Favorite Japanese-Korean Movie Collaborations [Part 1 of 2 Parts]

My Way - poster

[Editor’s Note: A favorite hit list way back in 2012, we’re launching a Part 2 to showcase new titles to add to these 5 amazing movies – with an equally amazing collaboration between Japanese and Korean artists! ]

So, I’m starting the list with what is considered one of the most expensive movies (USD 25 million) produced in South Korea- the war drama My Way. 

Says filmmaker Kang Je-Gyu in response to a question about the painful memories of World War Two:

This movie doesn’t dramatize who are the offenders and who are the victims. The story is about one human being who doesn’t let go of his dream even though he is caught in World War II. Because of his dream there is forgiveness and understanding. The movie is basically a human story. [ source ]


What the Movie is all about: Inspired by a true story. Jun Shik works for Tatsuo’s grandfather’s farm while Korea is colonized by Japan, but he has a dream to participate in Tokyo Olympics as a marathon runner. Tatsuo also aims to become a marathon runner, so the two are in rivalry. But war breaks out and they both are forced to enlist in the army. Tatsuo becomes the head of defense in Jun Shik’s unit and he devises a scheme but fails. Jun Shik and Tatsuo are captured by the Soviets. They run away but soon are captured by Germans and forced to separate. In 1944, they meet again on the shores of Normandy.

The Buzz: As a big Joe Odagiri fan, I often search for his movies online and watch them with excitement. In My Way, I have the impression that he’ll portray a very bad, evil villain. I was wrong. His role was far from being a villain, but that of a young man who is proud of his country but is also capable of loving and respecting the perceived “enemy”. Dong-gun Jang plays the ‘enemy’, a hero among his countrymen who suffered so much during the war. I just love how their characters developed, and their hostilities toward each other turned into comradeship, and finally into a deep friendship.

Says Odagiri:

As you know Jang Dong-Gun is a good actor. While acting together I could tell he was also considerate. I felt we understood each other well. If I were a woman I would have a crush on him. Actually, as a man, I felt enough to have a crush on Jang Dong-Gun. I think, same as Jang Dong-Gun, that the language thing was no problem. [ source ]

Mr. Odagiri himself was not spared from controversy. While some people have criticized Mr. Odagiri for his antics when he wrote a different name during the said fan signing incident, it should be noted that he is known for doing the same even in Japan. Says the actor:

“I’m aware that my autograph has caused a controversy in Korea. I was taken aback and shocked at articles that said I had insulted Koreans.”

He explained, “I had no ill will behind the act. When fans ask me for autographs in Japan also, I sometimes even draw or write the things that come to my head at the time. If there was a misunderstanding, I’m very sorry for it. I’m regretful [for acting in a way that would cause such a misunderstanding].” [ EnewsWorld ]

The media and fans cannot force Odagiri to change his character. He is just ‘weird’ in his own personal way. Taking offense from such mundane, trivial matter is the problem of people who are simply too sensitive for their own sakes.

This controversy veered people away from appreciating the movie, which is great. Says Film School Reject’s Scott Beggs:

Dong-gun Jang and Jo Odagiri are both massive stars in the world of Asian cinema, and they are more than capable here, but the story is the real star. At its heart is the mystery of how two men from East Asia found their way far beyond the western front, and the lifeblood is the continual examination and re-examination of what war does to change good men. [read more]

Air Doll - poster

Currently, Bae Doona is in the spotlight for the movie Cloud Atlas, where she is cast together with Jim Sturgess. Also in the movie are big stars like Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, and Hale Berry. But before this Hollywood spotlight, the Korean actress, who is also known as a photographer, is the star of the movie Air Doll. Directed by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, the movie is a life-size blow-up doll who develops a soul and falls in love with a video store clerk.


