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September 25, 2017

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Crowdfunding rescues provocative South Korean film on massacre

SEOUL -- After being turned down by many investors over the last four years, South Korean film producer Choi Yong-bae said it feels strange and exciting that his revenge film about a notorious South Korean president blamed for the massacre of democracy protesters is finally coming to life through online donations.

Finding film investors is a tough shot even for a seasoned producer such as Choi, the chief executive of Chungeorahm Film, who made his name in South Korea's film industry with several box office hits.

But Choi argued that it was for more than business reasons that corporate investors shunned the movie "26 Years."

"Some said their companies can't invest in such a politically sensitive movie ahead of the presidential election this year. Others initially said yes but then changed their mind without giving any reasons," he said.

Taking inspiration from a popular online cartoon released in 2006, the action thriller blends fiction and recent South Korean history as its protagonists try to assassinate former strongman Chun Doo-hwan who took power through a coup against a rival military faction in 1979. The movie is set 26 years after soldiers used deadly force to crush an uprising in Gwangju city against Chun's authoritarian rule in May 1980.

Since then, the country has been remade as a thriving and prosperous democracy but not far beneath the surface of South Korea's success story is a tale of justice not fully served. Many of those viewed as responsible for the massacre are still alive today and occupy privileged positions in South Korean society.

After buying the film rights in 2006, Choi said he made unsuccessful investment pitches to the top four entertainment companies in South Korea, which together account for more than 90 percent of the country's film investment and distribution. Investment funds and venture capitalists also refused to back him. It was earlier this year that Choi's production company set up a crowdfunding website for "26 Years."

"I was certain that people who read the original cartoon and people who were aware of the history wanted to see this movie," Choi told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "So I wanted to actually confirm that and resume the movie making through their support."

In less than three months, more than 12,000 people gave nearly 450 million won (US$404,000) in exchange for movie tickets and small gifts, helping the film finally get off the ground. The donations continue to grow by word of mouth and social media.

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