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A veteran Hollywood hand looks to Korea in '1950'

August 1, 2011 |  7:28 pm

Western film personalities are increasingly tackling Asian productions--witness Christian Bale's starring role in the upcoming Chinese war drama "The Heroes of Nanking." The latest and perhaps most intriguing foray comes from Rob Cohen, the well-established director of Hollywood hits like "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX."

Cohen has just signed on to direct "1950," a fact-based epic set during the Korean War about a Korean translator, an American commander and an embedded female journalist who all rescue thousands of civilians during the war.  The film will follow the story of U.S. Marines in their efforts to save hundreds of thousands of civilians as the Chinese and North Korean armies advance; it will culminate with the real-life rescue by a U.S. merchant marine vessel in what is now known as the Christmas Miracle.

The movie is budgeted at about $100 million, which producers said is the largest in the history of the South Korean film industry. It will be bankrolled primarily by South Korean interests, particularly the media giant CJ Entertainment.

Although the movie will be told from the perspective of the Americans (mainly the commander, as well as the journalist Marguerite Higgins, on whose news dispatches the movie will be based), Cohen told 24 Frames that he wouldn't  shy away from ideology.  "The politics will be right there on the surface," he said. "This was a country that never should have been divided, and we'll deal with that along with the rest of the story."

The film's dialogue will be a mix of English and Korean. The aim is to shoot in May for a 2013 release.

Cohen, who is set to begin shooting Tyler Perry's Alex Cross movie "I, Alex Cross," explained the collaboration between Western filmmakers and Asian producers as proof of the growing interdependence between East and West-- and as something perhaps a bit more specific. "There's a lot of filmmaking talent here that could be helpful to emerging film cultures. And meanwhile there's a lot of money in other countries that haven't been on the brink of default. So the marriage works."

Cohen, who was initially set to direct "Saving Private Ryan" before Steven Spielberg came aboard, said that "1950" was another chance to make a period war picture that would honor Cohen's father and grandfather, who both served in the U.S. Army during military conflicts.

But the film's real achievement, he said, would be the character of the female journalist. The real-life Higgins broke new ground as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune at the end of World War II and in the Korean War, winning a Pulitzer for her coverage of the latter. She died at 45 after contracting a jungle-borne illness covering the Vietnam War.

"This is a rare chance to see a war movie with a woman at the center," Cohen said. "And it's a real opportunity for a certain kind of actress with gumption, like an Anne Hathaway."

The movie--which will be shot partly shot in Incheon, South Korea, where some of the story took place--does come on the heels of numerous war movies, and Cohen acknowledged that distinguishing it in that genre won't be easy. "It's a big challenge, and one I don't want to underestimate the size of that challenge," he said. "There are many ways to do a war movie, and many have been done before. We'll have to find our own way in."


Christian Bale's China movie aims to catch America's eye

It's rough out West for Chinese films

AFI Fest spotlights South Korean cinema

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Marguerite Higgins. Credit: Associated Press

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