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Ko - production in Busan
  • by LEE Ji-hye /  Jan 29, 2015
  • "I wanted to revive the lives of all fathers through my performance"

    A childhood spent during the Korean War, a youth fought in the Vietnam War, a hardship experienced in Germany endured for the sake of the family, and suddenly waking up to discover that he is now an old man... This is the story of our Korean fathers, and that of ‘Duk-soo’ in Ode to My Father played by HWANG Jung-min. Portraying the life of Duk-soo, spanning from youth to an elderly man in his seventies, the actor asserts that he “wanted to do it right”.
    “I’ve lived like a racehorse,” said HWANG. And to prove this, HWANG Jung-min’s career has been non-stop when you take a look at the characters he has played thus far. From a gay man, a young farmer, a lawyer, a gangster, a detective and a blind swordsman, the list goes on. None of these roles were easy, and they all seemed to convey the intensity of the actor himself on the silver screen. For the entire decade, he endlessly told himself “I have to do well and I have to work hard.” It is only after ten years of doing so that he has finally become able to let go and enjoy acting, and get excited on a film shoot. Now is the golden age of HWANG Jung-min who gets a kick out of going to a film set.
    Ode to My Father is a period piece that gives an overview of Korea’s modern history. It is a blockbuster film that cost approximately USD 18 million. Given the large scale of the film, you must have felt considerable pressure.
    This is the first time I played in such a large-scale film. It is important that the audience feels the magnitude of the scale. And that was my responsibility as the male lead.
    Can you give us a brief introduction of Ode to My Father ?
    This film tells the story of our fathers who lived through the rapidly shifting social climate of Korea from the Korean War during the 1950s to current times. He may have had dreams of who he wanted to become, but never once did he have the opportunity to live for himself. This is a story of our fathers who never said “No,” for the sake of the family.
    Korea’s modern history is embedded in the life of this character ‘Duk-soo’. I heard the film had quite a number of foreign location shoots?
    Ode to My Father was shot in three different countries including Busan and Seoul in Korea, the Czech Republic and Thailand. As this was the first film in five years for filmmaker JK YOUN since Haeundae, with a great cast including KIM Yun-jin, OH Dal-su, JUNG Jin-young, JANG Young-nam, LA Mi-ran and KIM Seul-ki, along with top class crew, expectations were high.
    You played as a couple with KIM Yun-jin who is actively working in Hollywood. What was she like on set?
    As you all may know, she is an incredible actress. Her first impression may make her seem hard to approach, but in fact she is modest and humble. We didn’t know each other well when we were in Germany, playing the scene where we first fell in love. But this in fact helped us express the awkward but romantic emotions of first love.
    You manage to cover the entire life of Duk-soo from his 20s to his 70s. As an actor, this may be an incredible opportunity and formidable experience at the same time.
    I never had any fear of playing the role. On the contrary, I was extremely happy to be able to present the entire life of an individual. When the script came out, the director called me to ask if I could be in his film. So I asked what it was about. When he replied by saying“It’s a story about a father,” I immediately said I would do it. I didn’t have to read the scriptto decide. There are a number of Korean films about mothers, but not so many about fathers. For the male audiences who watch Ode to My Father, they will feel that their fathers, who used to be like towering mountains, now seem like small figures. And this will reverberate emotionally.
    Special makeup must have been difficult.
    The ageing special effects makeup done by a team from Sweden was an interesting experience. During the two-week film shoot, I roamed the streets of Busan with makeup on, and no one seemed to recognize me. That was how perfect the work done by our Swedish team was.
    You must have thought of your own father a lot while you were playing the role.
    Not really. I don’t think of the real me when I am playing a role. To think of my own life while I am playing Duk-soo is not being truthful. This is why I never refer to my own life while I am imagining a role. It’s enough just to think of Duk-soo and to show his life. Since I went through my 20s, 30s and 40s, this wasn’t so difficult, but playing someone in his 70s was really hard because I never lived this life. Even though I try, it can only be an imitation. But, when I try hard to imitate, sometimes it does feel like it’s real. I worked hard to come up with a way to perform a good imitation.
    You once said you were happy that Ode to My Father is your “first film that you can show your child”. What are you like as a father?
    I’m like a friend to my child. Since my wife works, I play the role of the mother when I’m not shooting. I send my child off to school, and I make snacks to eat after school. We’re close because it’s just the two of us all day long. The thing my child hates the most is when I am away on a film shoot for days. My child is so attached to me, my wife gets jealous sometimes. (laughs)
    Duk-soo in the film looks back at his life and asks “My life wasn’t so bad, was it?” What about you?
    I’m working hard at it, happily and sincerely, focusing on my work. My 30s weren’t so easy. I was obsessed with showing a good performance, to do things well. But there came a time when I slowly started to let things go. And now in my 40s, I am a much happier person and am comfortable with myself. I’m the happiest when I’m on set. After playing Duk-soo in Ode to My Father, I started thinking of the idea of growing old as an actor. I want to hear people say ‘That actor is great’ when I’m in my 60s. l want to age well so that when I am in my 60s, filmmakers can be inspired to write melodramas for ‘actor HWANG Jung-min’.
    How would you define an actor who has aged well?
    I am curious myself. I wonder what I’ll be like in my 50s. Nevertheless, eyes don’t age even when the face does. I guess the key is how alive my eyes will be when the time comes. And for this to happen, I believe it will be a matter of the heart.
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