[Our thanks to Dustin Chang for conducting the following interview.]
Actor So So Ji-Sub plays a gangster with movie star aspirations in Rough Cut, a metaphysical contemplation on acting and real life, directed by newcomer Jang Hoon and written by Kim Ki-Duk. It was a surprise hit in Korea last fall. I was quite intimidated by the thought of meeting him, having just seen the movie where he plays a ruthless criminal. He was tall, humble and soft-spoken, not unlike his character Gangpae (“gangster” in Korean) - sans the violence, of course. His thoughtful responses and unassuming nature soon won me over. Introduced by the ever enthusiastic and personable Grady Hendrix, director of Subway Cinema, we shook hands and sat down in a café in Midtown. I indicated to Mr. Woo, the interpreter from Korean Society, that I’d conduct the interview in Korean. I realized that my Korean was a little rusty during the interview, and was glad Mr. Woo stuck around to help for our brief session. Thank you Mr. Woo.
DC: I just saw your film Rough Cut.
So Ji-Sub: Did you enjoy it?
DC: Oh immensely. First of all, were those fight scenes real or fake?
(We both laugh – the premise of Rough Cut deals with fine line between real and fake violence in film.)
So Ji-Sub: It’s filmmaking. We (he and co-star Kang Ji-hwan) tried to make it look as convincing as possible. But the final showdown at the muddy field was tough. The mud severely limits your movement and Kang and I had to really have a go at it.
DC: Neither of you got hurt though I hope.
So Ji-Sub: No. Thankfully.
DC: You play Gangpae, who’s rather cynical about the whole process of filmmaking. He thinks it’s all a big joke. Do you share Gangpae’s sentiment toward the filmmaking?
So Ji-Sub: Never. I know how hard and laborious the process is. For all that talent and effort that go in to it, I only have utmost respect for filmmakers.
DC: As you know, over the years, Korean films have been hugely successful in the world stage and there are quite a few Korean films represented here at NYAFF too. What do you think about the quality of Korean films nowadays?
So Ji-Sub: First of all, as a Korean actor, I feel very proud. But we can’t stop here now. We must always improve and make even better films in the future.
DC: Rough Cut is written by Kim Ki-duk. What do you think about his films?
So Ji-Sub: Well, they are complex. You really have to think a lot when watching his films. (laughs)
DC: Do you ever want to work with him?
So Ji-Sub: When the (Rough Cut) script first came to me, it was Kim’s directing project. Only it changed later on.
DC: The issue of violence comes up a lot when I discuss Korean movies with my colleagues here in the States. When thinking about the works of directors like Park Chan-Wook and having just seen Breathless, I've got to ask you about the violence in Korean cinema. Do you think it’s more prevalent in Korean films than anywhere else?
So Ji-Sub: I don’t think Korean films are more violent. You should know that in Korea, majority of the films that are produced don’t deal with violence at all. It’s the ones that get more attention abroad happen to be violent ones. I personally think Hollywood films are much more violent.
DC: Do you have any actors you admire?
So Ji-Sub: Korean or…
So Ji-Sub: For a Korean actor, I admire Ahn Sung-Gi (a veteran Korean actor) and I like Edward Norton.
DC: Hmm. I read a review of Rough Cut somewhere and you were compared with Robert Mitchum for your physicality. I can totally see that.
(So doesn’t know Mitchum and I have a hard time describing him- old Hollywood actor, physical presence, Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, etc. I also mention his similarities to Tadanobu Asano. He’d never heard that comparison.)
DC: Do you have any particular director you want to work with?
So Ji-Sub: Having a good director is important, yes. But in choosing projects, I find that a good script is the most important thing. I don’t mind working with first time directors (as I did with Rough Cut) or small independent films as long as they have good scripts that I find interesting.
DC: I see. So what’s next for you? More physically demanding action films?
So Ji-Sub: Nothing yet, but I’m always looking for a project with a good script. I’d like to do a lot of different stuff, comedies for instance, as long as it has a good script.
DC: Thank you for your time and have a good time while here in New York.
So Ji-Sub: Thank you.
Many thanks to So Ji-Seob and Grady Hendrix.
Interview by Dustin Chang.