Ac­tor Cho Jin-woong, who de­buted 20 years ago, is un­doubt­edly one of the most crit­i­cally ac­claimed ac­tors in Korea. But for any ac­tor — veteran or novice — a na­tional hero is of­ten the most dif­fi­cult role to play.

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kim Jae-heun, Kim Pyo-hyang jhkim@ktimes.com

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For any ac­tors — both veterans and novices — a na­tional hero is of­ten the most dif­fi­cult role to play.

Ac­tor Cho Jin-woong, who de­buted 20 years ago, is un­doubt­edly one of the most crit­i­cally ac­claimed ac­tors in Korea. But even for him, por­tray­ing the role of Korean in­de­pen­dence fighter Kim Koo came with tremen­dous pres­sure, so he ini­tially re­jected the of­fer.

“The rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the film’s dis­tribut­ing com­pany of­fered me the role first but I turned it down,” said Cho dur­ing an in­ter­view with Hankook Ilbo, a sis­ter pa­per of The Korea Times, at a cafe in Sam­cheong-dong in Seoul, Tues­day. “He came back to me again later when I al­most for­got our en­counter and asked me to con­sider the role again. That went on for three to four years. Later, I even asked if there was re­ally no­body else to play the char­ac­ter. In the end, I gave in and de­cided to play the role.”

Cho knew such a role would put a lot of pres­sure on him es­pe­cially with the film’s ti­tle “Con­demned Crim­i­nal.” The ac­tor asked for it to be changed.

The his­tor­i­cal film “Man of Will,” di­rected by Lee Won-tae, de­picts the younger days of Kim Chang-soo, who later be­comes Kim Koo, the last leader of the Korean pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment dur­ing Ja­pan’s colo­nial oc­cu­pa­tion in Shang­hai, China. Kim is sent to prison for mur­der­ing a Ja­panese man who took part in Em­press Myeongseong’s as­sas­si­na­tion. Be­hind bars, Kim finds many of the pris­on­ers une­d­u­cated and wrongly con­victed. He be­gins to teach them how to read so they can clear them­selves of the false charges. Kim be­comes their hope in the jail un­til one day the in­de­pen­dence fighter and his fel­lows are as­signed to a large Ja­panese con­struc­tion site where an or­deal worse than death is wait­ing for them.

Di­rec­tor Lee told Cho not to read “Baek­beomilji,” a pop­u­lar au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Kim Koo, be­fore he be­gan shoot­ing.

“I ob­vi­ously thought I had to read the book but the di­rec­tor told me my role as Kim Chang-soo is be­fore he be­came Kim Koo and that I could show young Kim’s pent-up anger only by act­ing,” said Cho.

Cho trav­elled to Jeju Is­land for three days, where he spent time read­ing the script and re­hears­ing with the di­rec­tor and two other ac­tors in the film. When they got tired of prac­tic­ing they drank to­gether and played around, which helped the ac­tors and di­rec­tor be­come friends.

“The di­rec­tor wrote the script over three years and I had to ask him so much about the char­ac­ter of Kim Chang-soo. We needed more than three days to dis­cuss the film and char­ac­ters and I lit­er­ally put him in front of me and at­tacked him with end­less ques­tions,” said Cho

As he ex­pected, por­tray­ing the role of the young Kim Koo was like fight­ing in the ring as a boxer. He would be­come en­grossed in the char­ac­ter not know­ing he was hurt­ing him­self while act­ing. When he got out of char­ac­ter, the ac­tor re­al­ized he was ex­hausted.

“Now that the film is soon to open, I feel a re­spon­si­bil­ity that is dif­fer­ent from hop­ing the movie does well at the box of­fice. There is a dig­nity that comes from the name Kim Koo,” said Cho.

“Tak­ing the role of the young Kim Koo has given me a re­spon­si­bil­ity that I need to bear in the fu­ture. Peo­ple tell me that Kim Koo was such a great man, and por­tray­ing his char­ac­ter, I won’t be able spit on the street any­more. How great a man he was is that only por­tray­ing him when he was young will make me keep to ba­sic things for the rest of my life,” Cho added.

Cour­tesy of Wiki Com­pany

Ac­tor Cho Jin-woong poses be­fore the in­ter­view with Hankook Ilbo, sis­ter pa­per of The Korea Times, at Sam­cheong-dong, Seoul, Tues­day.

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