Decades after his debut, Kim Dong-wan takes on his biggest role yet

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Decades after his debut, Kim Dong-wan takes on his biggest role yet

Actor Kim Dong-wan [OFFICE DH]

Actor Kim Dong-wan [OFFICE DH]

It’s been decades since singer Kim Dong-wan transitioned to acting full-time, but his recent role in “The Singer” is his biggest and best yet.
Having debuted in 1998 as a part of six-member boy band Shinhwa, Kim's first acting job was in KBS drama “Children of Heaven” in 2002 and has since taken roles both small and big.
And it's been four years since Kim has been on the big screen since taking the lead role in “If You Were Me,” which premiered in local theaters in June 2016.

Contrary to most of his previous work set in the 21st century, “The Singer” takes place in 18th century Joseon (1392-1910), and Kim’s character is simply referred to as a fallen noble — or molak yangban in Korean — who joins the main character Hak-gyu on his journey around the country to find his kidnapped wife. 
“The Singer” is a pansori (traditional narrative singing) musical, and Hak-gyu ends up creating one of the most famous pansori pieces of all time, the Simcheongga, while Kim’s character adds a mysterious touch along with his witty charms.
As a singer, Kim is one of the most legendary figures on the K-pop scene. Shinhwa has some of the biggest hits in the history of the genre, and the members remain friends to this day. 
According to Kim, he found his own happiness through a path scarred with pain and agony — especially his recent years living on his own in the quiet countryside in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi.
“A lot of things solved themselves when I was back in nature,” he said. “I think I’m on the path of finding the things that I can do on my own.”
Kim sat down with Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, where he shared his recent experience as a cast member of “The Singer,” as well as how Shinhwa lasted and finding his own happiness. The following are edited excerpts.
Actor Kim Dong-wan is featured as a molak yangban in "The Singer." [OFFICE DH]

Actor Kim Dong-wan is featured as a molak yangban in "The Singer." [OFFICE DH]

Q. Now that “The Singer” has been released, what do you think about the finished product?
A. While I loved the filming process, I really love the finished film. Especially the “Indangsu” scene — it reminded me of the film “Pirates of the Caribbean" (2013). It came out so much better than I thought, and I even called it a blockbuster movie.

It has the charms of sori [meaning pansori, as well as the Korean word for sound]. I don’t think there’s been anything quite like it. Yes, there is the legendary “Seopyeonje” which is a Korean classic. But back then, filming and recording the sound couldn’t be done simultaneously, whereas now the technology lets us even capture the sound of grains of sand rolling on the ground. “The Singer” has all of that sound. I especially like how [actor Lee] Bong-geun [who plays Hak-gyu] pours out all of the good sounds when he reaches his apex.
This is your first periodic film. How was it?

I like periodic films and war films. I recently watched “1917” (2019) and really enjoyed it. I was just happy to be a part of “The Singer.” I could see why some people who do periodic movies just do this genre. Sometimes with modern pieces, I can see myself in the roles, but think this shows the limits of my acting skills. But periodic films carry a classic charm, and the approach is definitely different.
Actor Kim Dong-wan poses for the press conference held on June 22 for the film "The Singer." [OFFICE DH]

Actor Kim Dong-wan poses for the press conference held on June 22 for the film "The Singer." [OFFICE DH]

Were there any scenes where you actually had to sing pansori?

There’s a part where I shout, “Eolssu!” And when I practiced on my own, the rhythm was so rich. It was through this movie that gugak [traditional Korean music] flowed through a diverse line of pitch. Just like other people, I thought that the sentiments of heung and han [traditional sentiments of joy and sadness] would be enough for sori, but it turns out that it is really mathematical. I wanted to learn it, even if it was for a brief amount of time, so I asked the director and [actor Lee] Bong-geun, and then they told me the stories of sori players in Jeonju [North Jeolla].

But I felt embarrassed to just go to them and say, “I’m here to learn how to say ‘eolssu,’” and didn't want to be a nuisance. Then I learned that there was a person teaching chang [pansori] in Nakwon Arcade [central Seoul]. She goes by the name of Bora Sabu, and she’s quite famous on YouTube. I found her while I was searching on the internet, and I drop by Nakwon-dong often, so I decided to go. She was really cooperative, and I felt so grateful. It turns out there are a lot of people who learn from her as their hobby.
You started out your career as member of Shinhwa. How does it feel to have younger singers look up to you?

