Gang Dong-won returns to a post-apocalyptic big screen
After his last box office flop “Illang: The Wolf Brigade” (2018), actor Gang Dong-won is back with the Cannes-approved “Peninsula,” in which he takes on the lead role of ex-soldier and survivor Jung-suk who returns to the no man’s land.
However, his fans might be disappointed with his latest character, who portrays none of Gang’s timeless charisma —rather, his character takes a back seat by serving as a guide who shows the audience how barren the city of Seoul has become after the zombie takeover. He's more of a passive protector who helps Min-jung, another survivor, and his family escape.
During an online press event held last month Gang had made it clear that it was the post-apocalyptic setting that drew him to the film, not the character of Jung-suk, and that he was very well aware of Jung-suk’s submissiveness from the beginning.
“Whenever I portray that kind of [passive] character, it’s always stifling and complicated,” Gang said in a press interview on Tuesday at a café in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul. “Even though I want to do more, the moment I try to, the character comes toppling down. From the start of filming, I had to tone down from the character I had initially designed even though the whole narrative of the film is mainly seen from Jung-suk’s point of view. The premise was that I had to assist other characters in order for the film to come alive. [Still], during every take, I felt like I needed to do more. Whenever I feel that, I try to remember the bigger picture and suppress my urges to add more to the character.”
Gang says he does see some similarities between himself and his character.
“We both try to be reasonable,” Gang said. “But [at the start of the film] I would have let Min-jung and the child get in the car after seeing that they look unharmed [by the zombies], I’m not sure about the guy though. He had blood all down his front, so maybe he could get in the trunk of the car. If he’s infected, then I could shoot him right [when I opened the trunk]. But I guess Jung-suk was more worried for his family, which is why he turned away [from their cries of help].”
Jung-suk loses all hope and remains somewhat skeptical of Min-jung and his family’s chances of escaping. After he decides to stick around and help them, he fluctuates between being hopeful and pessimistic. When asked what he thinks caused the changes in his character's emotions, Gang said the fact that there were people who were still living humanely on the peninsula was what triggered the hopefulness.
“That would have prompted him to reflect on himself, because he’s lived a much more comfortable life than did [Min-jung’s family], but even he lost all hope,” Gang said. “I think during [the four years] that Jung-suk spent living a rough life as a refugee in Hong Kong that he hadn’t met even one warm-hearted being.
“However, after seeing people in a worse position than he was in — but still living with hope — he would have felt that this was what hope was,” Gang said. “The nature of hope, I think, lies in one’s attitude. No matter what kind of difficult phase you’re going through, if you live with the mindset that a good day will come eventually, then that’s what becomes hope.”
Gang also takes pride in participating in the first post-apocalypse film set in Korea.
“That was what drew me to the film in the first place,” Gang said. “To have the reality we live in destroyed and show various sides of humanity in very extreme conditions [of a post-apocalypse]. The scene I found most refreshing was when Troop 631 lived like beasts. Also the fact that kids took control of the circumstances through their driving skills felt original too. The overall narrative was a perfect blend of originality, familiarity and the post-apocalyptic universe which translated to a high quality script.”
Gang says the biggest change he noticed in himself was his newfound understanding of what attracts audiences to zombie movies, which he hadn't been a fan of before.
“I came to realize that zombie films are essentially action films in the disguise of horror,” Gang said. “I see zombies as the Western version of ghosts. While we are more afraid of spiritual ghosts, it’s the opposite for the West. The charisma of zombies lies in their physical horror— fighting zombies is close to dealing with dangerous beasts. So for those who might be stressed out from the psychological pressure of horror, [zombies] can be a seller [globally].”
Gang is an actor who stays out of the limelight.
His first reality show appearance was last year, 16 years since his debut in 2003 on YouTube channel Monotube which shares the ordinary lives of celebrities.
Through the clips, fans were able to peek into Gang’s life in Los Angles, where he stayed for a year to film his Hollywood debut “Tsunami LA.” (The release schedule for the film has yet to be finalized.)
The actor says he prefers living life that way.
“Social media is not an important aspect of my life,” he explained. “I would rather meet my friends, and I don’t really like taking pictures anyway. There isn’t much in my life that I would especially like to share with others. It’s not my taste.
“But I really do respect other stars who voice their opinions,” he added. “But I would rather tell mine through films. As much as it takes courage to speak up, I think it takes just as much courage to stay silent. It can be frustrating sometimes. (laughs). But that’s just how I am.”
The actor vows to continue acting for as long as he can.
“When I received the Rookie Award for ‘Romance of My Own ‘(2004), I said in my acceptance speech that ‘I would act passionately until I die,’” Gang said. “It’s one of the merits of being an actor— there’s no retirement. But of course, there needs to be demand in order to provide supply.
“I once thought, if I became terminally ill, or was dying due to old age, I would like to portray a role like that,” he said. “I think I saw a film like that once, where the actor was dying from cancer and took on a role where he was dying. To be able to die while in the midst of shooting, I think that’s a good way to go, as an actor.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [email@example.com]