Jung Woo-sung is not afraid to talk politics

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Jung Woo-sung is not afraid to talk politics

Actor Jung Woo-sung [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

Actor Jung Woo-sung [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

 
Fans of director Yang Woo-seok’s “Steel Rain” universe might have been surprised to hear that actor Jung Woo-sung, who portrayed a wary elite North Korean soldier in the first installment of the series, “Steel Rain” (2017), will this time be swapping roles with actor Kwak Do-won to portray Han Kyung-jae, a composed South Korean president in “Steel Rain 2: Summit.”  
 
While this may not seem like much of a challenge for an actor who's used to changing colors like a chameleon, what made Jung take pause was the potential political controversy the film could stir, especially when he was already branded as a celebrity who openly speaks his mind about sensitive social issues, such as his support for the Yemeni refugees coming to Jeju Island.  
 
“Steel Rain” (2017) was more or less focused on the two Koreans, while in “Steel Rain 2” a third player is added — the United States. The leaders of the three countries are kidnapped in a nuclear submarine that has the potential of starting another World War.  
 
“Although the story itself is fiction and the film genre is very original, the basis on which the film lies is derived from real global politics,” Jung said in a press interview at a café in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul on Monday. “Even the first installment had that [tone], and with this film having more possibility to fuel politically conflicting debates, I did ask what intention [director Yang had] in casting me for this role.
 
“But I think director Yang liked my [facial] expressions,” the actor continued. “In the silence that the president has to keep [in order to be the mediator between the U.S. and the North], [the audience] can glimpse into his feelings through his expressions." 
 
The following are edited excerpts of the interview.  
 
Did you have any specific role model that you based your character on?
I didn't have a specific person in mind. There can’t be a narrative about a specific person—rather, I tried to portray a leader doing his best to guide a divided country toward [an era of] unification and peace. In a way, I expanded that strong determination [that the leaders had] about moving toward peace.
 
The other two leaders seem to have certain characteristics of the current leaders.
Some of [the expressions] may remind people [of the real leaders] but I believe that director Yang had no political intentions. They represented the humanistic side of the leaders, especially when the three were trapped inside the submarine cabin. Although they still represent their country’s national interests, when they’re driven into a corner, their humanistic, even animalistic instincts come out. [Even in that kind of situation] Han has to restrain himself, and President Smoot, who is similar to President Trump, has this overbrimming confidence about being America first, [which can explain] his lack of manners or formality.  
 
From left, the U.S. president (played by Angus Macfadyen), South Korean president (played by Jung Woo-sung) and North Korean leader (played by Yoo Yeon-seok) have the chance to openly talk about their different viewpoints, while trapped in a cabin of a nuclear submarine. [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

From left, the U.S. president (played by Angus Macfadyen), South Korean president (played by Jung Woo-sung) and North Korean leader (played by Yoo Yeon-seok) have the chance to openly talk about their different viewpoints, while trapped in a cabin of a nuclear submarine. [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

 
What was it like playing the mediator?
It was lethargic. And frustrating and annoying. But that is what our position is [in reality is as well]. Especially regarding the North-South relationship, the reality is that we can’t strongly voice our opinions.  
I think that narrow cabin mirrored the situation that the Korean Peninsula is in. That suffocating setting [both physically and psychologically] could be felt through the screen and reached the audience. So that was a very vital setting in our film.
 
What do you think are the qualities that an ideal leader should have?
Regardless of the term period, I believe that all public officials should think about how aware they are of their civic duty. Since we’re all only human, we can fall into the delusional trap of having our private interests influence and affect our decisions. [Officials] should be cautious about that. 
And especially regarding the problems related to the peninsula, [the leader needs] patience. We [North and South Korea] had spent the longest of time in conflict, and to come to an agreement, we might need just as long. [The leader needs] to be certain about his set of goals and needs the patience to achieve them. Instead of being hasty, they need to be able to calmly persuade [people to see their side]. It may look frustrating from the outside, but the leader needs that assertiveness to make a start [on our way to peace] which will affect the future generations for the next century. 
 
Actor Jung Woo-sung portrays South Korean president Han Kyung-jae, a determined leader set on getting North Korea and the United States to sign a peace treaty to ultimately guide the Korean Peninsula to a peaceful regime. [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

Actor Jung Woo-sung portrays South Korean president Han Kyung-jae, a determined leader set on getting North Korea and the United States to sign a peace treaty to ultimately guide the Korean Peninsula to a peaceful regime. [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

 
What do you think is our way to peace?
North Korea is living in a unique regime. The people in the North can’t voice their thoughts as strongly as those in the South can. Since we are in the position to gather more opinions and suggestions, we need a more active discussion among citizens about what we can actually do and what choices we can make to head in the direction of peace. The discussion itself, I think is important. We’re not in any position to determine the outcome. If we can have the dialogue, time will pass, the next generation will change, and that generation will be making another kind of choice. The start of that conversation is what’s important [for now].
 
Actor Jung Woo-sung [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

Actor Jung Woo-sung [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

 
Did you feel any pressure about how the film might be seen in the political sense? If so, did it make you hesitate in taking on the role?
It’s true that I did [feel pressure]. Director Yang already faced stigma over his film “The Attorney” (2013). [But] I think [only] through films we can try out various forms of stories and we need those efforts. If you ask me if I think that our film enforces those politically biased [ideologies], then I would say no. But I did worry that some might see it that way. 
But I decided to take on the role because of the film’s value—what questions can we ask society, issues that we needed to spark for the future generation — that’s what drew me [to the role].
 
Do you see yourself as a celebrity who doesn’t hesitate to speak about your political viewpoints?  
I don’t exactly get what kind of political expressions that I did speak of. I am aware that there are people who think of me as someone who speaks my mind about certain social issues. But our life itself is political. The two are intricately connected to one another. We continue to feel how our lives are shaken and what we have to put up with when a politician, elected by our own hands, messes up.  
All of us have the right and the responsibility to speak our minds about the inconveniences that we feel in our lives. If that’s politics, then it is what it is. I think all of us, in each of our positions, have to continuously voice our political opinions, because they're directly related to our lives.[Saying that] politics should be done by politicians should be doubted, because they may be purposefully trying to distance the people from politics so they can do whatever they want without interference.  
 
Actor Jung Woo-sung [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

Actor Jung Woo-sung [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

 
When you debuted as an actor in 1994, you emanated an aura of vigorous, dashing youth. But now I believe there’s more to you just than that. There seems to be weighted responsibility, credibility and even something composed about the way you express yourself. Was there a particular motivation or inspiration behind this gradual change?
I think I tried not to be trapped within myself. I didn’t stay within the image that the audience created for me. If a character I portrayed got good reviews, I didn’t linger on them or become trapped within that [success]—I thought [life is] about building the person I am until I die. The roles and scripts that come to me aren't something to take for granted. I should always be thankful for them. And if I receive love from the world, then I naturally think I need to pay just as much attention to the world. So that’s what I am trying to do, and that’s how I believe I’m finding myself.  
 
Actor Jung Woo-sung [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

Actor Jung Woo-sung [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

 
How is your debut film “Guardian” (tentatively titled) as a director coming along? There’s a rumor that it’s going to be good.  
I spread that rumor (laughs). But it still remains to be seen if people see it the same way.  
Filmmaking, [from my experience] is a profession where you cling to perfection. No matter how meticulously I plan, I realized that I can’t control everything that happens on the set, because conditions change all the time. I need to decide how I’m going to do the best with what’s given before me. I kept focusing on what kind of film I was creating on the set. Right now I’m working on the latter half of the film.  
 
BY LEE JAE-LIM   [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]  

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