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Mar 04, 2019
  • Writerby SONG Soon-jin
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“I’ve always had an affection for roles of everyday characters.”

JUNG Woo-sung, best known for action films like Asura : The City of Madness (2016), The King (2017), Steel Rain (2017) and ILLANG : THE WOLF BRIGADE (2018) is bringing back his mellow smile onto the big screen. That is all thanks to Innocent Witness, the latest from Punch (2011) and Thread of Lies (2014) director LEE Han. The film tells the heart-warming story of Sun-ho (JUNG), a former human rights advocate who set aside his convictions to work for a large law firm, as he meets the only witness to a murder, a teenage girl with autism named Ji-wu (KIM Hyang-gi). In the process, he learns the truth about the case, as well as the meaning of relationships.

It has been a while since you played an everyday character, a realistic office worker like in A Good Rain Knows (2009). Wasn’t it a bit awkward?
I would like to say that this is a stereotype based only on my external image. (laughs) The job of acting is all about showing, so having a certain image established can be a good thing, but I think that part of the essential process of growing as an actor is constantly shedding that image. JUNG Woo-sung the person comes from a low-income family, where he spent a normal childhood. Since I have experience at all levels of society, I enjoy as much the atmosphere of an obscure cart bar as that of a luxurious wine bar. I think I’m the kind of person who fits with all these atmospheres. In the public consciousness, there is that deeply ingrained image of me as someone who popped out overnight as an actor, and so they even expect me to conform to that image, but I’ve constantly strived to show a more mundane side. I’ve always had a thirst and an affection for roles of everyday characters.

Even so, watching you on the screen as Sun-ho, walking around in a shabby suit and carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, gives quite a different impression. How did you want to portray your character?
The whole idea with this role was not to characterize him too much. Or, should I say, to show him in a state of lethargy? Although you can say he always pulls himself together, there are times when he lets his weariness show. Sun-ho is exactly in this state of mind. However, I portrayed him as someone who still faithfully observes everyday guidelines despite being exhausted in life, because he is a profoundly sincere person.

If we look at your recent filmography, besides action movies, you took part in low-budget films such as Remember You (2016, as producer and lead actor) and documentary Intention (2018, as narrator). What is the reason behind your decision to appear in Innocent Witness?
The reasons vary for each project I choose. For Remember You, after helping a friend conceptualize the film project, I got involved with the actual production. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I shared my competence. Although it was a surprising choice in retrospect, it wasn’t in my plans to do the unexpected for the sake of it. Fundamentally, I think it’s important for me to be conscious of the value of my activity and to take each moment as they come. Planning something would be akin to interfering with the natural flow, the natural development. Rather than playing it safe by staying within the confines of mainstream commercial films, I strive to choose projects that are varied and worth the challenge, projects that are worth a try. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is the same reflection that brought me to Innocent Witness. There is some virtue to this scenario, and I felt confident that I could express something through the character of Sun-ho. And also, after several years playing characters who endure the worst to survive, in films dealing with heavy topics, I appreciated the comfort brought by Sun-ho in Innocent Witness.

What are the virtues you found in the scenario?
I was moved by the emotions Sun-ho shares with Ji-wu and the ones he shares with his father. Reading the script felt like therapy. It was totally different from the characters I played in the last few years. It was a scenario that would allow me be to reflect on the human mind and myself. After closing the script, I wanted to start shooting right away.

In the film, Sun-ho establishes relations with many characters, such as Ji-wu, of course, but also his invalid father and his friend who still works as a human rights lawyer. Which one of these touched you the most while filming?
All the bonds Sun-ho builds carry conviction and significance, but among them, the relationship with his father made me feel like it was a substitute for the one I didn’t have, the one I couldn’t have. (laughs) I like the scenes where the father approaches Sun-ho like an immature friend, and personally, filming these parts as Sun-ho, I could clearly feel my father, the warmth of parenthood.

You have been working constantly as an actor for 24 years, and you once said in an interview that you wished to become a veteran actor your younger peers could look up to. Who are your own role models?
I want to become a good person, yes, but I don’t see the necessity to be a role model. I once met AHN Sung-ki on the set for Musa-The Warrior (2001), but seeing him sitting in a laidback way was a bit uncomfortable. But after that, I had the chance to meet him at several places, and I started feeling better seeing him every time, just sitting quietly, by himself. Rather than wanting to become like him, my take away was that I realized there are such wonderful veteran actors.

You appear to be also stimulated by younger actors.
Everybody makes me nervous, and I make myself nervous too. It’s a positive kind of tension. There is always something to learn. I think that what we call “work experience” must be discarded after finishing a shooting. Whether you’re a newcomer or an actor with many years of experience, the moment you arrive on the set, you are nothing but a colleague, on an equal footing to other actors. Because each one of us has a different development process, we have different values. That’s why everyone makes me nervous. I’m wary of relying too much on my own experience or having too much confidence.

You will also have a busy schedule this year. You have another movie releasing soon, and I’ve heard that you’re currently working on your directing feature debut. 
First, there is Beasts that Cling to the Straws (translated title), in which I play against JEON Do-yeon. It’s a story that has many elements of black comedy, with a money bag as the protagonist, and shows the ridiculous lengths a group of people will go to catch a travelling bag of money. I play Tae-yang, a nerdy guy. As for my feature-length directing debut, I cannot give away too much detail on the plot, but what I can tell you is that it will be part of my process for understanding why I want to direct movies.
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