PENINSULA Interview: Superstar Gang Dong-won Enters the Zombie Apocalypse

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PENINSULA Interview: Superstar Gang Dong-won Enters the Zombie Apocalypse
The high expectations on a sequel to a runaway blockbuster might be daunting for any actor, but with Peninsula, superstar Gang Dong-won was up for a challenge.  Leading the way into this new chapter in the Train to Busan universe, Gang and director Yeon Sang-ho discover that there might be worse monsters in the world than zombies.
 
Shortly before the announcement of his newest project, Baby, Box, Broker with director Hirokazu Kore-eda and old friends Song Kang-ho and Bae Doona, Gang chatted exclusively with LMD about emoting through action, working with Peninsula's amazing younger cast, and the film’s message of hope during this time of worldwide crisis.
 
The Lady Miz Diva:  Mr. Gang, it’s nice to see you again.  It’s been a while since we met at the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival.
 
Gang Dong-won: Yes, I remember.  What did you think about my English improvement?
 
LMD:  Well, I had meant to ask about it during this interview, but since you’re asking me now…  Having heard you speak English three years ago, I was really impressed.  Your English line-readings in PENINSULA were better than the native English speakers. 
 
GDw:  {Laughs} Wow, thank you so much.  
 
LMD:  I know you studied for a long time; you worked hard to learn.
 
GDw:  Yes, and I was in LA for a year.
 
LMD:  I want to know about that, too.  How was that?
 
GDw:  It was a really good experience.  We are still working on something.
 
LMD:  What happened with TSUNAMI LA, the Hollywood movie you were meant to make?
 
GDw:  The shooting was postponed because of some situations, and because of the coronavirus.
 
LMD:  Tell us what made you want to join PENINSULA?
 
GDw:  Actually, my best friend in the industry is the editor of Parasite {Yang Jin-mo}.  He called me one day and told me that Yeon Sang-ho wants to meet me, and I said “For what?” {Laughs}  He said he was actually planning to make a sequel to Train to Busan.  So, I was like, “Oh, Train to Busan?  A sequel?”  Because I liked Train to Busan a lot, but making a sequel to a film which made a big success before is not very interesting to an actor.  I’m sure for other actors, too.  But I wanted to meet him, anyway, because I wanted to hear what he was visualising about the movie, so, we met.  
 
I was actually personally very curious about the director, because {Laughs} I met him once at some afterparty of my movie.  He came with Director Na Hong-jin.  Actually, Na Hong-jin called me like “Where are you?  I’m with director Yeon Sang-ho.  Why don’t you come here?”  I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, but I just finished my movie today and we are having a party today.”  And he was like, “Okay, then we are going.” {Laughs}  And they came, but actually, we didn’t talk that much because they both were a bit drunk. {Laughs}  So, we couldn’t talk that much.
 
So, yeah, I met him with my friend the editor.  First, I heard about what he was thinking about the sequel of Train to Busan, and then he shared with me about the story, and about his vision.  I was very impressed about it, and I became very interested.  Then he gave me the script the next day and I read the script right away.  I really liked the script, actually, because first of all, Peninsula is very different to Train to Busan.  That was like a disaster movie, but Peninsula is more like a post-apocalyptic movie.
 
LMD:  One of the most interesting about your character, Jung-seok, is that he is very flawed; he is not perfect, at all.
 
GDw:  He’s not, he’s not.  He’s the strongest guy in the movie, but the same time, he’s the most normal person in the movie.
 
LMD:  Just before this film, you played someone who was more like a superhero in ILLANG; a character who seemed very hard, detached and inscrutable.  With Jung-seok, from the moment he drives away when he could help the mother and baby, and he leaves his sister to die in the boat, he’s consumed by guilt about it four years later. 
 
Was part of the attraction of playing Jung-seok that he was so much of the opposite of that previous character?
 
