When cable channel OCN’s miniseries “Yaksa” exploded onto the small screen on Dec. 10, it lived up to its reputation as the Korean version of Starz’s “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” flaunting an excess of gore and sex that more than merited its 19-and-over viewer restriction.
“Yaksa” lead actor Cho Dong-hyeok summed up the allure of the drama when he told The Korea Herald, “It is a work that allows for more freedom of expression and sports computer graphics like what was seen on ‘Spartacus,’ in short, that it would have the stuff that you just can’t get on a major broadcasting network.”
|Lead actor Cho Dong-hyeok (right) films a gladiator action sequence for OCN’s “Yaksa.” (OCN)|
Massive carnage spliced with an orgy between the king and an entourage of half-nude women drew in average viewer ratings of 2.3 percent, according to AGB Nielsen Media Research, a figure considered high in the cable arena.
Like the Spartan import, blood got its own artistic treatment in “Yaksa,” splashing, rocketing, spewing and hurtling through the air in slo-mo.
Cho slid seamlessly into his role as the head of the king’s secret gang of assassins, whipping his heavy sword about in a flash of brawn and sheer force, a grim reaper with a mission, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.
So when the hunky model-turned-actor said, “I think it might have been better if it was just a tad bit crueler and a tad bit racier,” many might have countered with, “What?”
That is, unless they watched the other episodes.
The 12-episode series, which plays every Friday at midnight, just aired its seventh installment.
Average ratings initially drifted down to 0.9 percent by the fourth episode, but then popped right back up again to 1.79 percent the following Friday when Cho’s hero, Baek Rok, morphed into a gladiator and, armed with nothing but a shield, slaughtered his opponents.
Aside from Baek Rok, however, who gets most of the action, the nudity has been considerably toned down and the bloodbath curtailed, with the focus shifting to the narrative itself, the political intrigue between a mid-Joseon Dynasty monarch and those intent on keeping him a puppet, and the tale of a woman (played by singer-turned-actress Jeon Hye-bin) once loved by Baek Rok and his brother Baek Gyeol (“Spring Waltz” actor Seo Do-young) but now spurned and out for revenge.
In short, “Yaksa” is vastly different from “Spartacus,” which was a sex-heavy gore-fest from beginning to end.
In regards to that, “Yaksa” director Kim Hong-sun discussed certain concerns he faced when making the series.
|“Yaksa” director Kim Hong-sun discusses why he cut out certain sex scenes and how he worried over how to get the blood to look pretty in an interview with The Korea Herald. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)|
“Since we are for television, the viewers are more conservative,” said Kim. “We wanted to give it an edge of fantasy, make it less cruel.”
“When we first latched onto the concept, we were concerned about how, exactly, we should spray the blood,” he continued. “We focused on making it look pretty and not like a horror flick.”
“We did film sex scenes, but then we took them out because they didn’t work,” he said.
Quite frankly, however, even the toned-down version is far more hard-core than, say, KBS’ action-heavy period blockbuster, “The Slave Hunters.”
Computer graphics, or to be more accurate, the way that CGI has been used, seem to be playing a key role in giving “Yaksa” its allure.
“We wanted the concept of the action to be about power,” said Kim. “We wanted to do powerful action. We wanted the swords to cut through the bodies. You can’t do something like that on a major broadcasting network, but you can do it on cable.”
To achieve those effects, Kim revealed that they had to use swords that were only half their intended length, so that computer graphics could be used to create slicing and piercing effects later on.
“At first it was very awkward for us,” Kim said of using the half-swords.
“Yeah, we got this half sword, like, literally, half a sword,” Cho recalled when they started the four months of filming that ran from August to November last year. “We would use real swords for one take, then, we would have to do it again with half swords.”
He chuckled as he remembered what it was like.
“There were a lot of outtakes,” he said. “It was all so new to us, so when they called, ‘Cut!’ We would burst out laughing.”
“Yaksa” action director Baek Kyung-chan, who racked up critical experience working on “The Slave Hunters,” explained how time-consuming the process was.
“We had to film each choreographed sequence about three times,” Baek said.
