight and The Thieves, spending more than a month shooting in Busan each time, I felt totally at home and at ease there, and was able to feel the charm of the city and enjoy my work. Of course, difficult situations are sure to crop up in any region and at any location while filming. But the positive energy and good memories that stay with me from the time I spent shooting in Busan, and the people I met there, have given me a lasting affection for it and made it feel as familiar as a second hometown. I'm sure then, that every future shoot in Busan will bring me the same sense of enjoyment that it has delivered so far.

    Producer Kim Seong-min
    Kim, currently the producer of Caper Film production The Thieves, graduated from Sangmyung University's film department. He then entered the film industry and worked on the production of several films, including You're My Sunshine, Thirst (head of production) and Hindsight (producer).
    Yeonghwa Busan [“Film Busan;” newsletter of Busan International Film Festival and Busan Film Commission], Vol. 1
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