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'Escape' to explore innate desire for freedom through story of N. Korean defector

June 18, 2024 - 11:38 By Lee Yoon-seo
"Escape," starring Lee Je-hoon (Megabox Plus M)

Humanity's yearning for freedom is the main subject of "Escape," a film that follows a North Korean soldier who has defected to South Korea.

"Escape" narrates the story of Gyu-nam (portrayed by Lee Je-hoon), a North Korean soldier about to be discharged after 10 years of service. Faced with no alternative other than a future of working on a farm or in a mine, Gyu-nam devises a plan to defect to South Korea in search of a better life.

Hot on his trail is Hyun-sang (played by Koo Kyo-hwan), a major in North Korea's Ministry of State Security, assigned to capture him.

According to director Lee Jong-pil, "Escape" explores the human instinct to freely determine one's own future.

"One day, I came across an article about South African youths who attempted to smuggle themselves into Europe by clinging to the wheels of a departing airplane after sneaking onto the runway. Also, a friend of mine, who was working at a company, called me in tears, expressing his desire to quit his job. I thought their emotions were similar to what Gyu-nam was feeling. Through 'Escape,' I wanted to tell a universal story about humans," said Lee during a press conference held in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Monday.

The film is being released at a time of heightened tensions between the two Koreas, including Pyongyang's recent dropping of balloons carrying garbage into the South. Was the timing of the release intentional?

It was just a coincidence, by Lee's account.

"'Escape' finished (production) around the middle or latter half of last year," said Lee.

Lee emphasized that the film avoids presenting ideological perspectives on inter-Korean relations.

"The film, rather than talking of ideology, talks about something else -- and I wanted to create an entertaining movie, most of all," he said.

"Escape" starring Koo Kyo-hwan (Megabox Plus M)

Amid Gyu-nam's thrilling escape across the border and all the action scenes, it is Hyun-sang's complex character that stands out. Despite his role as a high-ranking officer and a relentless pursuer, Hyun-sang grapples with personal ambitions and desires.

Director Lee said he sought to add depth to Hyung-sang and make him more compelling by having Song Kang appear as a special guest in the film. Song is known for his lead role in hit titles such as Netflix's "Sweet Home" and "Love Alarm."

"(Song Kang) serves as a Tinkerbell that reveals Hyun-sang's repressed desire. I thought it should conventionally be a woman, but I felt it wouldn't be interesting. (Through Song Kang's appearance), I hoped for something short but impactful," said Lee.

"Escape" will hit local theaters July 3.