Jeoung looks beyond local film market
By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: October 19, 2007
Jeoung Jun-ho, a Korean actor widely known for his subtle but hilarious role in the 2002 hit gangster comedy "My Boss, My Hero," is keen to expand his career beyond the domestic market. His latest stint in "West 32nd," a U.S.-Korea joint film project, reveals his potential as well as limitations overseas.
"West 32nd," a crime drama set in New York`s shady Koreatown, was recently featured at the Pusan International Film Festival. The second feature film by Michael Kang, the film starts off with the murder of a character played by Jeoung.
"I played a Korean man in charge of a club frequented by Koreans, and the character triggers all the major plot developments in the film," Jeoung told The Korea Herald in an interview on Tuesday.
Although the role is relatively minor compared with what Jeoung has been doing with Korean filmmakers, he seems satisfied with the first-ever appearance in a film targeting a worldwide audience.
About two years ago, director Michael Kang requested a meeting with Jeoung. It turned out that the filmmaker had watched Jeoung`s previous films and wanted him to join the upcoming project. Early last year, Jeoung flew over to New York and participated in filming.
"I joined about 10 shootings, and since it`s a film made under the Hollywood production system, I noticed a lot of differences with the way we make films in Korea," he said.
The key filmmaking process is largely similar, but Jeoung found that more, almost meticulous, attention was paid to actors on the set. "They cared a lot about actors` conditions, and took care of meals and everything - to a fault," Jeoung said. "And I realized such great attention to actors was part of the Hollywood system." Jeoung said that all the staff members of the film project belong to a union, and the production cost is tightly linked with the duration of filmmaking. Shooting beyond the scheduled time increases the cost, so staff members make sure that actors are in optimal conditions, to reduce additional takes.
"As far as director Kang is concerned, he asked us to practice a lot and then minimized the number of real takes," Jeoung said.
Another impression he got from his experience in New York was the gap in cultural perceptions involving acting protocol. He was asked to do a dance scene with a Korean-American woman, and director Kang wanted some affectionate gestures from Jeoung. Without much thought, he did what he would do in Korea, showing his intimate emotions, kissing her on the forehead.
"In Korea, if we do such a scene, it`s usually agreed that we should get prepared emotionally, but apparently that`s not the case in the United States," Jeoung said. The actress latest protested to director Kang about the intimate gestures, arguing that she should have been notified about such move in advance. "Such gestures were quite natural for the scene, but I noticed that there`s a big cultural gap," he said.
Before heading for New York, Jeoung was concerned about whether he would be able to handle English dialogue, but director Kang modified the role in a way that helps Jeoung act himself. "My role was a Korean who grew up in Korea and came to the United States as an adult, so I didn`t have to speak English at all," he said.
But Jeoung is diligently learning English for future projects overseas. "Hollywood is showing interest about Korean actors, and I have actually met with a couple of American management companies, and got some offers," he said. "The issue is not about getting a role at all, but about how big or important the role one gets. And to that end, I`ve got to speak more fluent English, and I`ve been taking private English lessons over the past two years," Jeoung said a tangible result - landing a role for an American film - might come as early as in the first half of 2008. But for now, he`s trying to lose weight, as much as 8 kilograms, for a big-budget television drama scheduled to be aired early next year. "My role for the drama is a South Korean agent, and the story concerns the reconciliation between South and North Korea," he said.