RAYFORCE: Interview with Director and Producer
A Conversation with the Production Crew of the Upcoming Korean SFX Hero TV Show
Author / Translator: Kim Song-ho
Official website: T3 Entertainment (RAYFORCE website coming soon)
RAYFORCE demo footage on YouTube
Special Thanks to Ko Jeong-jin, Jun Jae-hoon, Hong Gi-hun and the members of Big Monster Club
A SciFi JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
On October 22, 2009, the Korean game company T3 Entertainment announced the production of a new SFX Hero TV Show called RAYFORCE, WAR RECORD OF TIME AND SPACE (Shigongjeongi Reifosu). Shortly before the official announcement, T3 released a 4-minute video demo of the show on YouTube. The quality of the demo was enough to attract attention from genre fans, and RAYFORCE has become one of the most anticipated SFX shows in Korea.
T3 Entertainment is a prolific company that develops and distributes game software. Notable titles from T3 includes HELLGATE, WARCRY, MYTHOS and AUDITION. T3 also owns Hanbit Soft, the Korean publisher of popular games such as STARCRAFT and DIABLO. Hanbit has distributed import toys in Korea, including Bandai’s Super Sentai and Ultraman series from 2005 until 2009, and it will produce and distribute RAYFORCE toys in the coming months. The reason T3 is producing a SFX TV show can be seen as an effort to develop its own original content.
According to initial news reports, RAYFORCE will be a 2-season show, consisting of 26 episodes for each season. T3 will begin principal photography next March and the first season of the show will air starting in September.
RAYFORCE Interview with Producer Ko Jeong-jin and Director Jun Jae-hoon
Author’s Note: This was an e-mail interview with both Ko Jeong-jin and Jun Jae-hoon, but the answers were not specified by the interviewees except for the first question.
Kim Song-ho: What made you participate in this project?
Jun Jae-hoon: I spent my childhood in the 1980s when robot animations were at the height of popularity, and I think those had a great effect on my sensibility. I always had interest in transforming cartoon imagination into live action, and I came to join this RAYFORCE project by directing the demo presentation. Personally, I am very delighted.
Kim Song-ho: Could you tell us about the status of the production?
A: Currently we are writing scripts, and at the same time, we are focusing on both the strong and weak points which have been revealed by the demo footage. We plan to begin shooting early next year.
Kim Song-ho: In the late 1990s, EARTH WARRIOR VECTORMAN (Jiguyongsa Becteoman, 1998) showed the possibilities of Korean SFX TV show. After that, several shows with a similar format have been coming out such as ENVIRONMENT WARRIOR ZENTAFORCE (Hwangyoungyongsa Jentafosu, 2003), POWER MASTER MAXMAN (Suhojeonsa Maksuman, 2004) and EREXION (Irejaion, 2006), none of which, more or less, achieved productive results.
RAYFORCE is being made in this ‘uncertain’ period of time, so it may be sort of a challenge. What do you think will be the distinctive features of RAYFORCE, compared to those other shows?
A: It is not a simple answer, because the reasons those Korean SFX shows couldn’t attract attention are different for each show. One show tried to differentiate itself from the Japanese Super Sentai shows a little too much and the story became too serious, so it was not well received between the children viewers. The other couldn’t secure a high enough budget because the market for the SFX shows in Korea was very small, resulting in poor quality, especially for special effects. And another case showed that the planning for toys, which is one of the most important factor of success for a show, was poorly handled. So there were various reasons.
In case of RAYFORCE, the production company is also the production/distribution company for toys, which makes for a prominent benefit over the past Korean SFX shows. Every item, including the transformation tools for the heroes, weapons, and the robots which the heroes control, will be released as toys.
And with the special effects, we’ve received many suggestions for producing better results within the same budget and schedule as before, by producing the demo footage. We are sure that this know-how will be quite an advantage when we start production. We also expect that a visual effects supervisor who once participated in a Hollywood production will provide CG with different taste from the Japanese shows.
Kim Song-ho: Japan has made the basic format of SFX hero shows. As a Korean production, what do you think are the distinctive features of RAYFORCE? And have you referred to any foreign productions while preparing RAYFORCE?
A: The main concept for RAYFORCE is a crossover between 1) European/magical fantasy which we usually see in various MMORPGs [massively multiplayer online role-playing games] and 2) up-to-date, cutting-edge technology. As you may know, Korea is a power in the world of both producing and playing of the online games. And the users have got used to those European fantasy world rooted in Odin mythology or THE LORD OF THE RINGS and so on.