Kim confirmed that, for episodes one to five alone, they used around 600 cuts worth of CGI, which, he also confirmed, is the approximate amount used on average for an entire film.
Still, Kim confirmed that production costs for “Yaksa,” which totaled a whopping 3 billion won ($2.7 million), were still cheaper than what it cost to make “Spartacus.”
Not only was “Yaksa” less expensive to make than “Spartacus,” it relied less on green-or-blue-screen technology than the C.G.I.-saturated hit.
“We filmed 80 percent of ours outside, on location, and did 20 to 30 percent on blue screen,” he said.
So, while “Yaksa” may not be peppered-to-bursting with green screen, it definitely has more than its fair share of “real” action.
According to action director Baek, Cho did almost all of his own stunts, a challenge that left him close to blinded at one point.
“Physically it was incredibly difficult,” Cho said, flexing his rough, large fists, which still looked battered and bruised despite the fact that approximately two months had passed since filming wrapped up.
“I felt like I got more of a thrill out of using my bare hands to fight than when I wielded a sword.”
According to Cho, at one point he and a fellow action actor actually started to duke it out while filming.
Afterwards Cho said his forearms were so bruised that he could barely prop them up.
“We tailored the action for Cho’s character, for instance, to make his fighting style heavy and rough,” explained Baek, who recalled the incident with a bit, it seems, of good-natured humor.
For Cho the action presented a new challenge. Though he had starred in four films and six TV dramas before he did “Yaksa,” he had never done an action or a period piece before.
“I think I watched ‘Spartacus’ three times to check out the action because you just can’t get that kind of action in Korean dramas,” the 33-year old said.
Looking like he got a kick out of the experience ― though he admitted to wanting to throw in the towel numerous times ― he hinted at the gore to come by saying, “This is just the beginning.”
“Lots of people die and I kill most of them. I kill them all. But the ultimate action to end all action comes in the final episode.”
By Jean Oh (email@example.com)
조동혁이 진짜 ’짐승남’이 되는 순간이 다가오고 있다.
케이블 채널 OCN은 ’야차’ 6화 방송을 앞두고 “성인시청자 위한 충격적인 영상미를 연출할 것”이라고 밝혔다. ‘조선 스파르타쿠스’ 조동혁의 ‘분노의 3단 액션’이 폭발하며 마침내 진짜 ’짐승남’이 되는 순간이 도래한 것이다.
14일 방송되는 ’야차’ 6화에서 조동혁이 하이킥 – 쇠사슬 액션- 파격 검술까지 ‘분노의 3단 액션’을 선보이며 액션 종결자의 면모를 과시할 예정이다. 이날 조동혁은 자신을 구해준 일본인 부녀를 위해 검투사로 변신, 잔악무도한 사형수들과 목숨을 건 죽음의 대결을 펼친다. 5분에 가까운 조동혁의 잔혹하면서도 처절한 액션신이 압권이 될 것이라는 게 제작진의 전언이다.
이글거리는 눈빛으로 검투장에 들어 오는 것부터 시작해, 야마카시와 무에타이를 연상케 하는 하이킥, 쇠사슬을 이용한 스릴넘치는 액션, 피 튀기는 검술까지 시청자들에게 손에 땀을 쥐게 하는 파격적인 장면을 연출한다. 완성도 높은 CG기술과 리얼한 액션이 합쳐져 시청자들이 쓰시마섬 야외 검투장에 와 있는 듯한 생동감을 그대로 느낄 수 있을 것이라는 평가다.
뿐만 아니라, 조동혁의 카리스마 넘치는 표정과 날카로운 눈빛 연기는 미드 ’스파르타쿠스’를 능가하는 새로운 ‘한국형 액션스타’의 탄생을 예고하고 있다.
OCN 측은 “6화부터 본격적으로 검투장 씬이 전개되면서 ‘야차’만의 화려한 검투 액션 장면들이 연출될 것”이라며 “그동안 국내 제작물에서는 보지 못했던 색다른 영상 미학이 성인 시청자들에게 신선한 충격으로 다가갈 것”이라고 자신했다. (헤럴드생생뉴스)