By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Seattle, compared to different cities, is clean and safe. And the weather’s great, and a great place to play sports and get along with your next-door neighbors. It wasn’t a big city where you could find places to get into trouble. It was a secluded area where you could be more outdoorsy, and stay out of trouble.”
That’s movie producer Kyu-chang Lee, known in Hollywood and the filmmaking world as “Q,” describing his childhood. Q came to the Pacific Northwest at the age of 2, growing up on Mercer Island, and later attending the University of Washington (UW). Q’s latest project, “Operation Chromite,” an epic of the Korean War starring Liam Neeson as General Douglas MacArthur, leader of the United Nations Command, opened last week.
Asked how he got interested in movies as a career, Q recalled majoring in business at the UW, but also studying drama. “I had stage fright,” he explains. “Two or three people in front of me, I’d be shaking in my pants, just couldn’t get anything out. Ballmer Hall, which is the business school at the UW, it’s across from Hutchinson Hall, the school of drama. One day, I just got curious and asked them what it was like to be a drama major.
“I used drama as a way to fight the fear,” he continues. “Put the two together, put business and drama together, and what do you have? Entertainment. I also was a football player. I was exposed to a lot of celebrity events and pro athletes around the community. And I built my network through celebrities and athletes.”
“Operation Chromite” details the Battle of Inchon, which turned the tide for the South Korean forces fighting the communist North Korean army led by Kim Il-sung. Asked how he got involved in co-producing the film, Q traces his interest back to an earlier Korean film, “The Brotherhood of War.”
That film, the producer recalls, “was huge in Korea. I had the opportunity to watch that film, while I was an employee at Sony Pictures Entertainment, and I worked for Sony Pictures for 10 years, five of those years, I was an assistant to the chairman of the studios, Jeff Blake.”
Q recommended the “Brotherhood” film to Blake, who ended up distributing it in the United States.
“Taking my connections at Sony, and parlaying them into connections in Korean, I came across “Operation Chromite,” two years ago, through the main producer of this film, Tae-won Jeong,” Q said.
“Jeong has been a big brother mentor to me, and gave me the opportunity to be a co-producer on this project. He asked me how I could possibly contribute, and if I could cast American talent to play General MacArthur and so on. It’s been a fun process. Didn’t know it would be as big as it has been. Been very humbled by it.”
As far as casting the Korean leads, Q mentions Jung-jae Lee, who plays General Jang, in the film — he’s like the Tom Cruise of Korea. “Beom-soo Lee, who plays General Lim, from the North Korean side, is a huge actor here in Korea. They’ve worked on films before … it was a great synergy between the three, them and Neeson. More than I would have expected.”
As for casting Neeson as the military genius MacArthur, Q said, “We thought about a lot of folks, but when we looked at MacArthur’s side profile and Neeson’s side profile, they look so similar! We made up our mind that it was either Liam Neeson or bust. It took us quite awhile to convince him, but the director of the film, John H. Lee, is represented by the same agency.” Q also credited his relationships at Sony, and old friends at the agency for bringing Neeson in.
“He studied the hell out of the Korean war,” says Q about Neeson. He read a thousand-page novel to make sure what he was doing. He’s been to Korea several times and he’s very welcomed by Korean fans. He’s done everything he can top-to-bottom in Hollywood, so he wanted to take this chance to see what he could do outside of Hollywood.”
Asked about the film’s reception, Q said proudly, “Hitting 6 million admissions this weekend, which is incredible box office (in Korea). We’re opening [in America] on about 120 screens. It’s the largest opening in the U.S., by a pretty long range.”
Asked about his future projects after “Operation Chromite,” Q mentioned an upcoming film with Samuel L. Jackson, and also an adaptation of the popular American TV show “Criminal Minds,” for South Korea.
“Operation Chromite” is currently playing on several screens in the Seattle area. Check local listings for theatres, prices, and showtimes.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.