GDw:  Yeah, that is kind of a very interesting part about Jung-seok.  He got to escape.  He escaped the Korean peninsula after the disaster, when everyone’s died, but he loses his family.  He is very reasonable, like the other characters in Train to Busan.  He’s quite reasonable, and also he’s a practical and logical person.  That’s why he didn’t allow the family -- Min-jung’s family -- to come into the car.  But then he lost his family, and then he lived his life in a foreign country as a refugee, and then he becomes very negative and disaffected.
 
I’m sure that he met many people in Hong Kong that tried to help him, but maybe he refused.  I’m sure he was in denial.
 
LMD:  One of my favourite moments is the dream, where Jung-seok is reliving the moment he abandons Min-jung…
 
GDw:  That line is from me!  {Laughs}
 
LMD:  You’re going too fast!  I was gonna say that! {Laughs} In the dream, his sister says “Jung-seok, why are you the only one alive?”  
 
GDw:  Yes, "Why are you the only one alive?"  That line is from me!  {Laughs}
 
The director wanted to add some scenes from Jung-seok’s trauma, so I told him maybe if the sister said to him, “Why are you a survivor?  You are the one who is alive, but you are alone.”  Or something like that, it would be very painful to Jung-seok.  That’s what I said, then so he added the line.
 
LMD:  It isn’t really stated in the film why he chooses to go back; does he need the money that much?  I wondered if the reason is in that line?
 
GDw:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s true.  Jung-seok didn’t go back to Korea because of money.  His brother-in-law, he doesn’t get along with Jung-seok after they lost their family, but he’s the only family left to Jung-seok.  So, Jung-seok cannot allow him to go back to Korea alone.  And also he was very sick of living like a refugee in a foreign country; so he just decided to go back to Korea to die or not.  He lost his hope, so then he decided to go back.
 
LMD:  Back to Gang Dong-won, the screenwriter…
 
GDw:  {Laughs.}
 
LMD:  Director Yeon told me that you were actually responsible for that dream scene and others.  That you “always consulted with me on his interpretation of the scenes. Because of Actor Gang’s ideas, many of the scenes were enriched. Whether it was Jung-seok’s dream with his sister, or the last scene where Min-jung got on the truck and honked the horn; these were all Actor Kang’s idea.”  
 
We’ll get back to your moviemaking, but first, you previously told me you don’t mind if a director tells you very strictly what they want you to do, but doesn’t it make you feel more valued and invested when a director listens and lets you create your character?
 
GDw:  Yeah, yeah true, he’s a very different director, so…  I just gave him some ideas, of course, I don’t give him ideas like, just ‘Oh, come on, let’s just do it.’  I would think and think, and then I would add, “Min-jung’s character, if she just tries to kill herself, I don’t think it’s enough.  Why don’t we hear some sound in the car like honking the horn to sacrifice herself for her family?  I think it’s going to be very great for her character.”
 
LMD:  So, in light of that, you told me before that you weren’t interested in directing films, but does it open your mind little bit toward screenwriting?
 
GDw:  No, actually, I don’t have time.  Actually, I started to write some scripts, or short synopses, but I stopped one day, because as soon as I went to LA, I felt like I’d didn’t have time for producing or writing, anymore.  
 
Now, I have to focus on international projects as an actor only.  First of all, my English, second of all, I don’t know anything about the American industry there.  So, I stopped everything and I just jumped into the American film industry as an actor only.  So, maybe later, when I get to settle down. {Laughs}
 
LMD:  Director Yeon said he didn’t have to tell you to do too much training before filming because you were already very experienced in doing action, but that you were very diligent in researching the emotions of the character, and how to convey those emotions during the action scenes.  How exactly were you able to do that? 
 
What is the key to doing high-powered action scenes while communicating the feelings of the character, so he doesn’t become a cartoon or video game character?
 
GDw:  Action scenes, for me, as an actor, are not just action.  For me, action scenes are also emotional scenes.  Thinking about modern dancing, or ballet dancing; action is also like expressing your emotions.  That’s how I think about action scenes, so that’s why I tried to do as much as I could.  
 
