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(Yonhap Interview) 'Battleship Island' director says disputes would only reveal the film's true value

All Headlines 12:53 August 02, 2017

By Shim Sun-ah and Cho Jae-young

SEOUL, Aug. 2 (Yonhap) -- "The Battleship Island," a domestic blockbuster about Korean forced laborers on Japan's Hashima Island during World War II, has been heating up the summer box office since its release last week.

Apart from its bullish box office performance, however, the film currently is at the center of some controversy for issues ranging from its domination of movie screens to its approach to the checkered modern history of Korea and Japan.

Director Ryoo Seung-wan poses for the camera before his interview with Yonhap News Agency at a cafe in Seoul on Aug. 1, 2017. (Yonhap)

For director Ryoo Seung-wan, all the dispute has a silver lining. "I believe the film, like a gem in the mud, would shine better through all those controversies," Ryoo said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday. "I worked very hard to make this film, so it would be rather dangerous to go without any controversy."

He, however, expressed regret over the criticism from Korean audiences over highlighting some pro-Japanese Koreans' evil deeds in the movie that tells the story of hundreds of Koreans who risked their lives to escape from the Japanese island where they were forced to work in coal mines and military brothels during World War II. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.

"I think in dealing with Japan's imperial period, it's basic to say Japan was bad," he said. "I thought, at the same time, that the film would see only half of the history if it doesn't deal with the problem of pro-Japanese Korean managers who harshly treated their Korean colleagues. So I thought Koreans should take a cool-headed approach to ourselves, constantly criticize past historical issues and establish our own position on issues that have not been cleared up."

As for accusations that the movie wrongly described details of forced labor, the filmmaker stressed he had made it clear since even before the film's release that it tells a fictional story based on historical facts. "I even recreated the scenes from a massive escape, which is fiction, with help from experts on the history of Hashima Island and military specialists."

He also refuted criticism that he used Korean history for commercial purposes.

"I've never forgotten my mission as a director of commercial films, but it's unfair to say that I commercially used the history."

The director said he felt a sense of responsibility when he made a film based on the painful history of the nation he should make it well and should not cause any harm to those who were victims in times of historical turmoil.

Director Ryoo Seung-wan poses for the camera before his interview with Yonhap News Agency at a cafe in Seoul on Aug. 1, 2017. (Yonhap)

The movie surpassed 5 million in attendance on Wednesday, the eighth day of run, becoming the fastest film to hit the threshold this year, according to its investor-distributor CJ Entertainment.

Some people have attributed the film's splendid performance in the box office to the overwhelmingly large number of screens available for the film. Food and entertainment conglomerate CJ owns CJ CGV, the country's largest multi-screen cinema chain.

The film opened on 2,027 screens, which is about 80 percent of 2,758 movie screens available in the country, or 37 percent of the total 5,481 when screens used for alternately showing less popular films are combined. This marked the first time in the country that a movie has been released on more than 2,000 screens.

Ryoo said he is "heavyhearted" over the screen monopoly issue.

"There is no change in my position that we should have a healthy ecology where diverse films can coexist," he said. "I hope an institutional measure to be taken against the screen monopoly, so the long-held problem can be ended with my film."


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