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A late-blossoming action career has seen Liam Neeson face danger a number of times onscreen in recent years. But the Irish actor fears for the “real-life” perils facing upcoming South Korean war movie Operation Chromite, with the very possible threat of retaliation from North Korea.
“North Korea and South Korea signed an armistice in 1953 and both countries are still essentially at war. It’s a horrifying situation and in light of very recent events [such as the Sony hack] we are all, not just as filmmakers, but as citizens of this world, very concerned,” the actor told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday, when asked about possible North Korean reactions to the CJ Entertainment title that hits Korean theaters on July 27 before reaching some 50 other territories around the world.
Nevertheless, the 64-year-old said he felt honored to have been part of the production. “I was aware that very few Western actors make a Korean film, and I felt very, very honored and very, very privileged,” he said. “I mean, with 72 films [under my belt], I’ve worked with a crew that has been so professional, so fast, so focused. It was kind of mind-blowing actually; the commitment and dedication [the film crew had on] all their individual jobs was quite awe-inspiring.”
In Operation Chromite, Neeson plays the role of General Douglas MacArthur opposite Korean A-lister Lee Jung-jae. The film zooms in a secret South Korean spy mission during the U.S.-led Incheon Landing Operation — a.k.a. the titular “Operation Chromite” — that kicked off on September 25, 1950, and is credited with changing the tide of the Korean War.
Neeson compared his new character to Schindler from Schindler’s List. “Schindler was very, very different from General MacArthur, total opposites except in their supreme confidence,” he said. “Schindler was inspired to save 1,200 people; MacArthur was inspired to have this crazy idea to land 75,000 troops in the port of Incheon, which is as wide as this room. They said there was one chance in 5,000 [for the operation to succeed] and he took it; Schindler in his way would’ve done the same too.”
The actor further shared his reflections on the nature of leadership.
“[Operation Chromite is] a decision that Gen. MacArthur has to make, knowing that millions of lives will be at stake and it just made me very aware of decisions that our leaders, our politicians have to make, perhaps not only a daily basis but during their tenure of their official,” he said. “I actually don’t know how they do it, but as an actor it was interesting to have to play that and to make that fateful decision to either go ahead or to not go ahead. And of course MacArthur did go ahead and the rest is history.” The operation is often noted as one of the most brilliant in 20th-century warfare along with the Normandy “D-Day” landings.
The actor, however, admitted feeling very anxious about playing the part. “I suddenly got very, very nervous thinking, ‘Can I do this? Am I up for this?’ Because he, MacArthur, seemed to be revered, and has got an almost saint-like status in the country,” Neeson said, recalling his visit to Freedom Park in Incheon, where he saw a statue of MacArthur before the first day of the film shoot.
Director John H. Lee said he wanted to depict a mortal hero with real, human flaws. “I think [a hero] is someone who can realize the impossible; not someone who is perfect, but someone like MacArthur or Lee Jung-jae’s spy character, who overcomes obstacles in dire situations and makes great sacrifices. There are heroes around us in our everyday lives, not just during wartime. I wanted to portray a very human hero in a genuine way.”
Lee, who previously directed another Korean War film, 71: Into the Fire, said, moreover, that he was inspired by Hollywood spy movies for Operation Chromite, which focuses on a particular spy mission. “Though my movie deals with a story that takes place in the 1950s, I wanted to make a spy movie that translates to contemporary viewers, not only here in Korea but across the globe in various languages,” he said, about watching serial franchises such as Mission: Impossible, James Bond and Jason Bourne on top of various Korean War-related documentaries, documents and books.
Since a promo was revealed at the Cannes Film Market in May, the action film is set to be released in China, the U.K., Germany, and the Middle East, among other parts of Europe and Asia. Local production company Taewon Entertainment secured a U.S. deal directly with Kino Entertainment, and the film will be released over 100 screens via CJ Entertainment America in August.
“I may be so bold to say it’s a wonderful piece of entertainment that John directed. I hope young people will learn something from it, but also be very entertained and be very moved by it,” Neeson added.
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