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Director Yim Soon-rye shows new style in 'The Point Men' based on Afghan hostage crisis

Movies 17:08 January 16, 2023

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- When director Yim Soon-rye was offered a new film about the Afghanistan hostage crisis, called "The Point Men," she hesitated to take on the controversial theme as she knew little about the war-ravaged country.

In 2007, 23 South Korean missionaries were kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan for 43 days. The incident, which left two male hostages dead, gripped the nation and stirred debates over the Seoul government's direct negotiations with the terrorist group.

Yim studied the weighty theme and decided to write a story from the perspective of negotiators who made desperate efforts to rescue the hostages.

Even for the veteran filmmaker who has helmed multiple movies based on true stories, including "Forever the Moment" (2008) and "Whistle Blower" (2014), it was not an easy job.

Director Yim Soon-rye of "The Point Men" is seen in this photo provided by the film distributor Plus M Entertainment. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Director Yim Soon-rye of "The Point Men" is seen in this photo provided by the film distributor Plus M Entertainment. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Government documents related to negotiations were classified and victims' writings were centered on their personal experiences.

"There are usually original works that can be adapted into films, but there was nothing except the (hostage) incident and the desire to dramatize it. I was at a loss at first," the 63-year-old said in a group media interview on Monday.

"I finally accepted the offer as I thought the story's subject has rarely been covered in Korean films and I could make a unique story," she said.

Based on the real incident, Yim created two fictional characters -- Jeong Jae-ho, a senior foreign ministry official dispatched to Afghanistan (played by Hwang Jung-min) and Park Dae-shik, an intelligence agent with expertise in the Middle East and Central Asia (played by Hyun Bin).

The director said the movie delves into several themes -- conflicts between different religious beliefs, the scope of the government's responsibility for its people and professionalism of diplomats, government officials and journalists.

The poster of "The Point Men" is seen this photo provided by the film distributor Plus M Entertainment. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The poster of "The Point Men" is seen this photo provided by the film distributor Plus M Entertainment. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The celebrated female auteur, mostly known for heartfelt dramas and arthouse films, including "Waikiki Brothers" (2001) and "Little Forest" (2018), said the big budget project posed several challenges while filming in Jordan amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Her team had to make bombs with limited resources and search for an old bus for the kidnapping scene, and supporting actor Kang Ki-young, who appeared as an interpreter, rigorously practiced Pashto, a language used in southern Afghanistan.

Yim said she cast Hwang as the main protagonist to convincingly lead the story and chose Hyun as a spy agent with a traumatic memory from a past hostage incident to draw a new personality from the star actor.

"The role of Jeong Jae-ho is important from the beginning till the end as he has to get audiences to follow his emotions and thoughts in the negotiation process," she said. "I imagined a more cool-headed, restrained character, but Hwang showed a more active, energetic personality. As a result, his acting elevated the movie."

Hyun Bin's car chase action is a scene stealer in the movie, but Yim manages to maintain the focus with the right balance of dynamic scenes and a tightly-knit plot.

"I was tempted to take more action scenes, but didn't do because they were not necessary in the negotiation process," she said.

"The Point Men" arrives in local theaters Wednesday.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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