Just as I look up to the senior singers who are still pursuing their careers, I think it's the same case for the younger K-pop singers. I actually feel quite awkward when I have to work with younger people. I feel sort of embarrassed when we use the waiting room together, and they keep coming up to me to say hello (laughs). If they’re just five or six years younger than me, then I’d just say, “Hey, hi!” But when they’re 20 years younger — I just have no idea. I’d like to buy them a nice meal, perhaps (laughs).

Anyway, it’s true that I’m still working, and it’s flattering to have people think good things about me. I hope the younger people fight a lot like we [the members of Shinhwa] did. We became friends by being a nuisance to each other (laughs).
What would it have been like for you, if you hadn’t started off as a member of a boy band?

I don’t think I would have had as many fans. K-pop fans are different. They’re very layered. They don’t just care about the person up on the stage, they care about the whole package. I don’t think I’d have gotten as many opportunities as I have. I could have debuted and just quit early, or I could have worked just as hard and for as long as I have now ended up somewhere in a quiet corner. 
Actor Kim Dong-wan [OFFICE DH]

Actor Kim Dong-wan [OFFICE DH]

What are your main interests these days?

Farming. There’s a farming fad among the people in my village. I’m learning it seriously. I’m especially into farming chili and garlic. I’m even thinking about doing something with other people to sell what I produce.
Would you say that you are happier now?

I was going through so much pain for such a long time. I think I had to look for a way to become happy somehow. I think a lot of younger people are suffering these days as well — insomnia that I have no idea what the cause is, or abusing medication. A lot of things solved themselves when I was back in nature. I think I’m on the path of finding the things that I can do on my own.
What advice would you give to younger celebrities?