We don’t think we have to unnaturally try to introduce anything to upset that concept because RAYFORCE is a Korean production. Because we believe that the success or failure of a SFX TV show depends on how richly we reflect that core concept of the production in its world view, design and story.
There was a rumor circulating on the internet that the production team was getting external pressure that it should reflect traditional Korean designs in RAYFORCE. It was an unfounded rumor. You won’t see any weird, offbeat scenes with either heroes or robots wearing ‘hanbok’ [traditional Korean clothes] in the finished show. Please don’t worry about that.
Meanwhile, there might be an opinion that it’s cultural flunkeyism when we try to follow European fantasy for a Korean show. But see that the Japanese have made plenty of decent manga, games or animation by reinterpreting Western fantasy. And there are several similar examples in games or novels in Korea, too. You can consider RAYFORCE as an extension of those previous works.
If we have to tell you about a distinctive feature [that’s also very Korean] of RAYFORCE, is that it has a ‘burning hot drama’. It means that we are preparing very plot-centered scripts. Japanese SFX shows are notable for their original imagination, fantastic settings and characters, however sometimes they suffer from a loose progression of the story in the individual episodes. Korean soap operas are well-known for speedily developing story and clear structure of conflicts between the characters. We are doing our best to make children easily enjoy those merits with RAYFORCE.
Kim Song-ho: You have gotten some feedback from SFX fans in the internet communities during the pre-production stage, by releasing some of conceptual artworks. Why did you end up doing that and how did it effect the process of the pre-production?
A: The SFX fans in the internet are not the main target audience of our show. But we believed their strong recommendations and variety of opinion could make the design works or the image of our show that much richer.
Kim Song-ho: In Korea, SFX shows are often considered as ‘child-oriented’ programs. However, there are considerable number of juvenile and adult fans who grew up watching such imported Japanese production as SUPERNOVA FLASHMAN (Choushinsei Furasshuman, 1986) in the late 1980s, which was enormously popular at that time. And those fans are creating an intersection of fandom with so-called ‘first generation otakus’, who are now middle-aged adult animation fans in Korea, because Japanese animation has a lot in common with SFX/tokusatsu genre.
Then who are the main target audience of RAYFORCE from the planning stage? There are some opinions that claim, according to the demo footage, the show doesn’t look to be solely for children. And there is also concern that if you target the show strictly for children, you may have to lower the bar for the quality of the show, especially that of the story. Some of the past Korean SFX shows failed because of those miscalculations.
A: It is our belief that to think ‘we can make this show roughly because it’s for children’ is a wrong bias. We never consider that making children’s show should be an excuse for low quality. When we make a children’s show, we must deliver the same story or visual image as the adult-targeted show but in much kinder, simpler and more intuitive way, to make the viewers understand the context more easily. It’s actually more complex, harder work.
Unfortunately, we seldom find such an example of adult-targeted marketability for animation or SFX shows in Korea. We do believe that those adult fans exist… but for now we are primarily focusing on the market for children that has already a proven marketability. So, RAYFORCE will mostly deal with action-oriented tales of heroes and transforming robots whom the children can root for. If RAYFORCE succeeds enough in the Korean market, we will be able to expect shows that could target relatively older demographics, like KAMEN RIDER does, in the foreseeable future.
Also, there will be several characters whom juveniles and adult will be fond of. We already have a beautiful female wizard named ‘Yunia’ who was prominently featured in the demo footage and some good-looking male characters who have already attracted female fans from the production crew. You can expect a little romance between the male and female heroes, too.
In RAYFORCE, we will give the characters certain depth that is connected to the protagonists’ fate of becoming heroes and fighting. In that way, we believe it will bring credibility to the show’s context, which we think the Japanese shows sometimes lack these days.
Kim Song-ho: The quality of the suits in the demo footage was impressive. In the past, for example, in the case of EREXION, the suits were produced in Japan by Shinichi Wakasa’s Monsters Inc.. Which company produced the suits for RAYFORCE?
A: Four companies, including J.House and Laputa participated, and we chose two companies which produced high quality results. The suits require solidity, lightness and proportions which fits to the original 2D paintings.
SciFi Japan: Which company handles the visual effects?
