September 01, 2007

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

Saturday morning, and the town of Dunhuang, though bustling, is devoid of power. An emergency generator keeps the hotel elevators running. Youngsoo, Luna and I find a near-by traveller’s café that offers ‘full English brkfest’. There are magazines on the wall racks so old they seem to have been liberated from the Library of Congress. Above the register is a small print of a red rose, with the word ‘Love’ engraved above it. The coffee, amazingly, is hand-ground and serves to jumpstart the heart.

Back in the badlands, the Good, Bad and Weird crew wrestles with the challenges of maneuvering beast and machine through the desert sands. During a break in the action, I sit down for a lengthy chat with Jung Dung-hung about his work as action director and star of City Of Violence. He’s delighted to hear that the film (known in Korean as ‘Jakpae’) will be Dragon Dynasty’s first North America release of a Korean film. Jung thinks his best earlier work was on Musa, one of my favourite Korean films. We discuss our mutual admiration for Japanese chanbara films, and especially the Lone Wolf And Cub and Zatoichi series. He tells me how, on an early trip to Japan, he bought a full set of the former, even though he couldn’t really, at the time, afford to.

Mr. Seo, the producer who hosted us the previous day, has returned to Korea, and so another producer from Barunson, Mr Choi Jae-won, treats us as honoured guesttoday. We are in his jeep, driving back to the base camp from the shooting site, when one of the crew falls from the back of a truck traveling the dirt road in front of us. We only realize this just in time, as his prone figure is covered in dust from the speeding vehicle. Mr Choi yells, in Korean, for the driver to stop, and the crewmember is only saved from serious injury when Choi remembers to shift languages to Mandarin. Fortunately, apart from minor scratches, the victim is more embarrassed than injured.

I’m honoured to share a ride back to Dunhuang with the film’s director Kim Ji-woon. Director Kim has proved to be highly proficient rather than prolific, with each of his films receiving international acclaim. I first became aware of his work with the 2000 wrestling themed comedy The Foul King. He’s since directed the horror film A Tale Of Two Sisters (currently subject of a Hollywood remake) and the gangster epic A Bittersweet Life. He’s succeeded in every genre, and it seems likely he’ll have similar results with a Western. Though evidently tired from the long day’s shoot, he asks me for my views about the potential for Korean films in the international market. He began his career as a stage performer, and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Japanese actor Akira Terao, who played Taro in Kurosawa’s Ran.

Back the hotel, I take dinner with the crew by myself, as Youngsoo and Luna have a meeting with Mr Choi. I’m used to being the only westerner at the table, and, as I don’t speak Korean, figure I’ll eat fast and leave early. In the dining room, I strike up a conversation with one of the stuntmen, Mickey (whose surname, unfortunately, I didn’t catch). Mickey studied in Boston, among other places, in the US, and speaks good English. He is a key member of Jung Dung-hung’s team, and previously worked on Taegukgi and Arahan. While he’s giving me the inside scoop on the rigours of a Korean stuntman’s life, Song Kang-ho (of The Host) saunters in. I’m impressed that, like the rest of the cast, he lines up to get his own dinner from the buffet. If only stars in Hollywood and Hong Kong were that low maintenance…

As I’m finishing, Youngsoo and Luna, their meeting done, arrive for dinner, followed, moments later, by the Korean leading man Jung Woo-sung (The Good!). Jung’s earlier films include the period epic Musa and the Korean-Chinese co-production Daisy, helmed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) and written by my old comrade Gordon Chan. I want to say ‘hi’, but apparently, in Korea, it’s a breach of etiquette to approach an actor of his stature directly. This, I realize, is the story of my life. I get to meet the Bad and the Weird more easily than I do the Good…

Fortunately, with his usual excellent timing, Jung Dung-hung rolls in and breezily makes the introductions. Jung Woo-sung stands up, and absolutely towers over me. He definitely has the height and demeanour to make a convincing Western lead. He’s very charming, and asks me to pass on his regards to Gordon Chan when I get back to Hong Kong. I take my leave, hoping I didn’t offend any Korean sensibilities, happy that being the only round-eye in town can have its advantages…

Tomorrow is an early flight to Xian, site of the legendary emperor’s tomb, and then onwards to Hong Kong. I sleep like a terracotta warrior.


Wow, Song Kang-Ho really did that..?! He is one of my favorite actors. I envy you. Just to drop by to say hello.
- Michelle Kim, Designstorm, Seoul | 2007-09-12 21:40:04


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