'Liberta' revs may burn up in lawsuit

SEOUL – This autumn, Korea confronted its own version of Hollywood’s dueling picture phenom with two high-budget films about firefighters going head to head.

The first on the scene, “Siren,” went down in flames, while the other, “Libera Me,” generated unwanted heat from a lawsuit over copyright violation filed by a third firefighter project.

While “Libera Me” (Latin for “deliver me”) has been somewhat of a box office success, passing the 1 million mark in admissions nationwide since its Nov. 11 debut, some industryites speculate that draw will still not be enough to recoup the pic’s $4 million in production and marketing costs.

“Siren,” which bowed Oct. 28 and had a similar budget, is expected to make back only a fourth of its investment.

Backed off third pic

A 14-year vet behind such domestic hits as “Ditto” and “The Ring Virus,” producer Jonathan Kim considered partnering with businessman/would-be producer Park Tae-jun on the third firefighter project, titled “Angel,” until getting wind that “Siren” was already in the works.

“With two, I knew neither was going to be successful, so I quit,” he says.

Park, who had hired a screenwriter to research and develop the script for “Angel,” nonetheless pressed on, until the pic was grounded when its director, Yang Yun-ho, flew off for greener pastures at Dream Search, taking with him the concept of a firefighting pic.

Cash spark

The other two projects, however, had much deeper reservoirs of money — “Siren” from the 30 billion won ($25 million) film development fund of Samsung Venture Investment Corp. and “Libera Me” from production company Dream Search, flush with cash from high-tech backers.

Dismayed by the glaring similarities to “Angel,” Park has filed a series of lawsuits before and after the opening of “Libera Me” against Yang and Dream Search charging infringement of copyright, breach of contract and breach of trust.

In an interview with Variety, Park acknowledges that Yang originally suggested the idea of a firefighting pic, but he strongly disputes the director’s assertion of being the actual creator of the “Angel” script.

Script suit

Park gives that credit to writer Shin In-ho, who went out on calls with firefighters in the port city of Pusan and talked with experts on child abuse. (An arsonist scarred by childhood memories figures at the core of both scripts.)

Park’s lawyer, Song Dall-yong, says, “Everyone who reads both screenplays sees one is a reproduction of the other. (For evidence) we selected 12 lines, 12 lines very similar from both screenplays. Some sentences have the same punctuation.”

His smoking gun: an “Angel” script analysis obtained from a Dream Search computer file dated Sept. 20 — more than three weeks before the Oct. 13, 1999 termination of Yang’s contract with Park’s company, Cascade Films.

Shin says Yang “tried to persuade me to side with him” promising he would receive compensation and screen credit. (The “Libera Me” screenplay is credited to two other writers.) “I thought it morally not right.”

Yang and execs with Dream Search declined interview requests.

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