After slump, Han Suk-kyu returns to spotlight
Han’s characters include a dying man in his 30s from “Christmas in August” (1998) and a gigolo in “Moon over Seoul” (1994). Across the diverse personalities, he knew how to be real without resorting to cliches.
Han indeed paved the way for character actors such as Song Kang-ho, Kim Yoon-seok and Ryu Seung-ryong, who are some of the best known in their field today.
He dominated the film industry in the late 1990s after rising to stardom in the drama “Moon Over Seoul” and then acted in a series of megahits including “Dr. Bong” (1995), “The Gingko Bed” (1996), “Green Fish” (1997) and “The Contact” (1997). At his peak in 1999, he solidified his status as a top star with “Swiri” (1998) and “Tell Me Something” (1999).
After that high point, Han suffered from a slump as his movies in the early 2000s failed to impress. Recently, however, the 49-year-old actor seems to have regained his old glory in dramas “Deep Rooted Tree” (2011) and action-thriller “The Berlin File.”
After such ups and downs, Han recently completed his 20th film, “My Paparotti,” that hit theaters on March 14.
In the film, Han plays music teacher Sang-jin who is stuck in a rut until he meets a delinquent teenager played by Lee Jye-hoon. Sang-jin, once a promising vocalist, decided to teach his trade to the boy.
Q. You show off impressive singing skills in the new film.
A. Yes, I sang the Korean song “Someone Who Gives Happiness” at the piano with my counterpart in the movie. Indeed, becoming a vocalist was one of my dreams back when I was young. I also sang two songs for “Christmas in August.”
Your character in the film is foul-mouthed, and the way you swear comes across as quite realistic.
When I played King Sejong in “Deep Rooted Tree,” my character was also loved for his tough side as he often swore. However, the effect was unintended. The curse words were not written into the screenplay, but I still swore on a whim and writers liked it so much that they started to add bad words to my lines.
It seems like “Deep Rooted Tree” was especially meaningful for you. Do you think the program was your ticket back to the spotlight?
I don’t know whether it was a coincidence, but I was offered the role when I was thinking about why King Sejong created hangul [the Korean writing system]. I think I was meant to take the role. Nowadays, I’m thinking about Crown Prince Yeongchin. I’d like to star in a film about the king someday. And King Yeongjo, who killed his son Prince Sado, also intrigues me these days.
Besides the drama, were there any similarly auspicious moments in your life?
I was offered the role in “Christmas in August” just when I wanted to work on a heart-wrenching love story after watching “Il Postino” (1994).
You’ve been working for decades. If you had to pick, what would be your most memorable work?
I would pick “Christmas in August” because it depicts the gradually developing emotions of two leads. But when it comes to my acting, I would pick “Moon Over Seoul.” I feel like I was alive and fresh in the drama.
You are noted as a fishing enthusiast. What do you think acting and fishing have in common?
Sometimes beginners catch a big fish, but those who make steady efforts catch more fish in the long run. I’m acting because it’s what I want to be good at for the rest of my life. I still think my acting is not good enough. In the past, I used to act to show achievements. I doubted if I was taking my roles seriously enough. I think I should be more flexible.
What problems exist in the Korean movie industry?
I think it is obsessed with inducing tears and laughter. The film industry needs to lead, but many of today’s movies are only interested in being as broadly satisfying as possible.
You are approaching 50. Is there any kind of movie you want to do?
I want to shoot another melodrama with Sim Jae-myung, the producer of “The Contact.” It would be a middle-aged romance. In addition, I want to work on a movie based on the [1950-53] Korean War like “Swiri” or “Double Agent” (2002).
“The Berlin File” is a hit but does not delicately portray Korean sentiment about the tragedy of a divided nation. So I want to do another war movie.
By Jung Hyun-mok [email@example.com]
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