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Adorable scene stealers nose their way onto screen

Animal actors don’t need much to make them happy - a simple snack and a penchant for play will do.

Aug 26,2011
Stills of films with furry actors, from left: “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and “Champ”

As the scene stealers that everybody loves to lavish with attention, animal actors don’t need much to make them happy - a simple snack and a penchant for play will do. And although they were long relegated to supporting roles as household pets, animal actors are now figuring more prominently in films that cast them as heros, underdogs and mystical diviners of the future.

One such film is “Champ,” slated for release on Sept. 7. Based on a true story, the film depicts the relationship between a recently injured racehorse named Woo-bak and the jockey (Cha Tae-hyun) who is gradually losing his eyesight that tries to tame him.

Gang Eun-gyo at Film Soup, the film’s promotion company, says Cha spent time with the horse before and during filming, luring his four-legged partner with a combination of carrots and sugar cubes.

Meanwhile, a film from overseas has bucked the convention of casting household pets in favor of a group of flightless birds. In “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” six waddling Gentoo penguins trade tricks with comedy legend Jim Carrey. The comedy follows a businessman (Carrey) whose life begins to change after he inherits six penguins from his father. It is set to be released in Korea on Sept. 8.

The film’s human lead courted his co-stars with a similar combination of friendship and food.

“Penguins are not easy to train, but Jim Carrey tried to get them to warm up to him by stuffing his pockets with raw fish throughout the filming process,” said Gang of Film Soup, which is also promoting this film.

As the film’s co-stars, the penguins received the royal treatment with their own houses and clean pools with fresh fish in Brooklyn, the main location of the film, Gang said.

According to Gang, the penguins acted in almost every scene except for a few that required more complex stunts that were later completed with computer graphics.

But not all films featuring animal actors are cute and fuzzy.

“Blind” and “The Cat” Provided by the distribution companies

A couple of recently released thrillers have also relied on domesticated pets.

“Blind” is a thriller that revolves around the conflicting accounts of two people - one who is blind and the other sighted - who witness the same hit-and-run accident.

Actress Kim Ha-neul received rave reviews for her portrayal of Min Soo-ah, who lost her sight after a car accident, but it was Kim’s partner Dal-yi, who plays Soo-ah’s guide dog, that steals the show.

Dal-yi is, in fact, a professional who has appeared in several hit family films including “Heart Is” (2006) and “Maumi 2” (2010).

Though she is 10 years old, or 70 in human age, she is still enthusiastic about her work, according to her owner and trainer Kim Jong-kwon.

“She has the strength of a dog who is half her age,” said Kim.

Her salary has almost certainly helped keep her in good health. Dal-yi earns 50 million won ($45,454) per movie, which is the highest figure among her peers.

For Dal-yi, “Blind” was special because it allowed her to reunite with her old friend Yu Seung-ho. The two met while working on “Heart Is” (2006) when Yu was 13.

Dal-yi’s proud owner said that when the two met, Dal-yi was smart enough to recognize her old friend.

“She recognized Yu well,” Kim said with a laugh. “It seems she liked him more than the other actors.”

Felines feature in the recently released horror film “The Cat.” The film revolves around the deaths of several characters who have come into contact with a cat named Bi-dan.

Because cats are more difficult to train than dogs, the production team hired six cats with similar looks and director Byun Seung-wook would choose the ones he wanted to use, according to a press release about the film. Computer graphics were used for more dangerous scenes, the release said.


By Sung So-young, Song Yoon-soo [so@joongang.co.kr]



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