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'Hijack 1971' follows nail-biting plane thriller based on real event

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From left, director Kim Sung-han, actors Sung Dong-il, Yeo Jin-goo, Chae Soo-bin and Ha Jung-woo pose during the press conference for the thriller 'Hijack 1971,' held at CGV in Yongsan District, Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap

From left, director Kim Sung-han, actors Sung Dong-il, Yeo Jin-goo, Chae Soo-bin and Ha Jung-woo pose during the press conference for the thriller "Hijack 1971," held at CGV in Yongsan District, Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap

By Lee Gyu-lee

It's rather difficult for a thriller to keep the suspense going when the ending is already revealed. But the new film thriller "Hijack 1971" took the story of the real-life hijacking case, which made major headlines in the '70s and managed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats with its well-woven, spellbinding plot.

The new film, set to premiere June 21, is based on a true event where a 22-year-old South Korean man hijacked a plane to cross the border into North Korea. Former Air Force fighter pilot, Tae-in (Ha Jung-woo), retires from the force after failing to save those inside a plane hijacked by North Koreans in 1969 and now works as a co-pilot in a private airline.

An easy domestic flight bound for Gimpo takes an ill-fated turn when one of the passengers, Yong-dae (Yeo Jin-goo), hijacks the plane with a bomb, demanding to change the flight's path to North Korea, where his brother lives. With the captain (Sung Dong-il) losing his eyesight from the initial bomb blast, Tae-in takes over the flight and fights to save the lives of the passengers, along with the flight attendant Ok-soon (Chae Soo-bin).

This is the directorial debut of the filmmaker Kim Sung-han, who worked as the assistant director on the disaster film "Ashfall" (2019) and the thriller drama "1987: When the Day Comes" (2017).

Yeo Jin-goo plays the role of Yong-dae in the new thriller

Yeo Jin-goo plays the role of Yong-dae in the new thriller "Hijack 1971." Courtesy of Kidari Studio and Sony Pictures

The director noted that he felt the weight of depicting a real-life event, focusing on avoiding making the film overly exaggerated.

"Because this event actually happened to real people, I aimed to faithfully depict it. I've noticed that modern audiences aren't typically interested in overly sentimental stories, although I personally find them appealing. I believe melodrama can be effective if it serves the plot well, but I chose not to emphasize it in this particular work," he said during the press conference for the film, held at CGV in Yongsan District, Seoul, Thursday.

"I wanted the audience to watch it as it is (without overly sentimental elements) and could feel a sense of heaviness after watching the film."

Ha plays the role of a responsible, dedicated co-plight who juggles flying the plane and trying to resolve the hijacking situation while keeping the panicked passengers calm.

The actor said that, unlike his previous light-hearted and playful roles, he tried to portray this character as genuine.

"I think there are appropriate characters that I can lighten with and those that I can't … With this work, the director wanted me to portray the character as faithfully as possible. Given the circumstances that the story was based on the real event, it carried weight and power, so I focused on faithfully putting myself in the given situation when acting."

A scene from the new thriller

A scene from the new thriller "Hijack 1971" / Courtesy of Kidari Studio and Sony Pictures

Yeo plays the villain with an unfortunate past in South Korea because of his brother who became a North Korean general during the Korean War.

The actor shared that although his role is based on the real-life hijacker, he recreated the character to fill in the mystery left unrevealed from the true event.

"There was a real person that Yong-dae is based on, but I mainly created the character when discussing with the director and watching the films that the director recommended," he said.

"As I focused on Yong-dae's state of mind and his situation before the bombing (of the plane), rather than after the bombing, the expression and the look of the character naturally came."

He added he learned a lot from the film, working with his co-stars, Ha and Sung.

"Despite the worries and choices we had to make (for the scenes) on the set, the atmosphere was bright and cheerful. When we were exchanging our opinions and thoughts, there were no boundaries between seniority, but rather, I could share my thoughts as an audience and a person," he said.

"I felt I could grow each day, working on the film. The reason I could immerse myself in the role was that I had faith in Ha and Sung that they would lead me through acting."

Lee Gyu-lee gyulee@koreatimes.co.kr


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