The following interview took place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK on Thursday November 1st 2012 prior to the European premiere of director Choi's film 'The Thieves' - the Opening Gala of the London Korean Film Festival 2012, at the Odeon West End, Leicester Square, London.
Hangul Celluloid: You began your career in the theatre and since moving into film acting you have starred in a large number of films. However, between 2005 and 2006, you also acted in several television dramas which you don’t seem to have done of late. Have you decided to work solely in film and can you tell us a little about why you briefly chose to also work in TV?
Kim Yoon-suk: I was, as you pointed out, a theatre actor and a TV drama director came and saw me performing in one of my plays. He then said that he wanted to cast me in one of his projects and that’s essentially how I got involved and how I ended up starring in a few TV series. Quite quickly that actually linked to film as well but once I started working on film roles there was simply no time to work on TV dramas. However, it is my personal choice to work solely in film now; in terms of production, time constraints or your concentration levels. TV drama is an incredibly face-paced environment, especially if a script isn’t ready, and that leads to concerns about the quality of the end product as well. So, yes, working in film is what my career will solely be from now on.
Hangul Celluloid: Certainly in the UK, you are best known for your roles in ‘The Chaser’ and ‘The Yellow Sea’. The Chaser won you a huge number of awards and it could be said that it played a part in cementing your place as one of the biggest acting stars in Korea today. What attracted you to work in ‘The Chaser’ and ‘The Yellow Sea’; was it working with director Na Hong-jin or were you more drawn by the story, inherent social issues discussed - such as the plight of the Joseon-joks in ‘The Yellow Sea’ - and character depth of the roles you would be playing?
Kim Yoon-suk: At the time ‘The Chaser’ was made, the thriller genre was pretty much avoided in Korean cinema and was liked really only by a small niche market. However, when I read the script, I really loved the story and the dialogue and sentences used within it were very different from the norm; the narrative and character development was to my mind very distinct. By the point when Na Hong-jin was making ‘The Yellow Sea’, I’d come to trust him deeply as a director and the film’s storyline was extremely attractive to me. The Joseon-joks that the film deals with is a huge social problem that needs to be talked about; the fact that so many of them are employed her and as such are separated from their families for a long time, which causes problems in itself, and also that we can even find aspects of ourselves in them. As well as adoring the story, working with an incredibly talented young actor like Ha Jung-woo, who I first met on ‘The Chaser’, was just one more draw that made the project just too good to miss.
Hangul Celluloid: The film that you are here promoting is, of course, Choi Dong-hoon’s ‘The Thieves’. Was the physicality of the role the hardest aspect of making the film from your point of view or, having had several very physical roles before, were other aspects more difficult?
Kim Yoon-suk: There were so many difficulties in preparing for this role: Learning Chinese and Madarin was so hard and I had to work almost incessantly to get it all right because I knew that it really did have to be absolutely perfect. As well as that, while the first half of the film has a lot of action, in the second half that action becomes extreme and intense and there was a lot of wire work that I had to prepare for. I think those two things were by far the most difficult for me.
Hangul Celluloid: With ‘The Thieves having broken all box office records in Korea, how important is the international market to you and your career?
Kim Yoon-suk: It can only be important because, in order for Korean cinema to develop further, young directors need to meet with the world on the international stage to develop and I think that’s a really crucial factor.
Hangul Celluloid: I believe that one of your next projects is providing voice acting for an animation called ‘Robot Taekwon’, based on a manga comic book. Is that still the case and, in terms of live action films, what will you be working in the future?
Kim Yoon-suk: ‘Robot Taekwon’ was previously a Japanese manga but even that is not the original. Yes, I signed up to voice act in the film but the production has since been put on hold and I’m not entirely sure when it will actually be made. I’ll also be working with director Jang Jun-hwan, who made a film called ‘Save the Green Planet’, in the future and that’s going to be an extremely hardcore thriller as well. I think my films generally are more successful when I play hardcore, dark, dark characters.
Hangul Celluloid: On that very subject: A lot of the films released in the UK are fairly, as you say, hardcore thrillers and for many who may not have seen many Korean movies there is somewhat of a misconception that Korean cinema is inherently violent. What are your thoughts on this misconception and how would you describe Korean cinema? I’ve asked many directors this very question but I’m very interested to hear your thoughts from an acting, rather than a directing, perspective.
Kim Yoon-suk: Korean cinema actually has a great deal of very funny comedies and I feel that these should be made more international. Some films such as Hong Sang-soo’s ‘Day and Night’ are genuinely funny but the appeal of comedy films is based on the dialogue and language and the humour within that can sometimes be lost when it’s translated. Conversely, hardcore thrillers are felt quite physically by the body and the problems with translations are diminished as a result. Whether that situation will ever change is open to debate but I think for a fair time to come, hardcore films will continue to thrive internationally, far more than other genres.
Hangul Celluloid: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
I would sincerely like to thank the London Korean Film Festival and the Korean Cultural Centre UK for allowing me to interview Kim Yoon-suk.