[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF coverage, head over here. For Japan Cuts, here.]
Choi Min-Sik is one of my favorite actors. His performances are uniformly incredible, and movies are always better when they have him in them. He is also a pretty imposing guy. Being in the same room with a man who I have seen violently and viciously murder numerous people onscreen is a little bit scary. I guess it’s fortunate, then, that my interview took place outside. You see, Choi Min-sik has a pretty intense nicotine addiction, and needed a fix when it came time for me to speak with him. Because we’re in America, you can’t smoke inside, so they asked me if I was willing to talk to him while on his smoke break. And I was totally down with that, because I really didn’t really care what context I talked to him in. I just wanted to talk to him. And I did.
Obviously, we had to use a translator, so bear that in mind. A few questions seem to have been muddled in the translation, and I actually removed one bit from the transcript because the answer was clearly to a different question entirely and made no sense. Even so, it was a good talk.
And you know what? He is one of the nicest people I have ever met. Aside from being really awesome during the interview, he gladly signed my Oldboy Blu-ray case, posed for the above pterodactyl, and he accepted a hug from me and even hugged back.
I’m dead serious when I say it was one of the best moments of my life.
Nameless Gangster is your first time playing a gangster since Failan, right?
The main character of Nameless Gangster was a public officer, and he’s not a real gangster. He just happened to work with those real gangsters to support his family and earn money. So Nameless Gangster is not really a gangster movie. It’s more about this ordinary guy’s life story.
You tend to play morally ambiguous characters, not completely good or completely evil (except in I Saw the Devil). What draws you to that?
When you see people, it’s just people’s nature. Everyone has their own villains inside and angels. Everyone has their good vs. evil, so even with the total villains sometimes they do good things. I want to present multi-dimensional perspective people, not like an animation.
How closely are you following the American remake of Oldboy?
I’m not really expecting to see it, but I’m following the press.
If Spike Lee asked you to cameo in the movie, would you say yes?[In English] Yes! [laughs] Yes.
How do you feel about the decision of some directors, such as Park Chan-wook [director of Oldboy], to direct English language films?
I think it’s perfect. I think it’s a really great idea to direct in other languages. I think that the directors and actors have different jobs, so that even if the language is different, the directors can still conduct films, since it’s about representing human life and universal ideas.
But still, actors should use their own tongues, so preferably natives would act.
Would you ever direct a movie?
Only a stage play.
What is your favorite Korean revenge movie?
Oldboy. [laughs] No, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first film in the Vengeance trilogy by Park Chan-wook.
That is a really good movie. One of my favorites as well. So you exiled yourself from filmmaking in protest of the reduction of South Korea’s screening quota. Why did you stop?
Because it’s my job. [laughs]
Do you have any martial arts training?
Only when the film requires it.
So you didn’t have any before you started acting?
No. I don’t like physical violence very much. [laughs]
How do you choose your projects?
When I first read a scenario, it should persuade me. No matter which genre it is, I should be attracted to it and fascinated by it, that I should read through the whole thing from first page to last page.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a new film titled New World. It’s a thriller.
Can you tell me what it’s about?
I’m a police officer this time [laughs]. It’s still an ongoing project, and I can’t talk about it that precisely. But I’ll give you a hint: it’s similar to The Departed by Martin Scorsese.
Do you have any thoughts on the future of Korean cinema?
I’m not worried about Korean cinema’s future, because the people there, directors and actors are so young, and they are so full of passion to make new, experimental films with a lot of energy. So I’m not worried about that. The only wish I have is for more support economically and strategically from the government. That’s my only wish.
Are there any other actors or directors you would like to work with?
In Korea or in Hollywood?
I was thinking Korea, but either one.[Laughs] I want to work with Park Chan-wook again. I want to do a whole new style with him. Really challenge him.
Are there any actors you want to work with?
Of course there are a lot. Sol Kyung-gu, who was the main actor in Peppermint Candy. [In English] You know Peppermint Candy?
No, I haven’t seen it. But I will.
He’s a really excellent actor, and also a friend. And there are a lot of beautiful actresses I want to work with as well [laughs].
Unfortunately that’s my time. Can I have a hug?