Actor Ahn Sung-ki. Courtesy of KCCUK

Actor Ahn Sung-ki.
Courtesy of  KCCUK


On 15th November, 2014 at the Korean Cultural Centre in London, the South Korean Veteran Actor Ahn Sung ki visited London in order to attend the UK Premiere and Closing Gala of his film ‘Revivre’.

Prior to attending the film screening, South Korean Veteran Actor Ahn Sung ki visited the Korean Cultural Centre to give a group interview.

*Hangul Celluloid: Over the years in your long and illustrious career, as well as starring in a number of films that could be seen as pure entertainment you have also acted in many speaking of social issues, historical events and even controversial issues; ‘Nambugun’, ‘Silmido’ etc., and even your latest film ‘Revivre’. What are your thoughts on the power of Korean cinema in raising awareness of social issues and even lead to changes in society itself?

Ahn Sung-ki:
 In terms of background and context, Korea was historically subject to a lot of confusion, pain and suffering as a result of many events that happened over the years. That translates into our emotionality as a nation, as well, and has provided various topics for our films which produce something quite dynamic rather than gentle or mellow, when expressed in a cinematic format. That in itself underlines the power and strength within Korean cinema as a whole. For example, our neighbouring country Japan is quite jealous of Korea; of our vitality in spite of our experiencing of often difficult historical events – that we were largely subjected to – and the fact that those terrible situations provided and continue to provide a rich source of cinematic topics and subject matter. They are quite envious of that.
And in relation to our national emotionality, I think that the fact that there is also a lot of enthusiastic energy in Korean output, not least because of the K-pop generation, means that we continue to deliver that emotionality very well.

*Filmdoo: You are, of course an acting legend yourself and recently you have been working with veteran director Im Kwon-taek who has directed over 100 films. What drew you to take the leading role in ‘Revivre’ and what was it like working with director Im?

Ahn Sung-ki:
 I first worked with director Im Kwon-taek in 1981 on a film called ‘Mandala’ and since then we’ve worked together seven times, so relatively speaking we have a rich experience working together. Compared to other directors, he doesn’t have a storyboard meeting until the morning of the shooting of a particular scene – the scene itself doesn’t exist until that point, he just has a broad scenario in his mind – so until that morning the actors and crew don’t know how the scenario might evolve or change and of course they might be anxious about that, wondering what director Im might do and what direction he might take but because I’m familiar with working with him I tend to have a sense of what direction he’s likely to head in. So, as opposed to having a very perfectly planned and illustrated storyboard which doesn’t give much space for an actor to play with, Im Kwon-taek is very open and you really have to prepare your work beforehand as well as having to think of your whole picture overall within this space of freedom. Director Im is also a type of director who keeps you thinking on your toes and as an actor you have a strong sense of responsibility within the freedom that he gives. That’s how it has been throughout the many times I’ve worked with director Im and it was also the case for this film.

Easternkicks: I want to ask you about ‘Chilsu and Mansu’ (1988), which was seen as the incredible step forward in South Korean films. What was it like making the film and did you have any idea how important that would be?

Ahn Sung-ki: The movies that I had been doing in the past were not seen as being very progressive and were not helping the South Korean Film Industry to step forward. They were not even dealing with the social issues and the Korean war over ideology, which continues till today. During the 1980s, it was very difficult to shoot the authority figures. The influence of communism was so much that if a member of your family was accused of siding with the communists then the whole family for the next generations would be felt hostile towards. Therefore through this film we were able to bring forward these kinds of problems that South Korea was going through. The actor Park Joong-hoon with whom I was working with very cleverly brought in the element of comedy by which the issues that the film was depicting did not come directly into the forefront and that made it possible for the film to avoid censorship.

MiniMiniMovies: You had a ten year break from 1967 to 1977, and among them two years were for the military. Was the rest of the time spent in doing projects and methods or trying different career altogether?

