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Ko - production in Busan
  • by SONG Soon-jin /  Aug 14, 2018
  • “I wanted to stay true to the atmosphere of the original piece”

    Following his success in The Priests (2015) and A Violent Prosecutor (2016), GANG Dong-won has become a well-known representative face in Korean cinema. His latest film is an SF action production from director KIM Jee-woon: ILLANG : THE WOLF BRIGADE. From LEE Myung-se’s The Duelist (2005) or CHOI Dong-hoon’s Woochi (2009), to YOON Jong-bin’s KUNDO : Age of the Rampant (2014), it is not unusual to see GANG show off his action skills in period pieces. In ILLANG : THE WOLF BRIGADE, however, his character, a human weapon named “Illang” (‘Man-wolf’), carries a 40kg power suit and fires his gun without mercy. A remake of the 1999 Japanese animation directed by OKIURA Hiroyuki and written by OSHII Mamoru, ILLANG : THE WOLF BRIGADE is set in Korea in the year 2029. How did GANG re-interpret the character of “Illang”? We met with the actor to talk about his career hopes, the release of ILLANG : THE WOLF BRIGADE as well as his upcoming Hollywood film, Tsunami LA.

    ILLANG : THE WOLF BRIGADE received a lot of attention from the very beginning of its production. As an actor, a fan of the original, but also as a viewer, how did you receive this film?

    When I saw the final product, I thought that the film was less dark but more dynamic compared to the script. As a fan of the original, I thought “So this is how you can cinematize this.” You can see and almost feel Illang emerge from the canals, and it was exactly how it was like in the original, so I was satisfied. To me, that scene alone has a lot of value. As an actor, the relationship dynamics between the characters was more important than the political background. This film also talks about a human who wants to survive as an individual instead of getting buried in totalitarianism. I think the audience might have trouble understanding the conflict structure, but if you really want to understand the politics behind it, you could just watch it twice.

    Following Golden Slumber, this is another film based on a Japanese original production that you’ve acted in as a protagonist. It must be difficult to play a character that is from a famous original story.

    This time, I tried my best to create the same kind of tone the original character had. Aside from IM Joong-kyung (the character GANG played), the other characters changed a lot. I thought it would be best for at least my character to be similar to the original, especially for the fans. Even in the original, KAZUKI Huse is someone who keeps things to himself while going his own way. Even his facial expressions are kept to the minimum. While reading the script, I wanted to make the audience question throughout the film what type of person IM Joong-kyung might be. That’s why I made him look cold and without any emotions. However, the director wanted me to physically show IM Joong-kyung’s internal struggles. The film released in theaters is the version with me acting the way the director wanted, but there is another version where the character is portrayed how I wanted it to be. In that version, there are hardly any facial expressions from the beginning to the end.

    Up until now, your action scenes were swift but the power suit and the machine gun in this film created a more heavy-duty action.

    The action in this film was focused more on power than speed. That’s why while I was discussing the action scenes with JUNG Doo-hong, our action director, I had to prepare my body. The power suit’s weight became quite a hot topic actually. Since I was wearing it all the time on set, I somehow got used to it. We shot for about a month with me in the power suit. I actually thought in the beginning that I wouldn’t have to act in the action scenes with the power suit on because my costume involves a helmet, so my face wouldn’t show anyway. However, director KIM Jee-woon asked me to act in the suit as if that was natural. So, I did my best to act emotionally behind the helmet, just like how dancers show feelings with their movements. Without emotions, you can’t create the movements.

    Your filmography is mostly comprised of action films.

    I love sports, so I don’t feel pressured when acting in action films. But these days, I keep on getting hurt every time I shoot a film, so I’ve gotten a little scared. Whenever I shoot an action film, I somehow end up getting hurt. I just try to get as little injuries as possible before the shoot ends since in the Korean film industry, they want the actors to perform everything. This is the biggest worry I have. In the past, I did everything that was asked of me without a word, but these days I often ask to double check, I ask them if it’s really safe etc. For a long time, I hoped that the safety measures on set would be improved, and made a point to fix it. Unfortunately, it’s still often an issue because of the production costs. I was quite traumatized after I got hurt shooting a car chasing scene in Master (2016), and now whenever I hear glass shattering, my brain and my body freeze. Actually, there is a lot of glass that shatters in ILLANG : THE WOLF BRIGADE too and our cinematographer LEE Mo-gae told me I kept on freezing whenever it happened.

    Did you decide to star in ILLANG : THE WOLF BRIGADE because you met director KIM Jee-woon through The X (2013)?

    Of course. If the project had been with a new director, I would have wondered how they were going to shoot this but when I heard that it would be directed by KIM Jee-woon, I thought: “This sounds exciting!” He shot films of many different genres before, and he always talked about how we should work together again. We got a lot closer with this film compared to The X. When I watch him from the back while he directs, I can see why so many people praise him, he’s a true veteran. If I get the chance, I want to participate in another fun project with him. I also want to try shooting another action film with JUNG Woo-sung. The action director, JUNG Doo-hong, said I’m the best actor at using the sword, while Woo-sung is the best at using the spear. I think it would be fun to fight each other with the weapons we’re good at. It would be nice to shoot such an action film.

    After you changed agencies to YG, you were cast in a Hollywood film called Tsunami LA.

    I was stressed because of the language and cultural barriers but I want to overcome these obstacles and continue to work in Hollywood. Tsunami LA is currently in preproduction, and the shoot is scheduled to start at the end of September or early October. When the production schedule was pushed back, the director changed, but now the casting is almost done. What I found really interesting in the Hollywood production system is that they ask and take their actors’ opinions very seriously. When I voiced opinions at a reading, my suggestions were reflected in the next version of the script, that’s something I found interesting.

    You’re about to star in your first Hollywood film. How do you feel?

    There aren’t many Korean actors who get to perform in the US as well. I was cast as a famous Korean actor and if I don’t do a good job, I am afraid they’ll look down on the Korean film industry, so I’m planning to do my best. However, I’m still unsure if I’ll be able to survive.
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