Director brings poet’s life to big screen

Actor Kang Ha-neul, left, director Lee Joon-ik, center, and actor Park Jung-min stand together during a press conference announcing the completion of the upcoming biographical film "DONGJU: The Portrait of a Poet" at a theater in Dongdaemun, Seoul, Monday. / Yonhap

Lee Joon-ik, director of the hit movie “King and the Clown,” will bring the life of the renowned patriotic poet Yun Dong-ju (1917-1945) to the big screen.

At a press conference announcing the completion of “DONGJU: The Portrait of a Poet” on Monday, Lee said that the initial question that arose when deciding to make a biographical film of Yun was “why there has been no film or drama about the life of such a hugely popular poet so far.”

“Everyone knows him, but we haven’t had any chance to meet him in a film or drama. That was the beginning of this film,” Lee said at a theater in Dongdaemun, Seoul.

Born and raised in northern Manchuria, Yun has been highly recognized in Korea for his politically-resistant poems while the country was under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).

The poet left for Japan with his cousin Song Mong-gyu in 1942 to study. The following year, he was imprisoned for participating in the independence movement and ended his life in prison in 1945 at the age of 27. The cause of his death still remains controversial as his prison inmate and cousin Song raised the possibility that Yun was actually the victim of a medical experiment conducted by the Japanese military. Song also died in prison 23 days after Yun died.

“The life story of Yun may be plain but I think it could be quite dramatic when it comes to the story of Yun and his cousin Song, who was also an independence activist,” Lee said.

Lee said the low-budget film, which cost 600 million won ($495,000) to make, was shot in black and white.

“There are two reasons why I filmed it in black and white. The first reason is to maintain reality as many people are reminded of him through his black and white photographs. And the second reason is because of production costs. If I filmed it in color, it would have cost more than 10 billion won,” he said.

Actor Kang Ha-neul takes the role of Yun while actor Park Jung-min stars as Song.

Kang rose to stardom in 2014 after appearing in the year’s biggest hit drama “Misaeng.” He also appeared in three films last year including “Twenty,” “Empire of Lust” and “C’est Si Bon.”

Quoting the famous line of Yun’s poem “Prologue,” Kang revealed a wish that “the film would not have a single shame till the day I die, I gaze at the sky.”

“‘DONGJU’ was the first one to make me cry while reading the script,” he said. “As I had to perform in Japanese for more than half of the script, it was tough to memorize the Japanese lines in the film dialogue.”

“DONGJU: The Portrait of a Poet” will hit screens nationwide on Feb. 18.

By: Baek Byung-yeul
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