By Chung Joo-won
SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- Director Song Min-kyu learned the hard way how to make a Korean film appealing to other Asian audiences, and hopes his new romantic thriller will hit the bullseye.
In a press conference to showcase "Life Risking Romance" in central Seoul, the filmmaker said he spent years studying ways to meet that goal since 2009, traveling back and forth between Korea, Japan and China.
At the time, Song was the producer of "My Way," directed by Kang Je-gyu and launched in 2011.
"When my predecessor Kang was directing 'My Way,' he told me about his lifelong goal of expanding the market for Korean films," Song recalled.
"He wanted to set the standard for Korean films that all Asian nations, like Japan and China, can enjoy. The vision was great but turned out to be a failure, because, as Korean (directors,) we were clueless about the cultural preferences of the Japanese and Chinese audiences. Probably we made the mistake of producing Korean films that didn't click with other nationalities."
Song took over Kang's torch this time with "Life Risking Romance." He sought to make a good Korean film by casting South Korean award-winning actors Ha Ji-won and Chun Jung-myoung and Taiwanese star actor Chen Bolin as the leads.
The film will premiere in local cinemas in December.
In the film, Ha plays Han Jae-in, a sloppy, cowardly author of mystery novel who dreams of becoming a best-selling writer some day. Chun plays Jae-in's childhood friend and policeman Seol Lok-hwan, a name that is a nod to Sherlock Holmes. Lok-hwan is a man of pure heart and harbors unwavering love for Jae-in. He finds himself wound up in a love triangle with Jae-in and Jason, played by Chun, a charming FBI profiler that seems as if he popped out of a romance novel. The three eventually come to a common goal of catching a serial killer who haunts the town.
Chun refused to have the film labeled "Korea-China joint film," or more bombastically "global Asian film" as the media often does. Rather, he wanted the audience to decide the cultural breadth of the film.
"'Life Risking Romance' is not merely a romantic comedy or thriller," Song stressed. Song described it as "a story about an ordinary love with a Korean twist."
For Song, a distinctively Korean aspect is the "natural acting of characters in funny situations." While shooting the film, Song asked Ha to "try not to act funny" and let the situation naturally build up the comedic tension in the eyes of the audience.
Regarding Chen, Song said that he cast the Taiwanese actor not out of marketing purposes, but because he was the most suitable Asian actor to play the international character while not hurting his intentions about "naturally Korean" film. Song's trust in Chen partly stems from Chen's filmography, including works shot in Japan, mainland China, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.
Both Ha and Chun are South Korean actors with broad fandom in Asia. Ha's latest epic television series "Empress Qi" gained immense popularity in Taiwan.
Paving her way to Hollywood, the South Korean actress often sought for action and historical genre roles has been honing her proficiency in English.
Chun also boasts global fandom throughout Asia.
He made his China debut in 2012 and gained popularity with his hit Korean dramas and Korea-China joint television series, including "Qin Qing Bao Wei Zhan" that he starred in with a Taiwanese cast.
The press conference resembled an entertaining talk show, abound with jokes and funny anecdotes in the film shooting process.
During the talk, Ha found herself under the politically-fraught spotlight over "Gil Ra-im," the name of her past lead role in SBS' hit drama "Secret Garden."
Gil Ra-im emerged as the most searched words on major web portals here, such as Naver, as Choi Soon-sil, the embattled confidante of President Park Geun-hye, was found to have used the name multiple times. Before her recent arrest by prosecutors, Choi allegedly used the fictional heroine's name as an alias to obtain illegal prescriptions for the president in Chaum, an anti-aging clinic run by Cha Group.
"Don't you do it again with Han Jae-in," Ha said.