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(LEAD) 'The Fortress' director hopes to provide a chance to learn from past

All Headlines 16:41 August 23, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with more quotes and details from news conference in paras 10-14)
By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Aug. 23 (Yonhap) -- In the winter of 1636, King Injo of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) sought refuge in the Namhan Mountain Fortress, located 24 kilometers southeast of Seoul, after an invasion by the emperor of China's Qing Dynasty and his 100,000 troops.

The new Korean historical film "The Fortress" tells about the 47 days he spent at the fortress with his army and officials, which is considered one of the most tragic and shameful moments in Korean history. The movie is based on the best-selling novel of the same Korean title by Kim Hoon and helmed by Hwang Dong-hyuck, best known for "Miss Granny" (2013).

Director Hwang Dong-hyuck speaks during a press conference for "The Fortress" at a Seoul theater on Aug. 23, 2017. (Yonhap)

"I came to rethink about the Qing invasion of Joseon in 1636 that I had known only partly while reading the novel. I was greatly surprised to know that so many things happened inside the fortress and how much resemblance there is between the era and today," Hwang said during a news conference at a Seoul theater to promote the film Wednesday. "I wanted to make a movie that can give its viewers a chance to review the past and ponder the current times."

Today's Korea has to walk a tightrope between the two superpowers -- the United States and China -- to find a way to survive as a small country as Joseon did between China's waning Ming Dynasty and ascending Qing Dynasty in the 17th century, he explained.

Hwang said he was also driven by the desire to bring the novel's own power, tragic beauty and sorrowful but beautiful landscapes to the big screen.

The main cast members of "The Fortress" pose for the camera during a news conference for the film at a Seoul theater on Aug. 23, 2017. (Yonhap)

The film boasts a star-studded cast composed of Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yoon-seok, Park Hae-il, Go Soo and Park Hee-soon.

"Without these actors, this film would not have been made at all," Hwang said, adding that this serious historical flick might not even be able to draw investment without them.

"After finishing the casting of such actors as Lee Byung-hun and Kim Yoon-seok, I felt relieved thinking, 'Now I can make a film.' Their acting was far beyond my expectation."

Lee and Kim play Choi Myung-gil and Kim Sang-heon, leaders of two ideological cliques that clash in the fortress over whether to make peace with or fight against the Qing Dynasty. Park Hae-il takes the role of King Injo who is in agony in the tense conflicts between his men over the fate of the nation.

This marks Lee's first period work after the domestic martial arts film "Memories of the Sword" with actress Jeon Do-yeon in 2015.

"Since this film is a typical historical drama, everybody studied every historical detail and made efforts to reenact the history in exactly the same way. I also worked in a more serious manner than usual because I had to show exactly what the real-life figure Choi Myung-gil did in the past," Lee said. "I wasn't familiar with some of the old Korean words used in the script but believed audiences would be able to guess the meaning if they are used in a sentence."

Go Soo's character is Seo Nal-soe, a blacksmith sent outside with a king's letter to recruit loyal forces while Park Hee-soon is Lee Si-baek, who silently defends the mountain fortress in the bitter cold as the chief of the Joseon military base stationed there.

Director Hwang created the filming set in a wild plain surrounded by the mountains of Gangwon Province to make the film feel more real.

"At least I filmed inside the temporary palace where I could avoid the stinging wind. Who suffered the most were the filming crew," Park Hae-il said. He added what unexpectedly plagued him the most was to watch his two senior actors, Lee and Kim, acting on their knees during the five months of shooting.

"I was tense in order not to fluff up my lines, thinking how hard it would be for them to stay kneeling for a long time," he recalled.

The movie is set to premiere Sept. 27.


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