“It Is the Film and the Truth that Count, not the Debate and Politics”
SONG Kang-ho has a huge presence in contemporary Korean cinema. Since his debut in Green Fish (1997) and No. 3 (1997) as a supporting actor, he has filled his filmography with major films including Joint Security Area (2000), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006) and Secret Sunshine (2007). LEE Chang-dong, PARK Chan-wook, YU Ha, CHANG Hun and HAN Jae-rim are some of the major Korean directors that he has worked with. For SONG, 2013 was an especially memorable year. His films Snowpiercer and The Face Reader have attracted more than 18 million accumulated viewers, and now he is playing his last card of the year, with The Attorney, directed by YANG Woo-suk.
The scenario came to him unexpectedly. SONG initially turned down this film focusing on the late President ROH Moo-hyun’s attorney days and the notorious conspiracy case called “Burim,” thought he would play the late president, whose evaluations are still controversial. SONG felt he was just not ready for it. However, in one week, he picked up the phone and told the producer. “I’ll do it.”
It was not an easy film to work on. Not because it features a politician’s life, or for depicting “Burim,” but because life back then in the 80s was so dark and heavy, as it was a time when common sense was lost under dictatorship. However, SONG confesses: “I was overwhelmed by how I should act as the real person, not by non-film factors like current politics.” SONG never even once mentioned the name ROH Moo Hyun during this interview. Rather, he emphasized that it is the film and the truth that count, not the debate and politics.
- I am curious why you finally accepted this film.
I didn’t feel political pressure. I just wasn’t sure if we could really express the passionate life of the brave individuals in the 80s. It is not easy to act as somebody who actually lived in this world. I am usually quick in responding whether to be in a film or not, and I am familiar with the production company, so I turned it down right away, but then, in a week I changed my mind and told them that I was in. I think what made me change my mind was the question that I asked myself: if I am living my life as seriously as SONG Woo-suk, the main character in the film.
- Weren’t you hesitating because SONG Woo-suk is based on the late President ROH Moo Hyun?
It is not important who the character is based on. What counts for me is the core of the character. What appears on the surface is just a framework. Real acting is to grasp the core of a character over its superficial appearance. When you are playing a homeless person, makeup is not everything. You have to bring out their bleak emotions. This is my way of acting.
- So, according to you, what is the core of The Attorney?
The truth and true feelings. The 80s style ties, suits and old bags are just the surface of the character. What is really at the core of the character and the film is the desire to stand up against injustice. You are right that I hesitated about whether to be in the film or not, but what finally moved my mind was this.
- I hear you got support from your family when you were making the decision.
My wife’s recommendation was decisive in this. She liked the scenario very much. I never incorporate my family’s opinion in what films to be in. However, this time, as I hesitated, she was like, “What is taking so long!” So, history begins in the household. (laughs) PARK Chan-wook and BONG Joon-ho, who are good friends of mine, also encouraged me. I appreciate their opinions and support.
- Do you know that there are some unfavorable views concerning your involvement in the film? Among some reports on it, one title reads “Does Song desperately need quick money?”
I don’t really care. Snowpiercer and The Face Reader also received controversial opinions. When you make a film, some like it and others don’t, and everybody has their own reason for that. It is the same with The Attorney. Nothing really special here, just the usual pros and cons.
- In the past, your characters have generally been uneducated people. This time you are an attorney. Quite a change of pace! (laughs)
It was indeed a different experience for me. In Thirst (2008), I played a Catholic priest but that was a religious profession. Now I am playing an intellectual. If I get to play the role of a medical doctor, then I couldn’t be any more successful. (laughs). During shooting, the director actually made a joke that I should play a doctor in my next film (laughs)
- The court scene with CHA Dong-young (played by KWAK Do-won) was very impressive.
“Learn the truth and ask for forgiveness, that is how you really love your country!” says the attorney. There are many great lines in the court scenes but this was the most impressive for me. It is very hard to put your true feelings into speech. But in that scene, the weight of the film itself was put on the line, I think. The court scenes could have been boring because they take place in a confined place, but I believe we overcame this difficulty with everyone’s passionate and intense energy.
- Some might say that you are the leading actor and JEON Do-yeon the leading actress of Korean cinema. It is interesting that your new works have been released at the same time.
JEON Do-yeon and I had a chat at BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) during the fall. We talked about how similar the release dates were and wished each other good luck. We are supportive and happy for each other. What is interesting is that I had to miss the premiere of Way Back Home, and she missed mine too, due to promotion schedule conflicts. I remember we had a good laugh about this. She is a wonderful actress and I’ve heard great things about Way Back Home. I hope we all do well this winter.
- What’s next for you?
I am currently taking a break as my next film is not decided yet. (laughs) I don’t work out or spend time with hobbies, though I do a bit of light mountain climbing at the small mountain near my house or watch sport games or movies at home. It is pretty much the same as any middle aged Korean man. This year, I rarely went to see my son’s games (SONG Jun-pyung is a soccer player) but I plan to go see them often next year. It is not easy to be a good father.
By LEE Jung-hyun(Film Critic)