Note: These images were also posted on the London Asian Film Society’s Facebook page.
Thursday night was the opening gala for the 9th London Korean Film Festival, which will be screening 55 films over the next few weeks (London dates: Nov 6-15). The opening film was Yoon Jong-bin’s 군도: 민란의 시대 (Kundo: Minranui Sidae/Kundo: Age of Rampant, 2013), with the director, lead actor Kang Dong-won and producer Han Jae-duk all in attendance.
I watch mostly indies, but every now and then I’ll sample a blockbuster – especially if Kang Dong-won is in it. I won’t review the film, because plenty of critics have written about it already and I wouldn’t even know where to start my own reflections. I will say I enjoyed it thoroughly. The story isn’t anything new of course, but the cinematography is beautiful (though not innovatively daring, say, like in Lee Myeong-se’s 형사 (Hyeongsa/Duelist, 2005)), the soundscore is without a beat out of place.
The casting of course is top-notch, with Kang Dong-won as total baddie Master Jo Yoon and Ha Jung-Woo playing opposite him as Dol Moo-chi, a gruff hero of sorts. I was also delighted to spot Lee Sung-Min (captain), who is currently giving an epic performance as Mr. Oh in the TvN drama 미생 (Misaeng, highly recommended), as well as Kim Hae-Sook (Dol Moo-chi’s mother), who played the awesome mom – rare in k-dramas – in SBS’s 너의 목소리가 들려 (Neoui Moksoriga Deulleo/I Hear Your Voice, 2013). Lee Kyoung-Young (monk), Ma Dong-Seok, Yoon Ji-Hye (an utterly fearless woman of the Kundo) and Jeong Man-Sik are also part of the cast, as well as Kim Kkobbi, in a small, somewhat underdeveloped role as Master Jo’s unfortunate sister-in-law.
Anyhow, I was out with camera as always, so here are some shots from the opening gala, starting with pre-screening shots – on the red carpet and introductions:
The screening was followed by a Q&A, which Kang Dong-won partially did in English. That’s a rare thing, and it always impresses me. Some snippets – note that these aren’t exact quotes, I’m just going by memory here but they do sum up what was said at the Q&A. (By the way, if I had to put my impressions of Kang Dong-won into a few words: courteous, sweet & humble.)
“It has been ten years since I last was in London. I decided to promote my films more internationally. I have just come from a film festival in Hawaii.” (Ironically, we are year behind here in London with Kundo. Kang Dong-won attended the screening of his most recent film 두근두근 내 인생 (Dugeun Dugeun Nae Insaeng/My Palpitating Life aka My Brilliant Life) at the Hawaii International Film Festival. He also apologised for his jet lag.)
“I studied mechanical engineering. Why did I study mechanical engineering… (laughs) My father is a mechanical engineer, so… I did some modelling. Someone suggested acting, so I took some classes. I learnt more on sets.”
How did you get this role?
“I saw Yoon Jong-bin’s 범죄와의 전쟁 (Bumchoiwaui Junjaeng/Nameless Gangster) and wanted to do a film with him. So we met up and decided to do this film.”
Which character would you have liked to play, if not Master Jo?
“Dol Moo-chi. I think there is a bit of his character in my character.”
How did you prepare for the role? Did you use a stuntman?
“I didn’t use a stuntman for any of the scenes. Yoon insisted it should be me in every shot, even if filmed from behind and just showing my back. I trained for five months for this film.”
How did you find working with everyone, compared to other projects you have done?
“Ha Jung-Woo is three years older than I am [actually, only two – Ha is born in March 1979, Kang in January 1981]. I enjoyed making this film very much. I didn’t want to stop working on it. When we finished, I wanted to continue working on the film.”
There was also a hand-printing ceremony, the first I had seen, but apparently it’s a tradition. There were some helpers to press down the hands of Kang Dong-won, Yoon Jong-bin and Han Jae-duk, and I’m pretty sure some people aren’t going to be washing their hands all week. Kang Dong-won was grinning away, since those helpers didn’t want to stop being helpful (see first picture below… he’s totally like “I know what you’re trying to do here.”).
Some More Thoughts on the Film
Kang Dong-won’s Master Jo is a thoroughly evil person – intriguingly so, I thought because there is, ultimately, one tiny bit of goodness in him that hints it could have all turned out differently, had his father not spurned him.
The fighting scenes aren’t realistic (they are impressive, yes, but they are filmed to be beautiful, not to reflect how people would actually fight), though good fun to watch. Indeed, below is pretty much my favourite scene of the film, just because it really brings out Master Jo’s evilness – I felt he was transforming from a cruel human master being to something rather otherworldly, a demon of the darkest of the dark. It’s a pity that characters like this of course never survive films (the good ones always win, even if a lot of blood is shed on the way to victory). They should have just let him turn into a demon ghost post death, methinks. That would have been a whole other level of fun!
- Full Programme for the 9th London Korean Film Festival.
- Review of Kang Dong-won’s 형사 (Hyeongsa/Duelist, 2005, dir. by Lee Myeong-se).
- 8th London Korean Film Festival 2013.
- 7th London Korean Film Festival 2012. Reviews for 백야 (Baekya/White Night, 2012); 돼지의 왕 (Dwaejiui Wang/The King of Pigs, 2011).
- 6th London Korean Film Festival 2011. Reviews for 과속스캔들 (Gwasok Seukaendeul/Scandal Makers, 2008); 만추 (Manchu/Late Autumn, 2011).