Ahn Sung-ki: I started working as a child actor in 1957. The Korean War had finished four years ago and the working conditions along with everything else in South Korea were not good. My father was an actor, and he had worked in two films. He left acting and stepped into production and planning of the films. Through him I was introduced to Kim Ki-Young, who at that time was a very famous director. You would know him by the film The Housemaid | Hanyo (1960). There were not that many child actors around, I got the chance to do my first film. The role I got was of playing a part of an orphan in an orphanage. I did pretty well in my first film and the next film I got had a much bigger role. Thus the word of mouth spread around and I started getting more roles. Coming into the world of cinema was not my choice or my parent’s wishes, but it was my work which made it possible for me to be passed around and thus I spent ten years of my childhood in the Korean Film Industry.

I had reached the stage of being in the first year of high school, and I was pretty much behind my studies. As there were no roles for a teenager in those times, I stopped acting. I returned to my ordinary life and studied and went to university. In the university I was studying Vietnamese, and during those years the Vietnam War was going on. I had a desire of joining the army to fight in Vietnam. I did my military services when I came across a scheme called ‘learn to shoot’, through which you could become an army general. Till the time I completed my military services and graduation, the government stopped sending any Korean soldiers to Vietnam. The war eventually finished in 1975. When I realised that my Vietnamese degree was of no use to me after my graduation, I decided to get into acting again. Therefore, I ended up making acting as my life-long career.

Courtesy of KCCUK

Courtesy of KCCUK


Otherwhere: Are there any young Korean actors that you think are worth watching and have caught you attention and think that might have a very long career like yours?

Ahn Sung-ki: There are many talented actors in Korean cinema and I am very hopeful for their future, but I don’t think they will be able to have as long a career as mine in terms of years. Going through turbulent times and acting throughout that period is very different than being only an actor. Nowadays there are no barriers and the censorship is near to non-existent. In my times the methods of expression and censorship were very strict, which even the audience knew. Today, the actors are very open in expressing themselves in films. They can experiment with their imagination which brings out a very refreshing look to the cinema.

In 1993 I was invited to a film festival in France where they showcased 7 films in which I had worked. It lasted for a week. At the end of it the response that I got was that is this the same person playing all these different roles? It meant that the roles that I had done were very diverse. In my opinion, all those roles were very hard for me to play as there were very few actors in those times. Nowadays, a lot of research is done to see who can better play each individual role in demand. It is very surprising for me to see the actors nowadays who have more depth of acting than which I had.

Korean Class Massive: how do you choose your acting roles? Do you find the directors approaching your or do you go to an audition and is there any particular role that you sought after?

Ahn Sung-ki: I’ve never taken part in an audition. Generally the directors would send me the script which is the most important thing. When I start reading the script I see if it has touched and moved me, which happens very rarely with me. Most of the time I am left making a decision if I should take the role or not, or even if the film would do good or not. It is my belief that a good script never fails as a film.

Korean Class Massive: One of the star screening in the Korean Film Festival was the Youth which featured Idol actors. How do you feel about idol singers coming into acting and do you feel that there is a stigma in the Korean film industry regarding idols going into acting?

Ahn sung-ki: nowadays a lot of prejudice and stigma have become undermined. The world has changed and the general thinking of the audiences who watch films has gone through many changes as well. Previously people used to write Film Appreciation as their hobbies, but now that has changed and film has become just a medium of entertainment and enjoyment. Personally in my opinion there should not be any need to differentiate. On an individual level an actor should be recognised for the kind of work he puts himself into and gives it his all. Having different professional careers is not good because you have to divide your attention and strength into different things. It might work out for a certain period of time, but to take them as a life-long career does not work out.

Mark Morris: I want to ask you about the film A Buddhist Ascetic Mandara | Mandala (1981), because I think it is a very important film. My students study about the film and they read various accounts of the difficulty of making a film the director and the actors have to go through. Can you tell us what people went through in order to make that film?

Ahn Sung-ki: ‘Mandala’ was a Buddhist film and was shot in 1981. In those times not many political issues were being dealt with in films. It was at first very hard to find a temple for filming because there was a lot of resistance and hostility from the Buddhist community. It was eventually decided to shoot in a temple which was for the married monks. There was a lot of illicit filming done. We would hide behind the opening gates of the temple and rush out or walk smoothly to get the shots that we needed. The original story dealt with a Buddhist man who gives up his Buddhist title and exposes the inner extremism present among the Buddhist beliefs.

Daehan Drama: you have had experience in shooting abroad like in China for the Battle of Wits | