Haeundae-gu, Busan, Republic of Korea,
HOSTAGE: MISSING CELEBRITY’s Director Pil Gamseong Blurs the Boundary Between Reality and Fiction
“Actor Hwang Jungmin and character Hwang Jungmin created synergy in this story”
The film Hostage: Missing Celebrity is a fictional action thriller that realistically depicts the unprecedented abduction of the famous actor Hwang Jungmin (played by Hwang Jungmin) on the streets of Korea. Director Pil Gamseong, who first set foot in the film industry as a member of the production team of Director Kim Sungsoo's Musa-The Warrior (2001), finally made his feature debut in 20 years with Hostage: Missing Celebrity. Having Hwang Jungmin play himself makes the story’s set-up attractive. In this film, director Pil Gamseong utilizes the images the actor has in real life and interestingly blurs the border between reality and fiction. The previous films Hwang was in and his famous lines will be mentioned in the film, which is something the viewers can look out for and enjoy. We met with Pil Gamseong who says he hopes Hostage: Missing celebrity will be a fun and thrilling ride, just like a roller coaster.
Hostage: Missing Celebrity is known to be a remake of the Chinese movie, Saving Mr. Wu (2015), but the plot and the ending seem quite different.
Actually, I came across this subject matter through a documentary film depicting a true story that happened in China. The story was about an actor being abducted then rescued in a day. I wondered how the actor would have reacted in the extreme situation of being abducted. I thought one might be able to use his acting skills to deceive the captors if he is an actor. That was the starting point of Hostage: Missing Celebrity. While researching, I found out that the story was already made into a movie called Saving Mr. Wu. It spoiled my fun a bit, but I thought it was still worth making because what Saving Mr. Wu pursued seemed different from what I wanted to direct. Saving Mr. Wu is a movie about how they rescued Mr. Wu, while in Hostage: Missing Celebrity, the actor escapes on his own. Since the flow of the story is quite different, I wasn’t particularly conscious of Saving Mr. Wu.
The concept of having actor Hwang Jungmin play the character Hwang Jungmin is very interesting, I think.
A thriller about an abduction is not new, so the issue for me was to find something new to bring to the table. While thinking about this, I came up with the idea of using the actor's real name and characterizing it. I was convinced that the stories the audience knows of the real actor and the story of the character Hwang Jungmin interprets in the movie would create a synergy. The film could not have been possible if the actor did not agree with the setting, but he accepted it willingly. I was even encouraged when Hwang enthusiastically shared his opinions.
What did you emphasize on the most while directing?
In how realistic it feels. When we say that a film is about Hwang Jungmin getting abducted, there was much room for it to be taken as a comedy. So it had to be realistic in order for the audience to get immersed in it. That’s why I researched and read the memoirs of abduction victims as well as information on abductors. I even met with the police to ask for advice on the psychology of abductors.
Casting seems like the most important aspect of the film due to the concept. The tone of the movie could completely change depending on the actor playing the role. Did you have Hwang Jungmin in your mind from the beginning?
When I was writing the script, I thought of Hwang Jungmin without hesitation. In this movie, the main character is tied to a chair for the most part. Therefore, I needed an actor who could show a panorama of spectacular emotions using just his upper body. When I thought about who could pull that off, actor Hwang Jungmin came to mind. Another reason why I chose him is because of his famous lines in other movies. Including Hwang Jungmin's popular lines such as “Hey, Brother” and “Bring it on, bring it on” (Famous lines from New World) in the film could ease the tension and reduce fatigue.
The more we know about Actor Hwang Jungmin and his works, the more interesting Hostage: Missing Celebrity becomes. On the other hand, it may not be so easy for international audiences to receive the film as you have intended it.
That’s a good point. I made a different version for the Cannes Film Festival, and I proofread the English subtitles at that time. I could see the problem you just mentioned at that point. For example, when translating a line like, “I’ll be merciful and let you live” into English, the nuance didn't translate perfectly, and it sounded very awkward. But I think international audiences are quick to catch on. When we watch foreign movies, we also understand that country’s culture and the background of the film easily. In that sense, I think foreign audiences will catch these points in Hostage: Missing Celebrity, too.
Given that the actor plays himself, your film reminds us of Director Lee Jyong's The Actresses (2009) and Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (1999). For an actor, acting themselves and acting to look realistic are two different things. What kind of thoughts did you put into that matter?
I was aware that having the film go back and forth between reality and fiction could become dangerous like a double-edged sword. The actor also thought hard about it. Fortunately, Hwang Jungmin did a great job in the part, walking cleverly and balanced on the tightrope. For example, when Hwang and the captors bump into each other for the first time at a convenience store in the movie, they pick up a fight. But in the original script, Hwang Jungmin avoids the rude captors while saying, “Yes, sir.” When Hwang read this, he said, “If this was me, I’d just swear right away.” Such suggestions were reflected in the film if they did not affect the flow of the story, and I believe those changes made the movie more realistic.
You chose new faces to act the five captors who play crucial roles in the film. Was this something you decided while building these characters?
If a well-known actor was cast to play a character with a different name, I thought it would break the audience’s concentration since Hwang Jungmin plays himself. One would ask, “Hwang Jungmin is playing himself, so why isn’t Brad Pitt playing Brad Pitt?” That’s why I cast new faces for the captors. And since I wanted Hostage: Missing Celebrity to be a tight, neat, and concise film, I didn’t give any other purposes for the abduction other than money. I didn’t think it would be helpful for the flow of the film if I dealt with the stories of the captors in depth.
Let me ask you a light question now. Which Hollywood actor would you like to abduct if you had the chance to expand Hostage: Missing Celebrity into a global project?
It's a light question, but the hardest to answer. Um... Actor Don Lee? Lee entered Hollywood with Marvel's The Eternals, and I think I can make many interesting scenes if he’s the one getting abducted.
You started working in the movie industry as a staff member of the production team for Musa-The Warrior in 2001. You’ve been in the industry for quite a time, and you were finally able to debut as a director with Hostage: Missing Celebrity 20 years later. What do you think is the most important thing when trying to become a director in Korea?
I was offered to direct a movie at an early age, so I thought I would become a director soon. However, the films I were working on dropped repeatedly. I didn't know why things weren’t working out at first and became skeptical about making films. Then I concluded that my scripts had failed to persuade the actors and investors. After that, I wrote while thinking that only my scripts could save me. That’s how Hostage: Missing Celebrity was born. So if you ask me what's important when trying to become a director in Korea, a good script is the answer! I think you can persuade anybody if you have a solid story.
The film industry all around the world is suffering not only because of COVID-19, but because of growing streaming services. How do you feel about releasing your first feature film in this situation?
We never expected the pandemic to break out while we were planning, preparing, and shooting Hostage: Missing Celebrity. The OTT (over-the-top media service) business has shown great progress due to the pandemic, so we are in a completely different situation than before we started preparing for Hostage: Missing Celebrity. However, I think it is still a good experience to release a feature film in this situation. I noticed how well Escape from Mogadishu is performing right now in theaters despite the difficult conditions, and I became confident again thinking that the audience will go to the theaters if there is a good movie. I also believe theaters will continue to live on. I hope Hostage: Missing Celebrity can play a part in this trend. Since it’s an unpredictable roller coaster-like movie, I recommend you to go to a theater to watch it.