A: We will utilize the skills of domestic companies to the fullest. Of course, there will be some limitations, because visual effects occupies a great portion of the whole production budget. However, we are working closely with those companies to achieve effects and assets which are creatively different from the Japanese SFX works, beginning from the pre-production stage.
Kim Song-ho: Could you tell us about the scale of the production cost?
A: [gently avoiding straight answer] The standard for the production cost is determined by what the scale of market for video software and toy can secure. If we had more revenue, we could finance more production cost.
Kim Song-ho: Please shed some light on what the range of merchandise of RAYFORCE will be.
A: You can expect the usual variety of toys for a SFX show. Of course, we can’t make a plethora of merchandise for several levels of consumers like in Japan, but we plan to release robot toys which will be able to transform and unite, transformation items, weapons and action figures.
SciFi Japan: Do you plan to export RAYFORCE to the international market? Or have you already done so with some countries?
A: Definitely there is certain market for the SFX shows overseas. We’ve already pre-sold RAYFORCE to Thailand and are in negotiations with Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. There will be chances for export to other Asian territories where Korean soap operas have already formed firm markets.
Kim Song-ho: Currently, not much is known about casting and plot for RAYFORCE. We just know Jeong Seol-hee, who played the Yunia character, and the plot is a mix of wizardry fantasy and transforming heroes. Could you give us some more detailed information on the cast and plot?
A: Unfortunately, we cannot reveal detailed information on the cast for now. Please understand.
To tell you about the plot, it goes like this: there was turmoil between good and evil in a fantasy world and it is now repeated on earth. There are evil wizards who try to conquer the earth by summoning evil beasts from the fantasy world. And we have good, righteous wizards who stand against the evil ones with wizardry and technology. That is the main setting of the plot.
Meanwhile, we also have two superheroes from the earth, who are actually the remnants of a group of superheroes who were devastated by the evil wizards. These two join forces with the good wizards. Their power is not based on wizardry, but on the cutting-edge technology of the earth. By joining the wizards, they obtain greater power. The good guys join forces to handle the crisis on earth, and those who belong to the fantasy world return home at the end of the story, bidding farewell to the earthlings.
Kim Song-ho: Then could you let us know about the staff?
A: Director: Jun Jae-hoon
– DESTROY THE GAME ROOM (Orakshilul pagwoehal gwonri, 2005 / short): Director
– THE ADVENTURES OF KKANGTONG (Kkangtongui daemoheom / animated, the pilot of TAEKWON V TV series): Director
– Affiliated with story team of TAEKWON V Project
Writer: Bom Ui-hwan
– LEGEND (Taewangsashingi, 2007 / TV series): Planning, assistant writer
– BOYS OVER FLOWERS (Kkotboda namja, 2009 / TV series): Planning
– HWANG JINYI (2007 / musical): Writer
Producer: Ko Jeong-jin
– NEW HEART (2007 / TV series): Producer
– LE GRAND CHEF (Shikgaek, 2008 / TV series): Producer
– WORKING MOM (2008 / TV series): Producer
– FIRST LOVE (2008 / Chinese TV series): Assistant Director
Kim Song-ho: After releasing the demo footage, there may have been variety of reaction both inside and outside of the production team. Would you like to share some of the interesting ones?
A: Mostly, ’embarrassingly childish’ [laughs]. We think it’s because of the very serious acting against childish-looking scenes of the demo footage. However, what’s interesting was that there are many grown-up fans who wished the show’s success, despite the not-so-stellar initial reaction. That’s what encouraged us.
And there was a five-year old girl who mimicked the female wizard. It was an unforgettable moment. If we could make something that can please children, it will be the most rewarding for us.
The most impressive reaction was a comment of an internet user, which read: “So stupid, it’s cool.” We understood it as an expression of encouragement. Even if what you make may be childish, if you sustain your unfailing faith, you could change people’s minds.
And for the negative reaction, there was an issue of plagiarism regarding some of the characters and the robots, that we cribbed them from Japanese designs. We did not intend that, but in any event, it was frustrating. We will change those designs to prevent any unnecessary misunderstandings in the future.
Kim Song-ho: Finally, may I request a comment to the readers of SciFi Japan and the overseas fans?
A: RAYFORCE is a rare project in Korea, where realism dominates the popular culture. It has not been easy to plan and create it, but because of that we think it is a more precious opportunity for us and we feel a heavy responsibility. We appreciate your interest in RAYFORCE and please keep your eyes on it and support it. Thank you.