That’s why I don’t like to use the stunt double that much; because his body movement and my body movement is different, and the emotional expression through the body could be different, even if it’s a shot from the back. You can do many things. 
 
I’ll give you an example rather than an explanation:  When you perform an action, if you have the emotion of anger, then it gets faster, but more anger can be slower in your body movement.  Do you understand?  If you are angry, then it can be explosive, but if you are extremely angry, then you cannot move.
 
LMD:  There’s a noticeable change on the screen when you are acting with younger actors.  We spoke a lot about your working with Shin Eun-soo in VANISHING TIME.  I sense that you have a real comfort level with your younger costars.  I’ve seen some adorable behind-the-scenes shots with you and your PENINSULA costars.  Tell us about working with the show-stealers, Misses Lee Re and Lee Ye-won.  
 
GDw:  Actually, I like to work with really young actors, because they are very pure.  They just jump into the acting right away.  That’s really amazing; they don’t think about much, and then they just jump into the act.  That’s why whenever I see young, young actors acting, I always feel like, ‘Wow, that’s it.  That’s pure acting.’  That’s what we want it to be.  When you’re a child, you’ll be like, “I’m a king!”  Or, like, “I’m a dinosaur!  Aaaarrrrrr!”  They just believe.  It’s really fun, and also sometimes very touching.  I can learn from them, from their pure mentality.  The way they just jump into the acting.
 
Ye-won is very young, she is a child.  Sometimes with actors, not everybody can not think and jump in.  They just think too much, sometimes.  They are under pressure, but Ye-won was not.  Ye-won just didn’t care; she was like the boss in the whole group.  She’s so cute, just so adorable.  
 
The most amazing thing was actually Lee Re. Lee Re is not really a child, but not an adult yet, but I felt like she can do both.  She can do very mature acting, and also, she still looked very like a child.  I think she has both.  She is so amazing.  Her eyes in the movie take over the whole scene.
 
LMD:  Before we started this interview, we were talking about our friend, director Jang Joon-hwan {1987}, you said you have a lot of affection for him because he is very informal regarding to the observances that people in Korea must make regarding age, status, and experience.  
 
I spoke with one of your costars, Mr. Kim Yoon-seok, about working with his juniors like yourself and Ha Jung-woo and Ju Ji-hoon.  I asked him if he liked to collaborate and work together off the set, perhaps going to dinner or drinking?  And he said that he doesn’t like to socialise that way while filming, because he felt it placed a burden on the younger actors. 
 
As someone who is now a veteran actor, I wanted to know your thoughts on the way you like a set to be?
 
GDw:  For me, personally, I just like to enjoy working with my fellow actors.  Of course, we can go out for drinking or something, but I just hang out with them on the set, and then I try to learn, which I don’t know about the younger generations {Laughs} I don’t know about the younger generations happening sometimes, so I’m like “What?  What is that?”  And then sometimes, Lee Re would do some strange gestures {Mimes a cat’s cradle}, and I told her, “What is that?  I want to learn that,” then she told me how to do it, but I couldn’t. {Laughs}
 
For me, actors and elders, seniors, juniors, I think they are just like friends who are actors that I work with.
 
LMD:  Can you please give a message to our readers, who, because of the coronavirus, might be coming out to the movies for the first time in months to watch PENINSULA?
 
GDw:  First of all, I feel really sorry about the situation going on there.  I really hope that everything will get better soon.
 
Some people might be reminded about the situation if they watch the movies now, but as you can see from the movie, that we still have hope.  You have to have hope.  We gotta help each other, and we gotta trust each other, and then we can go through this hard moment soon.
 
Peninsula opens in select US theatres on August 21, 2020.

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
 
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Gang Dong-wonKorean CinemaLee Jung-hyunLee ReLee Ye-wonPeninsulaTrain To BusanYeon Sang-hoZombies

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