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(Yonhap Interview) Zombie flicks not just for young viewers: 'Train to Busan' director

All News 12:36 July 18, 2016

By Chung Joo-won, Koh Eunjee

SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- The director of "Train to Busan," one of the most favored thrillers of the season among critics here, said there is no age divide when it comes to zombie thrillers.

"(A South Korean zombie thriller) can infatuate middle age and elderly viewers as much as the younger ones," said Yeon Sang-ho during an interview with Yonhap News Agency in central Seoul on Friday.

Highly acclaimed during the midnight screening at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, the zombie film has enjoyed rave reviews from critics at home and abroad, fueling predictions that it is likely to surpass 10 million in attendance -- a common gauge for hugely successful movies here.

"When we were out shooting zombie scenes in Ilsan, I saw (a middle aged) vendor telling the bustling crowd 'It must be a zombie film,'" the 38-year-old director said. "It seemed like the age groups of 50s and over have become familiar with zombies these days.

"When I showed the film's trailer to my father-in-law, I could tell he liked it. He said, 'Here we've got some action thriller,'" he added while laughing.

Yeon's remark came with significant weight, as the director has raked in success in multiple traditionally shunned genres in the South Korean film industry. The country has seldom seen a homegrown zombie film in local theaters, if any at all, before "Train to Busan." The film, starring Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok and Jung Yoo-mi, was Yeon's first-ever live-action film.

Yeon began his career early, at the age of 19. His debut came in 1997 with "Megalomania of D," an animated film about an artist gone mad.

In 2011, Yeon brought spotlight to another minor genre, animated thriller, with "The King of Pigs." The dominant market belief still labels "serious animated films for adults" a low-yield, costly investment with abounding risks -- an idea backed up by the failure of local animated film "Wonderful Days" in 2003.

Another unlikely achievement by Yeon is the successful transition from animated film director to live-action film director.

"After presenting the animated works 'The King of Pigs' and 'The Fake,' I was offered a shot at a live-action film," Yeon reminisced.

"That's when I was writing a synopsis for 'Train to Busan.' They asked me if I'd make it into a live-action film, and I said yes."

Drawing 558,928 viewers in paid previews held from Friday to Sunday before its official release on Wednesday, the film is a "bankable" commercial film, according to local critics.

"As a film director, fat ticket sales are good news. But I don't feel bound to digits like '10-million-movie,'" Yeon said, hoping that his film could impress the crowd as "a good movie."

Throughout the rest of his career, Yeon plans to continue switching back and forth between animated films and live-action films, and explore a variety of genres.

"With the animated film genre, I want to unravel stories with a message that I personally want to share with the public. With the live-action films, I want to come up with works that the crowd can find more comfortable. After all, I want to try as many diverse genres as possible."


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