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Ko - production in Busan
  • by SONG Soon-jin /  Aug 21, 2018
  • “ALONG WITH THE GODS is a film with distinct strengths”

    In Korean blockbuster fantasy Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (hereafter called The Last 49 Days), which is the follow-up to Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017) (hereafter The Two Words), the pasts of the three grim reapers, Gang-rim (HA Jung-woo), Hae Won-maek (JU Ji-hoon) and Duk-chun (KIM Hyang-gi), get revealed. While firefighter Ja-hong (CHA Tae-hyun) was seen as a nobleman worshipped by the three grim reapers in the first film, in the second installment, these same guides in the afterlife become the center of the story, and so the reason that actor HA Jung-woo chose this role in the series becomes clear. HA Jung-woo is someone who cares a lot about the details of his roles in the bigger picture. Here is how he approached this franchise of a new kind.

    In The Two Words, the three grim reapers including Gang-rim piqued the curiosity of many, since their pasts remained obscure. Was it frustrating for the actors?

    We shot a 280 minutes long film in one go, and with The Two Words, we only showed its first half. If you watched only the first part, you might have found it strange that the three guardians of the afterlife seemed like they only had a functional purpose. It’s not a surprise if people wanted to know more about these characters, but since we knew that their stories would be explored in the second film, we couldn’t really say more about them at the time, despite all the reporters asking us about our rather short screen times in the first film. Now that the second film has been released, we can talk about it more freely.

    The Last 49 Days seems to have a richer narrative than The Two Words.

    In comparison, I feel like the first film could have been more dramatic, but it has its own charm, the level of emotions you experience is more dynamic. These emotions weren’t something the director conveyed deliberately, he just felt them himself and expected them to reach the audiences too. I’m very glad to see that the audiences were also moved in the same way. On the other side, the second film has a good story and a lot of drama. It covers the stories of Seongju, Hae Won-maek, and Duk-chun in our world, as well as the stories of Gang-rim and Soo-hong in the afterlife. There is also the story of the three grim reapers from 1,000 years ago. I think that even that last part could have been entertaining on its own.

    You’re known to be an actor who closely analyses his characters and calculates precisely how to depict them. How did you approach your role in this film, Gang-rim?

    Instead of calculating, I would say that it’s rather about planning. There are certain films that I tend to approach by planning out in advance, while others allow me to be more spontaneous. I always discuss with the director before I make any decision. This film, in particular, had to be planned out in detail with director KIM Yong-hwa. This is because our shooting schedules were very dependent on the sets used (due to the amount of CG). Even in the script, the directions written were very specific, and the pre-visuals were well made too. As the actor of Gang-rim, my role was to harmonize his emotions with the other characters. Then I thought about how to best express them throughout the film. For example, Gang-rim is someone who remembers his life from 1,000 years ago. When he’s on a journey with Hae Won-maek and Duk-chun, who have lost their memories, how should he treat them? What the director and I agreed on was that Gang-rim would be a man of few words, who would focus on his job and hide his emotions. After the discussion, I spent a lot of time alone considering what kind of character he would be. The difficult part was to keep his character consistent, be it during the trial in the afterlife, when he appears in our world, or even when he was alive 1,000 years ago. This is the point I’ve discussed the most with the director.

    From your debut in The Unforgiven (2005) to The Chaser (2008) and The Yellow Sea (2010), your performances relied on reflecting reality. Wasn’t it a new kind of challenge to play an officer from the afterlife in a fantasy film?

    When I shot The Chaser, I was worried about whether a good thriller film could ever be made in Korea. Also, I played a prosecutor in the TV series H.I.T. before I became a serial killer in The Chaser, and because of that many people were confused. When I select a project, I always think about how much fun I will get from it. Back then, I thought that these unfamiliar genres would be something the audience would rapidly get used to. It hasn’t been long since gun action films started to be made in Korea. When I had to film a gunfight scene in The Berlin File (2013), it was all very new. However, six years later, these films are not so unusual in Korea anymore. Also, look at Robert Downey Jr.; he starred in Chaplin before playing in Iron Man. To me, that seemed like a very strange choice at first, but now it would be impossible to think of anyone else playing Iron Man. The reason why I decided to play in Along with the Gods is that the story was strong. I enjoyed the webtoon it was based on, too. Although fantasy films are risky as a genre, I was certain that this project would present distinct strengths. Most of all, I chose it because it was innovative.

    Besides your acting career, you have also directed two feature films and even had a solo exhibition of your paintings. What is your secret to having such success in different artistic fields?

    My job is an actor first and foremost, but I’m just a person living his life. That’s why I always keep in mind that I should work hard in my life and be proactive. If I feel like doing something or find interest in something, I don’t think twice, I try to realize this idea. If I consider it’s something worth trying, then I won’t hesitate. That must be the reason why I’m able to keep my artistic sensitivity intact. I used to draw when I was young, then I picked it up again after university because I had nothing to do. At a certain point, it became a big part of my daily life. After that, I never let go of it again. Filmmaking is also something I want to continue pursuing. In the fall of 2012, I was on a plane back home after shooting The Berlin File. I thought about what kind of film I should shoot next, and that’s how I came up with Fasten Your Seatbelt (2013) and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant (2015) and directed them.

    What are your next projects?

    I just finished shooting PMC, the newest movie from the director of The Terror, LIVE (2013), KIM Byung-woo. I’m also working on my third directorial project. These days, I feel even more the necessity to play in the films in which I want to play and make the films I want to watch. That’s why I’m more careful when selecting projects. My next project has been in the planning stage since December, and the first draft was sent to a professional scriptwriter in May. The script is almost finished. I don’t know when I’ll be shooting it, but I’ll proceed with the filming once I feel like the story has reached its potential.
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