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Northern Limit Line debuted at No. 1 at the South Korean box office on Wednesday, toppling Jurassic World as it took 31.5 percent of the market share.
The 3D actioner by Next Entertainment World (NEW) may seem like your typical summer tentpole. But the film has made headlines in South Korea not so much for featuring the country’s first maritime battle in 3D that lasts a whole 30 minutes, as it did for tackling a politically sensitive inter-Korean issue. The film is expected to continue attracting more attention, as admissions have gone up on Thursday, the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War (1950-53).
In the summer of 2002, South Korea was feverishly cheering for the World Cup games that it was co-hosting with Japan. On June 29, the soccer-crazy country was up against Turkey for the third-place playoff — the first time Korea had made it so far — when a bloody battle broke out between North and South Korean patrol boats along the titular Northern Limit Line along the Yellow Sea. The North had attacked first in what has since become known as the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong, resulting in six deaths and 19 injuries for the South and some 30 casualties for the North.
Director Kim Hak-soon, however, says he wanted to be free from ideological issues for his project. “Korea remains the world’s last divided country, and my film is really about the importance of peace,” he said about what kept him going during the seven years utilizing crowdfunding by some 7,000 supporters.
The following is a compilation of Q&As with the filmmaker during a one-on-one interview with The Hollywood Reporter, as well as during promotional events for the film.
The film has been subject to much political debate, but this shouldn’t be surprising. How did you approach these issues?
I was concerned from the start because [the battle] is politically sensitive. But I focused on the family drama, to show the pain and sadness of the six men killed in battle and the 19 wounded, as well as their bereaved families. I wanted to be as objective as possible and focus on the facts rather than make ideological implications.
Most South Korean filmmakers shy away from demonizing North Korea and focus on friendships or family ties across the division. In your film, North Korea plays the villain.
I am someone who prays for the reunification of the Koreas. I wanted to focus on the facts, and the fact is that North Korea attacked first. Korea has a history of irony. Even when there is something to celebrate [like the World Cup], we can’t be completely happy because there is always an underlying sadness. Similarly, even when we’re discussing peace and unification with North Korea we are constantly in a position to have to fight them.
This movie depicts the reality of Korea, and I hope to stress the importance of peace, even if the film is about warfare. I truly hope that South Koreans can look past ideological differences between left and right to think of ways to achieve unification. This is important for global peace in the bigger picture because Korea is the only divided country in the world.
Why did you choose to create the film in 3D? You received a $1 million grant from the Korean Film Council for the 3D effects by Korean 3D production company Dnext Media, whose credits include Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Many people asked me why I had to depict this battle in 3D. But I believe that 3D visuals would enable viewers to feel the pain and fear felt by the [men] in a more effective and immersive way. I focused on the drama more than the visual effects, however. I hadn’t planned on creating the film in 3D from the beginning, but doing so allowed me to apply to the Korean Film Council for 3D production funding and thereby secure a larger budget.
Speaking of securing the budget, the film took seven years in the making, as the initial investors backed out. What kept you going?
There have been a lot of difficulties ever since I began working on this movie, but never once did I consider giving up. It’s long been a dream of mine to make a movie on inter-Korean relations. As for budgeting, I’ve made indie films so it wasn’t a problem. I think it’s the state of mind that is important. Delivering the story was my top priority, not so much the format. If the budget was smaller I was going to go for a documentary-style film, but I was able to make something more mainstream. My goal is not to earn money through this film, but to tell the story to as many people as possible.
The credits show thousands of supporters from crowdfunding. What percentage of the budget came from individual donors?
The end credits list about 7,000 names but if you count things more at large I would say about 60,000 people supported the film. About a third of the $6 million budget came from crowdfunding. I am truly grateful for this.
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