'Actor and director are like husband and wife'
Choi Dong-hoon on making 10 stars shine in ‘Thieves,’ opening Thursday
By Kwaak Je-yup
Unlike in Hollywood, there are few full-time screenwriters left in Korean cinema. Successful ones have moved to more lucrative TV dramas and soap operas, and movies are now written and brought to life by the hands of the director.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the results have been mixed. Some films of late have had painfully unbelievable lines, while others seemed to have managed just fine.
Director Choi Dong-hoon, whose new movie “The Thieves” opens on Thursday, falls in the latter category. His last two films attracted more than 6 million people each and he is regarded by screen actors, critics and audiences alike as someone who can truly bring characters to life.
Writing and shooting the crime drama involving a theft of a rare diamond in Macau, he had to deal with no less than ten parts but took the industry by surprise when he successfully filled most of them with the hottest stars from here and Hong Kong, including Kim Yun-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Jun Ji-hyun, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Lee Jung-jae and Kim Su-hyun. He must be doing something right to get such big names to sign on.
“It’s like a husband and a wife, the relationship between the director and an actor,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “There are intimate details no one else knows.”
From left, actors Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jung-jae, Oh Dal-soo and Jun Ji-hyun in a scene from “The Thieves.” The film opens Thursday in theaters nationwide.
/ Courtesy of Showbox/Mediaplex
That theory shows in his continuing (professional) relationships with Kim Yun-seok and Kim Hye-soo, who star in the new film as mastermind Macau Park and his on-and-off girlfriend Pepsi, respectively. The latter starred in Choi’s 2006 hit “Tazza: the Higher Rollers,” another gambling and crime drama, and the former having worked with the director four times in a row, from thriller “The Big Swindle” (2004) to action comedy “Woochi” (2009) and now on “The Thieves.”
The media buzz around the new film has concentrated much on the technical aspects — climbing buildings on wires, shoots in Macau and Hong Kong and of course, the marquee names — but Choi spent most of the hour talking about the characters, from development to interpretation. He seemed completely satisfied with each and every one and the actors who played them. His words on the cast were not obligatory compliments but reflections of his affection.
“Never did it occur to me that they needed to be handled in a certain way. It’s just that the screenplay must be fully understood... We talk. Slowly infect them with my thoughts, mixing the individual with the movie’s tone and manner.”
The best example of this at work is with the women. Defying expectations that a theft-themed film would be led by male characters, magic is witnessed more often around the female thieves, played by Kim Hae-sook, Kim Hye-soo, Jun and Angelica Lee Sin-Jie. Nimbly delving into their vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams, Choi achieves a rare feat in male-dominated Korean cinema, where women are too often sidelined as the sexpot, the femme fatale or the unattractive comic relief.
“I think I have, personally and writing-wise too, a strong feminine side, like a talkative ajumma (middle-aged woman). Female characters are always a challenge but a kind of an unknown, too. If you can create great women, wouldn’t that make you a great director? I find myself fixing and fixing, thinking about how my mother would talk.”
Choi has reiterated over the past years that he wants to work with Korean cinema’s most respected actor of the moment, Ha Jeong-woo, and he said it again during the interview. His mind seemed to wander a little, already dreaming about the next project and characters.
“The Thieves” opens in theaters nationwide on Thursday.