‘Last Godfather’ looks for last laugh

Korean pic exceeds expectations, heads for Stateside bow

Nobody in the Korean film industry believed in the potential of helmer Shim Hyung-rae’s “The Last Godfather.”

He announced the project when releasing “D-War” in 2007, saying that his next film would be a Hollywood movie featuring his famous comedic character, Young-gu, in the gangster genre. To the public, the idea that Young-gu was a hidden son of New York mafia looked like nonsense.

Nonetheless, “The Last Godfather” topped the Korean B.O. two weeks consecutively and had grossed $17.6 million from 2.55 million viewers through January 25.

Young-gu was a character that stimulated Korean people’s nostalgia, ever since it had appeared on a big hit TV melodrama in the early 1970s. The crippled and mentally challenged young man was a byproduct of Korea’s impoverished post-Korean War history, which aroused tearful sympathy of the audiences.

Shim, who started his career as a TV comedian in the early 1980s, became a big star by taking the character into his slapstick comedy. He made a caricature of the original character to be seen almost as an idiot by adding impressive gestures and puns.

Popular on Variety

Despite the apparent silliness, Young-gu was loved and imitated a lot particularly by young audiences, due to his good, kind and heroic nature.

Based on the popularity, Shim starred in more than 30 B movies from mid-1980s to mid-1990s, made with low budgets and crude special effects that appealed to young children. In 1989, a kids’ comedy titled “Young-gu and Daeng-chiri” enjoyed huge success at the box office, and since then more than 10 sequels have been produced as a series under the name of Young-gu.

Encouraged, Shim set up his own production company, Younggu Art Movie, in 1993, and directed a few low budget sci-fi movies and comedies by himself. In the mainstream film industry, his movies were not received seriously at all, and few trusted his ability as a film director. But he wanted to make sci-fi blockbusters that could be distributed worldwide, particularly in the North American market, so he arranged for a computer graphics team in his own company and prepared projects independently from the mainstream.

Then, after he made “D-War” in Los Angeles, nobody believed that Shim would go into the U.S. market, despite its local success in passing more than 8 million in ticket sales. But he never gave up his Hollywood dream.

Based on knowhow gleaned from “D-War,” Shim proceeded with pre-production of “The Last Godfather” in Hollywood. Harvey Keitel became attached, and Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (“Toy Story”) revised the script. He wanted to produce a warm family movie while putting Young-gu into some familiar genre conventions.

The project gained momentum when CJ Entertainment came on board. The company had been looking for opportunities to advance into the American market. They pacted with Roadside Attractions to release the comedy in 12 cities across the U.S. and Canada on April 1.

Last year, other completed Korean projects connected to Hollywood studios included “The Warrior’s Way” and “The Yellow Sea,” but they received only lukewarm responses from local audiences. “The Last Godfather” was more successful than those films at the local box office, but soon it will be time to see how it works in the U.S. market. It is scheduled for a U.S. release, not inappropriately, on April Fool’s Day.

More from the Berlin Daily Spotlight: Korea:
‘Last Godfather’ looks for last laugh | Ten Korean titles to keep your eye on | 3D shifts course in Korea

More Scene

  • Sean Penn CORE Gala

    Sean Penn Offers to Take Selfies in Exchange for $5,000 Donations to Disaster Relief

    A decade after the catastrophic 7.0 Haiti earthquake left between 50,000 and 100,000 dead and nearly a million people displaced, Sean Penn hosted the 10th anniversary CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) gala, raising funds for international disaster relief at the Wiltern Theatre on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. “We’re not here tonight because we want [...]

  • Allison Janney Viola Davis

    Viola Davis & Allison Janney React to Lack of Diversity in 2020 Oscar Nominations

    Monday morning’s Oscar nominations rebooted the #OscarsSoWhite conversation, reigniting discussion about representation after women were shut out of the directing category and only one person of color — Cynthia Erivo — was nominated in the acting categories. At the premiere of Amazon Original’s “Troop Zero” at The Grove in Los Angeles on Monday evening, the [...]

  • Star Trek Picard Premiere

    'Picard' Stars Reveal Which 'Star Trek' Character They Would Get Drunk With

    The cast and creators of “Star Trek: Picard” turned out for the show’s premiere at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome on Monday night. In the spirit of the festive atmosphere of the night, Variety asked them which “Star Trek” character, past or present, they’d most like to pound a few Romulan ales with at the local [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez Laura Dern

    Inside the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards: What You Didn't See on TV

    ‘Twas the night before Oscar nominations and all through the ballroom, the Barker Hanger was buzzing as critics mixed and mingled with A-listers inside the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards on Sunday night. Life Achievement winner Eddie Murphy, #SeeHer honoree Kristen Bell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Bong Joon Ho were among the big names who played [...]

  • Taye Diggs Critics Choice

    Critics' Choice Awards: The Complete Winners List

    The 25th annual Critics’ Choice Awards gala, hosted by Taye Diggs, was broadcast live on The CW on Sunday night. It was a good night for both Netflix and HBO, with the studios taking home trophies for movies and shows like “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “When They See Us,” “Watchmen” and “Succession.” “Once Upon a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content