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Cinematizing Korea's greatest mapmaker daunts top cast

All News 18:44 August 09, 2016

By Chung Joo-won

SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- Even before shooting started, historical film "Go-san-ja, Dae-dong-yeo-ji-do" daunted the directors and cast from the start, as the film explores the personal life of Korea's most revered map maker.

The film, set to launch on Sept. 7, portrays the life of Kim Jeong-ho, the humble-born maker of Korea's most cherished map "Dae-dong-yeo-ji-do," made in the latter part of the Joseon period (1392-1910). The film is an adaptation of a historical fiction novel "Gosanja" written by Park Beom-shin.

"I was simply lost when I flipped through the scenario -- I didn't know how to approach my character," said Cha Seung-won, who played the legendary figure, in a press conference held in central Seoul on Tuesday. "Acting out a real historical figure has always been a tremendous challenge, since it is virtually impossible to fully discover his or her thoughts and footsteps," he continued.

"Kim Jeong-ho is defined by only two lines in the history textbooks, but his legacy goes far beyond that. More than anything, I wanted to show Kim Jeong-ho without tainting his name."

The actor's remarks raised the curiosity of the crowd at the theater event, especially due to his heavy filmography. Some of Cha's most successful works include films like "Attack the Gas Station" and "My Teacher, Mr. Kim," and television shows like "Athena: Goddess of War," "City Hall," "The Greatest Love" and "You're All Surrounded." He has also been a big presence in the reality entertainment field.

In the film, Kim Jeong-ho (Cha) is described as a lowly commoner with what the social elites call "disloyal schemes." The 19th century mapmaker dreams of drafting a map that shows the detailed geography of the entire Joseon territory to all of its people. In his time, maps were not widely used, with access being restricted to rulers. Kim Jeong-ho even wanted to engrave the map on portable wooden plaques, so that people could print out as many paper maps as possible.

Joseon officials, however, were wary of such views, believing a map could benefit the imperialist "invaders" from the Western hemisphere. They even resorted to torturing the map maker. Yet a deeper tragedy comes with the ambition of Heungseon Daewongun, the father and regent of Emperor Gojong, who claims the map to secure his own power.

The new film's director, Kang Suk-woo, showed his own way of intimidation.

Best known for hit films "Silmido," "Another Public Enemy" and "Moss," the 55-year-old director showed confidence about his cast picks.

"This is my 20th film, but the movie was like my debut work," he said. During the film producing process, he would tell his crew how much he wished this historical film to make up for his earlier, less-motivated films.

The outspoken man reminisced, "I had not given much thought about choosing my filmography. I just took up a scenario I liked and cranked out lots of films. Then I became fed up -- I let go of everything and did nothing but read. Then someone showed me this book on Kim Jeong-ho."

At first the filmmaker ruled out the book. But the thought of his story appealed to him, eventually making him take up the task.

"It bothered me to think how little we know of this great man when we have so many records on his noble patrons and friends of the yangban (gentle class) elite class... Even these days, there are people of incredible talent, but not born into privilege (like Kim Jeong-ho), who end up devastated by people with power and money."

"Then I thought I had to make this film -- I was drawn by history's calling."

Yu Jun-sang, who plays Heungseon Daewongun in the film, also showed his own ambitions. His character is the son of a fallen royal family who has to fake debauchery to save his own life.

He said, "Heungseon Daewongun is a heavy character that we've frequently seen in many dramas and movies. I couldn't help being pressured about how I could show a different side of this daunting figure. (As the power behind his son's throne) He has left us tremendous national assets."

Yu even visited Daewongun's tomb to better understand and confront his life as an individual public figure.

"Kim Jeong-ho the mapmaker is someone who had nothing but a dream of true democracy. Watching it, you will be able to find strong desires and reflections about society."


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