by Regina Kim


Photo by Regina Kim

On June 30, 2012, a press conference was held with veteran Korean actor Choi Min Sik at the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery of the Lincoln Center as part of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival.  For half an hour, the media had the chance to get up close and personal with the star of several Korean films featured in the festival, most notably Oldboy.   Here are the questions that were asked by journalists, and Mr. Choi’s in-depth and sometimes witty responses to them:

Question:  How do you feel appearing in front of your New York fans?

Choi:  Hot.  The weather is hot.  And the interest that people here at the festival have in Asian movies is hot.  Just a little while ago, an elderly gentleman asked me for an autograph, and I could feel how interested people are in these movies.  It’s my first time in New York, and I can tell that it’s hot.

Q:  What was it like working with actor Ha Jung Woo in the 2012 Korean film Nameless Gangster (also featured in the festival)?

Choi:  Mr. Ha Jung Woo is one of my colleagues that I have the strongest affection for.  He is very strong in his craft and displays a wide and in-depth spectrum of acting skills.  He also has a great sense of humor and strong chemistry on screen with many actors and actresses.  


Photo by Regina Kim

Q:  In the U.S., you are best known for your role in Oldboy.  In Korea, are you strongly associated with the character of Oh Dae Su, or do Koreans associate you more evenly with other roles as well, since they see you in so many movies? Do Koreans see you as a different character?

Choi:  Because of the unique subject matter that was dealt with in Oldboy, the movie was new and unfamiliar to the Korean audience.  But I don’t think that was the project that I’m most famous for in Korea because it doesn’t really relate to the common Korean sensibility.  I think my other projects must have been more appealing to the Korean audience.

Q:  It’s been 10 years since Oldboy came out, yet people are still talking about it and screening it.  What do you think the attraction for this film is?

Choi:  I think the film’s biggest asset is a sensibility that transcends East and West.  In Korea, there is a saying that you should beware of your tongue because evil and unhappiness can be triggered by what you say.  I think this film deals with this type of reaction, and with the concept of original sin as well, which also transcends East and West, which is why I think the movie is still being talked about today.

Q:  What is it that attracts you to a role?

Choi:  When I decide whether or not to do a project, I don’t think I have a specific taste when it comes to the character per se.  For me, it’s about the story.  If I read the story and it’s convincing to me, and I want to dive right in and be a part of the story, that’s when I decide to do the project.  It doesn’t matter if the character is evil or not.  If I find myself wanting to ask the writer why he wrote the script, that’s when I know I want to work on the movie.

Q:  What was it about the script for I Saw the Devil that made you end your exile from the film industry?

Choi:  My exile is a long story…there were some political reasons for it.  Let’s just say I had some very strong political opinions.  When I read the script for I Saw the Devil, I realized the character was a very sad, pitiful devil, unlike what I’d seen before.  The story was about a monster—a very cold and cruel murderer—who was a human being in appearance but a monster in his genes, and I thought that that in itself was very sad and sorrowful and something that I could sympathize with.  I thought the character had a very sad fate, and that to me was very attractive.  I was also moved by the sad music, which reminded me of “Morning of Carnival,” the theme song from the movie Black Orpheus.  

Q:  How have you changed over the years on set?

Choi:  Now that I’m older, I joke a lot with the staff.  I feel very grateful for our staff because when we make a film, it’s about teamwork.  It’s a joint project, and everyone who is an expert in their own respective field is coming together and working hard to realize that one film.  The entire staff works hard to make my acting look better.

Photo by Do Young Koo

Q:  Do you still feel like it’s a great challenge to do physical roles at your age now?

Choi:  I don’t think the physical challenges were just limited to Oldboy; all the other films I’ve done required strong physical acting.  It’s very hard to do, so after completing a movie, I always tell myself I’m never going to do it again. But then time goes by and I forget, so when I see a new role that I like, I do it all over again and end up regretting it.  I suppose I never learn my lesson in that sense.  Sometimes I have to plead with the director because I find the role to be too physically demanding, but then when I see the film after it’s been completed, I think that I should’ve been hit harder, or that I should’ve beat up that other person harder, etc.

Q:  Who do you think has been an influence on you as an actor?

Choi:  I started learning acting when I was in my third and final year of high school.  I started with stage acting.  I think of my acting professor in college, Mr. Ahn Min Soo, who taught stage acting and influenced me greatly as an actor.  He taught me how to become a good actor, and his teachings have been a strong pillar that I rely on.  When I become complacent, I remember the voice of my professor and his lessons—they whip me back into working harder.

My second influence is all the great directors and actors out there who have made great projects.  In the U.S., if I had to name a few, I’d say Joe Pesci, Sean Penn, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and the director Francis Ford Coppola.  

Q:  You spoke about growing older, but you look 10 years younger than you did in Oldboy.  How does it feel?

Choi:  (laughs) Thank you.  This is the first time I’ve heard someone say this in the U.S.  Honestly, I still don’t think I’m old yet, because in my mind, I feel like I’m only 21 years old, even though I’m technically 51 years old.  I listen to a lot of K-pop too, especially the girl groups. (Laughs).  I always try to change and not stay still.  

Q:  This fall Spike Lee will start filming the remake of Oldboy.  Any feelings or advice or blessings?

Choi:  Personally, I’m really excited about it.  I really like the actor Josh Brolin and have high expectations of him.  I saw him in No Country for Old Men and admired his acting.  But I’ve also thought about what if Sean Penn could play my character.  I think it’s interesting that this film will be made by a very different artist and in the U.S.  I’m curious to see how the film will be interpreted through an American lens.  Mr. Spike Lee and Mr. Brolin haven’t called me yet, but I’d be very interested in having drinks with them and giving them some tips. (Laughter from the audience). 

Photo by Regina Kim