Auds await wrestler biopic

'Rikidozan' aims for Japanese market

SEOUL — The world premiere of “Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinary” was held in Seoul Dec. 6, unveiling one of the most anticipated films of the year locally and marking a new level Korean-Japanese film cooperation.

“Rikidozan” features Sul Kyung-gu (“Silmido”) as legendary Korean-Japanese wrestler Rikidozan, whose background was as complex as the pic that now attempts to shed light on his life.

Rikidozan was born Kim Shin-rak in Korea but arrived in Japan in 1940 to become a sumo wrestler. Barred from a promotion due to his Korean origins, he went to America in 1952 to train as a professional wrestler.

Ironically, Rikidozan became a national hero in Japan by pummeling American opponents in the ring while hiding his Korean identity, giving hope and redemption to ordinary Japanese who harbored painful memories of defeat in World War II.

Like the man himself, “Rikidozan” has Korean origins but feels Japanese on the surface. Producer Sidus Pictures, helmer Song Hae-sung and lead actor Sul Kyung-gu are Korean. The rest of the cast is Japanese, highlighted by Miki Nakatani, Tatsuya Fuji and Yuzuru Yoshimachi. The entire dialogue is in Japanese, with just a smattering of Korean at the end.

With production costs for Korean films soaring, ambitious projects have increasingly targeted overseas markets, and Japan has become a lucrative destination for local fare.

“Rikidozan” is openly aiming for the Japanese market by dealing with one of its own national heroes, although the pic may cause a bit of a surprise as 80% of Japanese still do not know that Rikidozan was Korean. Sony Japan bought the Japanese rights for $2.5 million in pre-production.

Rikidozan’s son Mitsuo Momota, himself a professional wrestler, attended the world premiere in Seoul. “My father would have been happy with the movie,” he says. “Rikidozan” will be released in South Korea Dec. 15, the 41st anniversary of Rikidozan’s death.