In ‘Default,’ Kim Hye-soo tells a story yet untold: Film depicts the struggles the country underwent due to the 1997 financial crisis

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In ‘Default,’ Kim Hye-soo tells a story yet untold: Film depicts the struggles the country underwent due to the 1997 financial crisis


Actor Kim Hye-soo sits for an interview to talk about her upcoming movie “Default.” [ZIP CINEMA]

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout was a critical chapter in Korea’s contemporary history, and it still haunts large parts of society. The financial crisis has been indirectly depicted in many works of fiction since, but there has never been a feature film about what happened until now.

“Default,” which is set to hit theaters next Wednesday, takes place in 1997, just a week before a tsunami of bankruptcies overwhelm the country and the IMF turnaround program kicks in. Before “Default,” films and TV shows would depict people’s lives being turned upside-down because of the financial difficulties, or cite the ordeal as a reason for a certain problem - but never handle the issue on its own.

Directed by Choi Kook-hee, the film features actors Kim Hye-soo, Cho Woo-jin, Yoo Ah-in, Huh Joon-ho and French actor Vincent Cassel, each playing a character that represents the different stakes people had at the time.

Veteran actor Kim takes the lead role with her character Han Si-hyeon, the head of the monetary policy at the Bank of Korea, who is the first to discover that Korea has just a week to prepare for the biggest fiscal downfall in its history. In the film, Han has to come face to face with Cassel’s character, the president of the IMF, to try and stop the country from falling into pieces.

“When I read the script, I felt all the blood in my veins rushing like crazy,” said Kim. “I picked it up like I do with any other script, but then, it was like my senses became wide awake. There were things that made me mad, and things that I needed to look up because I had no idea what they were.”

Kim sat for an interview with Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, to talk about the movie and how she felt like she saw her own life in the film’s story. The following are edited excerpts.

Q. You said that some parts of the plot made you mad. Why was that?

. I was born into a generation that was greatly affected by the IMF [crisis]. A friend would suddenly move to the countryside and some just left the country. I found out later that I had relatives who could not dodge the damage, which I didn’t know at the time.

One of my friends who saw the movie at the premiere told me that she cried her eyes out. I had known her since we were in elementary school, and though we’ve known each other for that long, we’ve never talked about the IMF bailout. It made me mad because I knew what it was like back then.

How did you feel while watching the movie?

I cried a lot while watching the movie, but it was different from crying out of sadness or agony. I think a lot of people will feel the same way that I did. It may seem like a cliche story, but there’s definitely something there that sends a clear message.

What’s your character Han Si-hyeon like?

She’s a very typical main character. She plays by the books, and she perseveres through hardship - which sounds really boring. But within that typicality, there were cracks where I could find something interesting, something new. And I’m glad I had that room for something a little more warm and heartfelt.

How did you feel when you found out that Vincent Cassel would be joining the crew?

I was actually very curious about who’d be playing the role of the IMF president. [I knew] it was going to be a foreigner, and so I just thought to myself that it could be someone from Europe, and that was it. I knew that it was an important role, but I never knew that the staff would work so hard to cast the role. When they told me later that it was going to be Vincent Cassel, I literally shouted, “What? Oh my god! How did you get him to come?”

What was it like to work with him?

I’ve been acting for a long time, but I’ve not had much chance to work with foreign actors known globally. Plus, I really liked him. I liked him initially because he was handsome, but even more for his acting skills. He is the very definition of versatile. You see all kinds of different emotions he can get across.

He was very professional while we were filming and nice to everyone. There are certain moments of tension that we shouldn’t miss [as actors], and he missed none of them. The three days [we worked together] were the most memorable days of my life, something that I’ll never be able to experience again. I was so lucky.

What about the other co-stars?

I actually have a very special thank you to pay to Yoo Ah-in. You’d know from the plot that Han Si-hyeon is the main character, then Jeong-hak (Yoo). There’s really no point in saying whose character is first and whose character isn’t, but it’s still something that actors can’t ignore when the casting process takes place.

The role of Jeong-hak is especially difficult to play. So when I heard that Yoo Ah-in decided to join us, I was really surprised because there are other roles out there for an actor, a prominent one at that, too, to flaunt his acting skills. It was a opportunity for me to see him in a new light.

What would you like to say to your co-stars?

If Han Si-hyeon could shine in the film as Han Si-hyeon, it was because of people like Yoo Ah-in, my partner Cho Woo-jin and veteran actor Huh Joon-ho that it could happen. I believe that I had help from my entire team. I thank them so much.

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