NY Asian 2014 Interview: Korean Acting Legend Park Joong-hoon Talks TOP STAR, His Directing Debut

The New York Asian Film Festival handed their Celebrity Award to one of the most prolific stars of Korean cinema.  Park Joong-hoon has won many international awards for films like Nowhere to Hide and Radio Star during his nearly 30-year acting career.  He now turns director for TOP STAR, an insider's look at the rise and fall of fame.


The Lady Miz Diva:  How do you feel about receiving the New York Asian Film Festival's Celebrity Award?

Park Joong-hoon:
  First of all, I'm really thankful, of course.  And it has a kind of special meaning, this Celebrity Award from New York; when I was 25 years old, I was already an actor, but I temporarily stopped and came here to study for two years.  So I was influenced very much by New York in my 20s.  I came here to become a great actor.

How did TOP STAR come to you?

PJ-h: 
As you know, I have been an actor for almost 29 years.  Actors, they want to get agreement from the audience through their expressing emotion.  Directors, they have to get agreement from the audience through their thinking.  That is what I think the big, big difference is between directors and actors.  But as an actor, I was very satisfied with a good script and expressing my emotions, which is acting, then showing, getting agreement, popularity, money - I was very satisfied and it went very well.  

Then one day, I was very thirsty to talk about some story to the world; actors - even Tom Cruise, or whoever, popular actors - other people pick up the story first, then they ask to the actor.  I wanted to say my story, that's when I wanted to be a director.  And also I really wanted to be a successful man, so I just thought of myself, not others' feelings. Now I can tell, at the time I didn't know, but I just focused on achieving my goal. I thought I was happy, but now I can tell I was not really happy, because happiness is from relationships between human beings, I guess.  I just focused to achieve my goal, so I didn't think about others.

We've seen the story of the nobody becomes a huge star overnight many times in films. I feel like TOP STAR is different because we have almost an insider's perspective.  I think viewers will wonder if what we're seeing onscreen is based on either real people or situations?

PJ-h:
  From experience, to be a success, I appreciated the success that others made for me.  Tae-sik, from the beginning looks like a very nice person; later, after he achieves his goal, he's a completely different person.  That was not my purpose; Tae-sik is the same person at the beginning and the end.  He's the same person, but at the beginning of the situation, he couldn't express his emotions and everything because he didn't have power.  After he got power, he expresses all his emotions and everything.  

That is one of my points of view about human beings, part of my thinking.  For example, my mother is very well, our family is healthy, she has very high pride, but some people, like cleaning ladies, I think cleaning ladies and my mother are the same; but my mother has a situation to express her emotions, but the cleaning lady is the same, but she has no power to express herself.  So Tae-sik is not changed; that person is the same person.

That's interesting because in the film there's a scene toward the end where Tae-sik's best friend and manager tells him, "I used to say you were good guy," which seems to say that his best friend doesn't think he's a good guy anymore.  So if you believe Tae-sik is the same from the beginning to the end, does that mean he was not a good guy?

PJ-h:
  Tae-sik is a really good guy, but his desire to be a success is too much, too over the top.  That's why he doesn't look like a good guy, because he does not care if he is a good person or not.  He only cares about his success.  That's my story to when I was 20, I'm 48 years old.  In my 20s, I didn't think about of others' emotions, I kept going after my success.  Now I realize I have hurt a lot of people.  I didn't know that the time.

So the experience of making this film made you look back at your life and career?

PJ-h: 
Making this film, yeah. First of all, I wanted to be a director, but if I didn't direct this film as my first movie, maybe I can't direct the next movie anymore, because this is kind of my real mind to the world.  I want to show how I have lived first through this film, then I can direct a second film.

Did the inclusion of screenwriter Choi Seok-hwan, who you've worked with before in RADIO STAR and HWANGSANBUL give you a sense of comfort?

PJ-h:
  Yeah, working with him was a really great job. Not that easy, but great. I have the story before I wrote the script. I wrote the script and I produced and directed this. So with the writer, I knew the story but he coaches me and advised me as to the structure of the script. So he focused and structured the story and I wrote according to the structure. We discussed a lot, and met a lot and then I wrote.

The timing of the film is very interesting, I'm relatively new to the world of Korean celebrity media but it does seem like with social media and the rise of the netizen, scandal has become a weapon to take down celebrities and another thing actors must worry about. Tae-sik uses the media very skillfully.

PJ-h: 
I don't know why, but Korean people ask entertainers and show business stars for their morality.  In many countries, morality is required of politicians, but in France, the president has some affairs and they don't care.  But Korean people care about everything; morality personality, not only their performance, so that is a really hard part for Korean stars. SNS and online - Korea is a very small country and with the SNS, everybody has a camera and Internet.  This is actually based on a true story, not one real person's story, but it's a lot of actors' true story.  For example, like the suicide and the sexual harassment and the sexual rape to someone under 18 years old.  It's a story of many stars who have committed suicide, or the reputation is gone.  A lot of the stories are true stories.  Some others have said, 'Hey, Joong-hoon, your movie is not fresh at all because we know that episode is a real true story that happened in real life.'

One of the things I thought was fun about the film was the star cameos.

PJ-h:
  {Laughs} Do you like Uhm Jung-hwa?

