In South Korea, Hwang Jung-min is a member of the so-called ‘100 Million Viewer Club’. He starred in 2 od the 5 highest domestic grossing films in South Korea (Ode to my Father and Veteran) of all time and it is safe to label him as one of the Big Three; alongside Song Kang-ho and Ryu Seung-ryong, he is one of the top male actors of South Korea and an actor who is held in high esteem by people of all generations.
Ryoo Seung-wan, who has a few acting credits under the belt himself, made a name for himself as a film director already with his debut feature Die Bad (2000); from that point on, he released a series of commercially and successfully successful films, including The Unjust (2010) and The Berlin File (2013), while his 2015 action crime comedy film Veteran firmly holds the spot as the 3rd highest grossing film in the history of South Korean cinema.
The action crime comedy Veteran marks the most lucrative collaboration between Hwang Jung-min and Ryoo Seung-wan, but is neither their first – or last. They both appeared as actors in Lee Joon-ik’s Battlefield Heroes in 2010, followed in the same year by their first actor-director collaboration on the hit film The Unjust. The action period drama The Battleship Island marks their third mutual project, with Veteran 2 currently in the works as their fourth.
The 20th Udine Far East Film Festival invited both to accompany the screenings of Veteran and the special, Director’s Cut of The Battleship Island, and in the midst of their very busy festival schedule, the duo gracefully took the time to answer a few of our questions. First, we focused on the ambitious The Battleship Island. The release of the film was accompanied by extra tension in Japanese (and Korean) media, given that it deals with the topic of Korean people who were – during World War II – taken into forced labor by the Japanese, to the small, battleship-like Hashima Island. We wondered what made Ryoo Seung wan focus on the topic in the first place, and how they prepared to tackle such a massive project.
Given the scope of the atrocities committed against Koreans by the Japanese in World War II, why did you choose to focus on Hashima Island in particular?
Ryoo Seung-wan (RSW): “I think I started the project because of the shock that I experienced when I saw a picture of the island, because I didn’t even know about it. So, I started the project because I wanted to know more. Also, there is more to the island than the general image that it has, it doesn’t encompass everything that happened there.”
What was the preparation process like, given that this is such an ambitious project? How much did you need to prepare before the shooting even began?
RSW: “The first time I talked about this project with Hwang Jung-min was before we even started to work on Veteran. It was 2013, but because of the scale of the project, and the subject matter, we agreed that we needed to do a lot more preparation. While we were shooting Veteran, we talked about this project and began to prepare, so we gathered all the materials we needed and interviewed many people. Hashima Island has such an important place in our history, so that meant a lot of preparation was needed so I also got help from a historian. Now, in my opinion, the person who knows the most about Hashima Island is my assistant director!” (laughter) (…)
You can read the rest of this interview on View of Korean Cinema.
We would like to thank Hwang Jung-min and Ryoo Seung-wan for taking the time to answer our questions, and the Udine Far East Film Festival team for arranging the interview.
Written by Sanja Struna (View of Korean Cinema)
Interview transcription by Sanja Struna (View of Korean Cinema)
Interview edited by Roxy Simons (MyM Buzz)
Interviewed by Sanja Struna (View of Korean Cinema), Roxy Simons (MyM Buzz) and Adriana Rosati (Asian Film Vault)
Udine FEFF photos – courtesy of Udine Far East Film Festival
Veteran and The Battleship Island photos © CJ Entertainment
Cover photo © Sanja Struna