Freeman Cebu Entertainment

K-content lands another first with ‘The Silent Sea’

Vanessa Balbuena - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  If early 2021’s “Space Sweepers” was the first Korean film to take place across the vast outer space, Asia’s creative powerhouse continued its tremendous growth by ending the year with yet another first.

“The Silent Sea,” currently streaming on Netflix, is the first Korean series to take place on the moon, and the first to use cutting-edge virtual production and VFX technology.

An adaptation of rising director Choi Hang-yong’s 2014 short film, the title is derived from the ‘Sea of Tranquility’, a part of the moon that’s a bit more familiar to mankind. In 1969, Apollo 11 first landed on the moon, and it was the silent sea that welcomed its first humans to walk on the surface.

“It’s actually based on my graduation work. Immediately before graduation, I really wanted to create something that was true to my passion. There were a lot of movies that depict outer space, but not something that was literally and physically on the moon,” director Choi began during a virtual press conference.

“So I wanted to create a story with the backdrop being the surface of the moon, and during the research, I found out that even though the moon is the closest to us, there’s not much that has been revealed to us. And that’s how I came about creating the story about the moon.”

In the new Netflix series, the Korean Space and Aeronautics Administration has built the Balhae Lunar Research Station to learn more about the moon. Actor Jung Woo-sung was enthralled by this story and wanted to be involved in creating a sci-fi series that is uniquely Korean.

“This very unique setup of the story, I just fell in love. And while there are a lot of sci-fi films out there, we really didn’t think to create something like that of our own in Korea,” said Jung, whose participation in the production of the series garnered attention from the get-go.

A juggernaut cast — Bae Doona, Gong Yoo, Lee Joon, to name a few — portrays the elite team members who risk their lives for a special mission.

Asked if he wasn’t tempted to play one of the lead characters himself, superstar actor and producer Jung shared,  “As an actor, you do want to be a part of something like this on the screen too. And about seven years ago, I did explore versions of the story where I was the main lead. If I had to play a role, you might think that I wanted to play Captain Han, but I will tell you now that I would never have been able to play the role the way Gong Yoo captured it. Watching all of the production, the set, thinking about what we need more and what do we need less of – I think it was just a learning experience and it was truly enough.”

Gong Yoo returned the compliment, calling Jung “a celebrity of the celebrities.”

“He knows exactly how to make an actor would feel comfortable on set, and he would help us in that way. Acting, shooting, it could be tiring, but because we had such a perfect executive producer, his presence was just a morale booster.”

He added, “It was actually my first encounter with him, so Jung Woo-sung was like a big celebrity to me. Because anyone of my age, especially for men, he is like an idol. He is like a celebrity of the celebrities.”

For writer Park Eun-kyo, “The Silent Sea” is a story that “puts us on the edge of death and makes us question the meaning and value of life. What choices we make and what path we take if our very existence was threatened. This story ultimately deals with these ideas and feelings that we can all sympathize with.”

In “The Silent Sea”,  the depletion of natural resources devastates life on Earth, and humans must find hope elsewhere in order to survive. The answer may be found in the middle of the moon in the area known as “Sea of Tranquility.” An elite crew is sent on a special mission to Balhae Lunar Research Station – Korea’s first lunar base that was permanently closed down five years ago.

The team is comprised of top elite talent: astrobiologist Song Jian (Bae Doona), captain Han Yunjae (Gong Yoo), chief engineer Ryu Taesuk (Lee Joon), team doctor Doc Hong (Kim Sun-young), chief security officer Gong Soohyuk (Lee Mu-saeng), and pilot Kim Sun (Lee Sung-wook).

After the team lands on the moon, they arrive at the research base which stands tall amid the endless stretch of the moon’s surface. Unimaginable mysteries lurk inside the station where they are trapped in isolation. The team is now on a deadly mission with a mere 10 percent survival rate. They desperately search for clues to save mankind from extinction. However, the crew instead confronts evidence of why no one from the previous mission had returned alive.

Generating more publicity for “The Silent Sea” even before filming commenced was the casting of A-list actors Bae Doona and Gong Yoo. Bae, no newcomer to global stardom with the Netflix Series “Kingdom” and “Sense8”, plays astrobiologist Dr. Song Jian.

“When I first read the script, because sci-fi and outer-space series is not that common in Korea, I thought it was a big challenge,” the actress quipped.

Gong Yoo is Han Yunjae, the captain of the exploration crew who is a legendary figure in the Space and Aeronautics Administration. Talking about putting in effort to create his role’s world-weary appearance, the actor shared, “He is a former veteran, so I wanted him to have a more rugged and tough look, to be able to see how rough of a life he led. So I got a little bit tanned, and if you look at the tattoo he has on his neck, he has an insignia of his former military unit. It’s not so much that I tried to create a ‘tough’ appearance, but I just wanted it to hint at the history that we don’t really see in the series.”

“I have done a lot of more romantic roles where I had very polished looks, with a little bit of curl in my hair. I wanted to get rid of those aspects in this character this time. Because he is a former veteran, I had a much clean-cut hairstyle. And at the time, because I had this new haircut, I know that fans had different opinions about that particular haircut.”

Lee Joon joins the two leads as the energetic chief engineer Ryu Taesuk – an intriguing character and a highly competent engineer who volunteers for the deadly mission without hesitation.

Kim Sun-young, Lee Mu-saeng and Lee Sung-wook complete the solid main cast. Kim Sun-young plays Hong Gayoung who is fondly referred to as “Hong Doc”, the crew’s physician with a strong sense of duty; Lee Mu-saeng plays goal-driven, stalwart chief security officer Gong Soohyuk; and Lee Sung-wook plays the pilot Kim Sun, the extroverted funnyman in the bunch.

Of the challenges in helming a sci-fi series, director Choi noted, “The lunar environment is completely different from that of the Earth, so I first had to organize exactly how different they are, and how I’m going to express that onscreen. For example, on the moon we don’t have air, so the texture of light, the way that light reflects, it all had to be different. And because you don’t have wind there, we have to make sure that we don’t see any kind of wind blowing someone’s hair or any part of the costume being moved.”

With “Squid Game” and “Hellbound” among 2021’s massive hits, did Jung Woo-sung feel any pressure that “The Silent Sea” was up next? “I think that it’s almost like we are in a relay of where you are seeing different kinds of K-content being showcased to the world, and there is pressure, definitely,” he admitted.

“Each piece has their own universe, different sentiment, and it wouldn’t be fair, I think, it’s not comparable to the success of previous productions that the world loved so much. I think ‘The Silent Sea’ is a production of its own. I think more focus should be put on creating something that we believe in, and hoping that it would resonate with the global audience. And I truly wish that this piece would.”

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