September 04, 2007

ONCE UPON A TIME IN DUNHUANG (part one): On location for The Good, The Bad and The Weird.

In the predawn hours, Beijing airport sees jackals prowl to rob the unwary. When I get out from my taxi, a man offers to wheel my luggage, then tries to hit me up for a fee that’s half the cab fare for the ride from the inner city. Inside the terminal, another offers to help guide me to my check-in desk, and, again, demands an exorbitant amount. Each speaks just enough English to con an unwary traveler. Shrugging them off, I meet my fellow travelers, Youngsoo and Luna, and we set off for the remote badlands of Dunhuang.

I’ve explored similar terrain before, when I visited Maggie Q on the Three Kingdoms sets. This time, I’m accepting a gracious invitation to go on location for a Korean Spaghetti Western, The Good, The Bad and The Weird. This film is shooting in a different part of this vast desert. To my relief, our hotel is only 15 minutes from Dunhuang airport, and situated in a town that looks like Vegas compared to the one I visited previously.

After check-in and a chance to wash off the travel dust, we set out for the location. The production is shooting in an area lying in the shadow of a legendary Dunhuang mountain range, one that is said to contain the image and power of the reclining Buddha. We soon depart from the proper road, out onto a dirt track created by the crew specifically for the film. Our journey takes us through a desert town set. In the film, this will bustle with life, but now stands vacant, a ghost town home only to swirling dust devils.

The area is a perfect location as it lies between two mountain ranges, and allows for a 360 degree vista with no indications of the modern world beyond. The productions vehicles stand tethered like settlers’ wagons positioned to repel an Indian attack. Jumping off our jeep, I’m see the familiar face and form of Jung Dung-hung, action director and star of the forthcoming Dragon Dynasty release City Of Violence. (That’s me and him in the photo above.) Jung single-handedly created the unique style of Korean movie fighting. His credits read like a list of every Korean actioner to find favour internationally: Shiri, Fighter In The Wind, A Bittersweet Life, Champion, Arahan, Silmido, Taegukgi…

The sequences being shot during our visit are particularly demanding, as they involve both horseback and motorized vehicle pursuit. The Korean stuntmen say this is the toughest shoot they’ve ever been on, due in equal part of the demands of the action and the inhospitable nature of the terrain. Given that I live in one of the most built-up and heavily populated cities in the world, it’s a definite change of pace to gaze out across this vast expanse of desert to the mountains beyond. There are no signs of life, no bird flies or insect crawls. Though camels stride other regions of Dunhuang, the only animals here are the stunt horses corralled a good distance from the base camp.

Producer Seo Woo-sik offers me a seat in a canvas chair next to his, and explains some of the logistics to me. When Mr Seo searches for an English term, a masked figure seated to my right suggests the appropriate phrase. This turns out to be Lee Byung-hun (The Bad!), who first came to international fame in the acclaimed JSA. He speaks perfect English, and it turns out that we have mutual friends in Jackie Chan and Maggie Q. Though better known for his roles in dramatic and romantic television series and films, Lee was a great action lead in the gangster epic A Bittersweet Life. He has just been filming the drama I Come With The Rain in Hong Kong, opposite Josh Hartnett and Shawn Yue. Lee isn’t shooting scenes on this particular day, and just came out to the set to visit.

As dusk settles across the plains, production wraps for the day and we make our way back to Dunhuang town. I’m invited to join Youngsoo and Luna for dinner with producer Seo and the great Korean actor Song Kang-ho (The Weird!). Though long the most respected of local film performers, Song is best known to international audiences for his lead role in the hit monster movie The Host. His earlier work includes roles in the breakthrough thrillers Shiri and JSA, and he became a member of Old Boy director Park Chan-wook’s troupe when he starred in 1992’s Sympathy For Mr Vengeance. Though his English is limited, he’s great company over barbeque and beer at Dunhuang’s only Korean restaurant. I mention Crossing Over, a film to be distributed internationally by TWC, and Song regrets having to decline a role in it because of prior commitments.

Returning to the hotel, I realize it’s been a long day, with a very early start in the centre of Beijing and a late finish in the farthest frontier of the Silk Road.


Hi bey!!!
- lilyma, BJ | 2007-09-13 08:10:18
Cool story, can't wait to see this Korean Western. BTW, I guess you meant 2002's Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance. Cheers.
- Thomas, Shanghai | 2007-09-12 23:16:02
Good Doo-hong Jung will be the action director for this film. So, this may be good then. Hopefully Lee Byung-hun will great action scenes. He was good in A Bittersweet Life. I have read that he know`s Tae Kwon Do.
- Robin, Norway | 2007-09-05 08:14:26
I envy you !!!
- Banyah, L.A | 2007-09-05 20:34:05
hola beys saldran movies de jet li en dvd
- ruben f c, nuevo leon mexico | 2007-09-05 00:05:53
Sympathy came out in 2002.
- D.Z., L.A. | 2007-09-05 01:07:44
I am looking forward to seeing this movie, I am a big fan of korean cinema, and Lee Byung-hun and Song Kang-ho are two of the best actors in korean movies, so it will be a joy to see this movie
- Rico, The Netherlands | 2007-09-05 02:00:58
when is this movie comming out... its sounds really intresting.... i have been collecting all the Dragon Dynasty DVD and none have fail me yet, I believe this one sounds awsome.
- santiago, south | 2007-09-07 09:10:54
Wow, you got to have a beer with the legendary Song Kang-ho! Your a blessed man Mr. Logan, blessed indeed :) Keep up the excellent work squire! Can't wait for this movie, by the way!
- Phillip Escott, Cardiff | 2007-09-10 10:50:39


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