What the Movie is all about: Middle-aged Hideo lives alone with an inflatable doll he calls Nozomi. The doll is his closest companion. He dresses it up, talks to it over dinner, takes it out for walks in the community (with the doll in a wheel chair) and has sexual intercourse with it. However, unbeknown to Hideo, Nozomi finds a heart. After Hideo leaves for work each day, Nozomi dresses in her maid’s outfit and explores the world outside their apartment with a sense of childlike wonder. Eventually, she takes a job in a video store and becomes romantically involved with one of the employees. He discovers her secret—with unanticipated results.

The Buzz: Joe Odagiri is also part of this movie, but his role is not very significant. The real star of the movie is Ms. Bae – who played the part of the life-size doll with a lot of courage and was also able to inject humor into her character.

Part of the commentary from A Nutshell Review mentions Bae’s performance:

Bae brings her Nozomi a sense of that wide-eyed wonderment of the real world, and her performance as a plastic inflatable doll is flawless, with Nozomi constantly in amazement from the assault of the senses of sight, sound and touch. There’s also a comedic innocence brought about through her zilch knowledge of the real world, which of course we’ll expect this to be exploited by nastier humans, because the world is evil as such, where innocence has no place once her honeymoon period is over.  [read more]

The Boat/ No Boys No Cry - poster

We’re in the middle of a Satoshi Tsumabuki blog-a-thon, so expect more of this amazing actor in our movie list. It’s not surprising that he’s one of the stars in this Japanese-Korean collaboration because he fits the role perfectly, and with Ha Jung-Woo as his co-star, expect a really good team-up. Jung Woo is an accomplished actor in Korea and has also ventured into movie directing. With more than 25 movies to his credit and critical acclaim throughout his acting career, they are equals in the acting field.

What the Movie is all about: Hyung-gu, a young Korean, visits Japan by boat three or four times a month to help with middle-aged Bo-gyung’s smuggling business. It is always touru, a young Japanese man, who welcomes him there. Hyung-gu and touru sacrifice themselves for the sake of their families, money, and friendship. One day, Bo-gyung ordered them to kidnap a woman named Jisu and take her to Japan, and this changes their future in an unexpected way. Hyung-gu, having met touru, suddenly feels responsible for his family. Meanwhile, touru, who used to take care of everything, feels liberated after meeting Hyung-gu. In spite of the language border and the difference of surroundings, the two young men from Korea and Japan go through a piece of a blossom of youth together. through the use of a boat as a visual metaphor, this film raises the question of solitude of a man and communication among people.[ source ]

The Buzz: Says Beyond Hollywood:

Despite its drug running and kidnap premise, “Boat” is actually a laid back character drama rather than a thriller, with director Kim showing the same indie sensibilities as he has in the past and concentrating on the human aspects of the story rather than anything too straightforward. Indeed, the film moves along at an unhurried pace, as the early scenes of smuggling and crime drama quickly give way to characters simply hiding out, talking, and trying to work through their problems. The relationship between Hyung Gu and Toru does not develop along the expected lines, and the film never becomes a clichéd buddy picture, with several rather harsh turns. Both are quite odd, unconventional figures, each with their own sets of problems and motivations, which inevitably leads to a number of clashes. This works very well, and Kim does a great job of making the two men very believable and sympathetic, despite the fact that they clearly operate to a large extent on self-interest.[ read more ]

Virgin Snow - poster

What can you expect in an Aoi Miyazaki movie? The awesomeness of course! The critically acclaimed young actress who won awards locally and abroad has an amazing acting range, and her work outside showbiz is something fans love to hear about. Teaming up with Miyazaki is Lee Joon-Giin, who made his entry into movies by playing a role in a Japanese production called The Hotel Venus.