I love her. I think she's great.

PJ-h:
  Diva, she is a really wonderful person.  Her debut film was my film around 20 years ago.  I was born in 1966, she was born in 1969, so since then, 20 years later, she's the same exactly the same.  I'm not talking about her skin, I'm talking about her attitude.  From 20 years ago, she was nothing; supporting role in my movie and she kind of talked to me from that position.  Now that she's become a really big star and whenever I see her, her attitude is the same as 20 years ago.  Nothing changed.  She's a very beautiful person.

And you also have a cameo from Ryoo Seung-wan, who has also become a big director.

PJ-h:
  Ryoo Seung-wan, when I was a disc jockey of the radio station on this very popular show 25 years ago, he was a high school student and he was in my studio.  I didn't remember, he told me that. {Laughs}

I'm fascinated with the quality of Korean acting. There's an naturalness in the performance of someone like yourself and the others top actors. I know there are many acting schools and I'm sure they teach the same styles of acting as we have in the West, but why does it seem like very good Korean actors have the ability to disappear so perfectly into their roles, whereas many "Hollywood" actors are always themselves?

PJ-h
:  That's a good question.  For me, American stars like Tom Cruise and Robert De Niro, they are always Tom Cruise and Robert De Niro.  In Korea, they call me 'Joong-hoon is always Joong-hoon,' too.  It's a good meaning, because if an actor completely loses himself, I don't think that is attractive, because half-and-half is fine.  If I threw everything away to go into the character, that means I wouldn't be seen.  For example, in The Godfather, Marlon Brando is beautiful, his acting; the people want to see Marlon Brando plays The Godfather, right?  If Dustin Hoffman played The Godfather, even if he acted very well, people don't want to see The Godfather role through Dustin Hoffman; we want to see The Godfather role through Marlon Brando.  Which means we want to see Marlon Brando and at the same time, the character.  That's my so strong personal belief.  If we can only see Marlon Brando, we can tell his mannerisms.  If we only see the other characters, where's Marlon Brando?  Where's the commercial star actor, Marlon Brando?  So my personal taste; the best actor is completely into the character and in the same time not losing themselves.

You've already made US-produced films, but I'm curious about your thoughts of other filmmakers like Park Chan-wook, Kim Ji-woon or Bong Joon-ho who have directed international films?  Do you think the Korean film industry can grow and thrive by its filmmakers doing international productions?

PJ-h:
  Absolutely! I totally 100% agree to do that.  These days what is an American film?  What is a Korean film?  Like Bong's film, like Park Chan-wook's film, that's an American film.  That territory is in the American film industry, right? But the director is a Korean director.  So, I'm concerned about a good film and not, I don't have a concern about which nationality does it.  It has no meaning for me.

Do you think having the exposure in the West makes worldwide audiences more interested in a director's other Korean work? Like someone in the US who liked STOKER might go back and look at the rest of Director Park's movies?

PJ-h:
  To tell the truth, Korean filmmakers have no success here, not yet.  A lot of tries, but not yet.  Even Stoker, no one knows Stoker except those interested in Korean movies.  So it can be a really great career experience, but not yet.  There's no influence, not yet.

Has this experience of directing changed your perspective is an actor?

PJ-h:
  Acting is my permanent job.  Directing - when I want to say something to the world, then I will direct.  Now, my situation is as an actor.  I'm okay to work as an actor, but I'm not really a hot actor anymore, but it doesn't mean not a meaningful actor.  One day I want to play and write and direct.

About the ending of the film; we were talking about how the Korean public demands morality of its stars, yet I'm not sure whether the final scene serves that?

PJ-h: 
I thought about that a lot.  When he's waiting for the director, eventually the director doesn't come and then finish.  That version I had.  I was confused, because the first one is good for reality and it's good to think about its layers.  But the second one has more hope, I want to make people have some hope.  That's why I let the director come.

One of the scenes that stayed in my head was the one where Won-joon {Kim Min-jun} is literally teaching Tae-sik to act in 30 seconds behind the scenes.  Do you think Tae-sik really wanted to become an actor or he just wanted to be a star? The two are very different goals.

PJ-h:
  Tae-sik wants to be a star.  But to be a star, they have to use their acting.  People say, 'You want to be a star, or do you want to be a real actor?'  I prefer real star.  Real star means including real acting.  Think about Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando - real star, but real actors before real stars.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of really great actors that are not stars.  So, I mean I prefer being a true actor, but actually true star means bigger than true actor.  That's my opinion.

What is your next project?

PJ-h: 
I have been offered several scripts by producers. There's a very commercial film I want to direct, but the time is shorter than TOP STAR because I'm not going to write.  I wrote this for two years.  But I want to direct my story, not others.  I'm thinking, I don't know yet.  But luckily I've been an actor pretty okay, then I tried to direct.  But I think the audience and even my field of people, do you know this kind of feeling, they are kind of wait and see. 'Let's see how he's going to do, we'll see.'  They don't do it in front of me, but I felt this kind of feeling.  So if my film is a commercial flop, then I feel they will be kind of satisfied.

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos from the festival there.
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  • owen

    Love this guy nowhere to hide was the first korean movie i ever seen back in 99

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