I never suffered from depression, but I did suffer from insomnia and severe obsession. If there are people like me, I’d really like them to make a big change in their environment. Honestly, we’re products in the eyes of the management companies. And a good product is good for all. I hope they [the agencies] would care a little more about the health and environment [of the celebrities]. Not just a good apartment — but a good environment. They shouldn’t go as far away as I did, but I think getting away even just a little will definitely help.
김동완 ”사극·전쟁영화 간절, 연극무대도 행복해”
어느 때보다 행복한 시간을 보내고 있는 김동완이다. 애정하는 사극 장르 영화로 오랜만에 스크린에 복귀한 그는 시작부터 과정, 그리고 결과까지 어느 때보다 '흡족한' 마음을 아낌없이 쏟아내고 있다. 판소리 뮤지컬 '소리꾼(조정래 감독)'에서 몰략양반으로 분해 특유의 능청스러운 매력과 반전 카타르시스까지 선사, 배우로서 입지도 또 한번 굳건히 다졌다.
살아있는 가요계의 전설 신화의 멤버로도 굳건한 존재감을 자랑한다. 숱한 고통과 상처 속 스스로 행복한 길을 찾아냈다. 가평 전원생활 중인 김동완에게 귀농은 새로운 숨통이 되어준 고마운 존재다. 경험 속 뱉어낸 김동완의 한 마디, 한 마디는 같은 상황을 겪고 있는 수 많은 후배들에게 좋은 귀감이 될 것으로 보인다.
-'소리꾼'에 대한 애정이 가득하다.
"나는 시나리오도 좋았지만 완성된 영화도 정말 좋았다. 특히 인당수 신은 '캐리비안의 해적'이 생각나기도 했다. 기대했던 것보다 훨씬 잘나온 것 같아 농담 반 진담 반으로 블록버스터라 표현했다."
-가장 큰 매력이 무엇이라 생각하나.
"일단 '소리 매력'은 정말 많이 묻어났다. 지금까지 없었던 것 같다. '서편제'라는 대단한 영화가 있고 한국영화 클래식이지만 그 때는 동시녹음 자체가 어려웠다면 지금은 굴러가는 모래 소리도 담을 수 있을 정도로 기술이 발전하지 않았냐. '소리꾼'은 그런 소리들을 모두 담아냈다. 무엇보다 (이)봉근 씨가 농익었을 때 좋은 소리를 모두 쏟아낸 것 같아 좋다."
-사극 작품이 간절했다고.
"내가 사극과 전쟁영화를 좋아한다. 최근엔 '1917'을 엄청 재미있게 보기도 했다. '소리꾼'의 일원으로 함께 하는 자체가 행복했다. 사극하는 분들이 왜 사극만 주구장창 하는지도 알겠더라. 현대극은 가끔 내 자신이 보일 때도 있고, 미묘한 감정을 표현하면서 의외의 순간 연기 밑천이 드러나기도 하는데 사극은 기본적으로 클래식한 매력이 있고, 접근 방식도 확실히 다른 것 같다."
-판소리 하는 장면이 없는데 직접 소리를 배웠다.
"'얼쑤!'라고 하는 장면이 하나 있는데, 혼자서 연습을 하니 리듬이 다채롭더라. 국악이 생각보다 음이 다양하고 선을 타고 가는 것이라는걸 이번 영화를 통해 알았다. 나도 그랬고 쉽게들 '흥, 한'만 있으면 소리를 낼 수 있을 것이라 생각하는데 이게 엄청 수학적이다. 잠깐이라도 제대로 배워보고 싶어 감독님과 (이)봉근이에게 부탁했더니 어디 전주에 계신 이수자, 전수자 분들을 이야기 하더라." 
-너무 깊이 있다.
"그러니까.(웃음) 그 분들에게 '얼쑤 배우러 왔습니다' 하기에는 부끄럽기도 하고 민폐가 될 것 같더라. 그러다 낙원상가 안에서 창을 가르치는 분이 계신다는 걸 알았다. 보라사부라고 유튜브에서도 유명하다. 검색을 하다 알게 됐고, 자주 가는 낙원동에 계시길래 '가는 김에 가봐야겠다' 싶어 움직였다. 엄청 협조적으로 많이 도와주셔서 감사했다. 취미로 배우러 오시는 분들도 많더라."
-김동완 하면 신화를 빼놓을 수 없고, 신화하면 장수그룹, 장수활동을 이야기 하지 않을 수 없다.
"아직 활동하고 계신 많은 선배님들이 좋아 보이는 것처럼, 한창 활동하는 아이돌들에게는 우리가 그렇게 보이는 것 아닐까 싶다. 내 입장에선 어린 친구들과 함께 하는게 어색할 때도 있다. 대기실을 같이 쓸 땐 창피하기도 하고, 자꾸 인사하러 오고.(웃음) 5~6살 차이 정도면 '어, 그래' 하는데 막 20살 씩 어리면 어떻게 해야할지 모르겠다. 뭐 맛있는거라도 사주고 싶은데. 하하."
-영원한 롤모델이 되지 않을까.
"어쨌든 지금까지 활동을 하고 있는 것은 사실이고, 좋게 봐주시는 것 역시 좋고 행복하다. 모쪼록 후배들이 우리처럼 많이 싸웠으면 좋겠다. 애들이 다 민폐 끼치면서 친해지는 스타일이라. 하하."
-아이돌로 시작하지 않았다면 어땠을까.
"아마도 팬이 지금처럼 많지는 않았을 것이다. 아이돌 팬은 다르다. 농도가 짙다. 무대 위에 있는 사람만 좋아하는 것이 아니라 무대 자체를 좋아하고, 무대와 함께 있는 사람을 좋아한다. 그 무대를 전부 지키고 싶어하는 마음이 크다. 지금처럼 많은 기회도 잡지 못했을 것이다. 어쩌면 데뷔를 했어도 빨리 연예인을 그만 뒀을 수도 있고 나름 열심히는 했겠지만, 오랫동안 활동했어도 잘 보이지 않는 어딘가에 있지 않았을까 싶기도 하다."
-최근 관심사는 무엇인가.
"농사. 동네 형들 사이에서 농사 바람이 불었다. 진지하고 깊이 있게 농사를 하고, 배우고 있다. 고추, 마늘 농사에 관심이 많다. 형들이랑 같이 '뭔가 잘 팔 수 있는 방법이 없을까' 주제 넘게 그런 생각까지도 하고 있다."
-개인적 행복도가 더 높아진 것 같다.
"극도의 괴로움을 너무 오래 겪어서…. 나 스스로 행복함을 어떻게든 찾아 나서야 했던 것 같다. 요즘 어린 후배들도 많이 겪고 있지 않나. 원인을 알 수 없는 불면증, 잘못된 약 복용 등. 자연으로 돌아가니까 많은 부분 해소가 되더라. 내가 일을 할 수 있는 방법을 스스로 찾고 있는 것 같다."
-후배들에게 꼭 필요한 말이 될 것 같기도 하다.
"난 우울증까지는 안 겪었지만 불면증과 강박증이 심했다. 후배들 중에 비슷한 친구들이 있다면 과감하게 환경을 바꿔 봤으면 좋겠다. 뭐 소속사 입장에서도 어떻게 보면 상품 아닌가. 결국 좋은 상품이 모두에게 좋다. 건강과 환경을 조금 더 신경 써주면 좋겠다. 좋은 아파트보다는 좋은 환경. 나처럼 너무 멀리가면 안 되겠지만 조금만 벗어나도 애들이 확실히 건강해질 수 있다고 생각한다."
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