Joon-Gin is an actor to reckon with. He did not experience immediate success as an actor, but when the right role came at the right time, he got the spotlight and adulation he deserves. Reports AsianWiki on his rise as one of Korea’s best actors:

Lee Joon-Gi would land the role of “Gong-gil” in the 2005 film “The King and the Clown.” The film was an unusual historical drama centered around the relationship between two male clown actors – one having traditionally masculine traits and the other (played by Lee Joon-Gi) having highly effeminate traits. To land the role of Gong-gil, Joon-Gi endured four separate auditions. While filming “The King and the Clown,” Joon-Gi spoke in a higher pitched voice and acted effeminate even when not in front of the camera to stay in the character of Gong-gil. The movie with little expectations upon its release would then go on to become the highest grossing film of its time, selling 12.3 million tickets. Lee Joon-Gi also appeared concurrently on the small screen in the SBS drama series “My Girl,” further boosting his popularity & making him one of the most popular actors in Asia.[ source ]
What the Movie is all about: Min, a Korean boy, moves to Japan with his father who is a potter. One day at a local shrine, he meets Nanae, a beautiful Japanese girl with stunning eyes who is aspiring to be a painter. Min falls in love at first sight and finds out that Nanae attends the school to which he has just transferred. Their friendship develops fast despite their cultural and language difference. Yet when Min’s grandmother suddenly falls ill, Min hastily returns to Korea without having the time to explain Nanae the situation. After his grandmother regains her health, Min hurries back to Japan but Nanae is nowhere to be found. Had his true feelings for Nanae not been apparent to her? Why has Nanae disappeared without a word?

Fly With The Gold - poster

DBSK member Chang-Min (now known as one of the TVXQ duo) co-stars in this gold heist movie, with Satoshi Tsumabuki playing the lead role. As a North Korean spy pretending to be a student, it will be the young Korean’s first venture into movies.

What the Movie is all about: Kota (Satoshi Tsumabuki) hears about an impending 1.5 billion yen gold bar heist from his friend Kitagawa (Tadanobu Asano), a former college classmate, and decides to take part. The gold bar sits in the basement of the HQ of Sumita Bank. Helping Kota and Kitagawa are bank security employee Noda (Kenta Kiritani), a North Korean spy pretending to be a college student (Shim Chang-Min), Kitagawa’s younger brother Haruki (Junpei Mizobata) and a former elevator engineer (Toshiyuki Nishida). These 6 men are about to carry the boldest of schemes to bypass the bank’s high-tech defense system.

Reports KPopDaily News:

The movie is adapted from the debut crime novel of Japanese best-selling author Takamura Kaoru, which was awarded the Japan Thriller Suspense Award. The plot depicts the story of 6 men who plan an attempt to steal a gold bullion worth 24 billion yen, which is said to lie in the underground vault of a megabank in Osaka. As the plan is executed, the true agenda of these men slowly become clear. [ source ]
We recently posted the box office result of this recent movie, with some commentaries also here.

Both Tsumabuki and Changmin also figured prominently among fan blogs and there was even a magazine cover and spread to promote the movie.

The Final Word: Movie collaboration between countries is nothing new. The French movie industry always collaborated with their Belgian, Spanish, Italian, German and British counterparts in many instances. The same goes for Hollywood and the British. It’s very disappointing how some members of the media focus so much on the hostilities between Japan and Korea. Of course, it’s news. But not everything is what it seems.

Future artistic projects were in the works between the two countries. You just need to look further.

In Looking Back on the new Era, some great projects are up ahead:

In 2011, a series of events titled “The New Era: Japan-Korea Collaboration for the Future” was organized in the Republic of Korea. The aim was to help both countries strive to forge a new bilateral relationship. Events in a wide range of fields, including exhibitions, performances, film screenings, youth education programs, symposia, and lectures, took place in Seoul and five other cities from February to March 2011. (The project was sponsored by the Japan Foundation and co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan with its embassy in Seoul.)

The term “collaboration” has many meanings. This project focused on collaborative activities between people or groups of people in Japan and Korea. It also looked at efforts on both sides to overcome their common issues, such as tradition and modernity, nature and science/technology, multicultural symbiosis, welfare and the environment. We were able to carry out the events with the help and co-sponsorship of many specialists and organizations in Korea, and the project was worthy of its title of “The New Era.”

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Do you love to watch movie collaborations between Japan and Korea? Which of the five movies above have you seen already? Which one are you interested in watching the most? Let us know what you think!

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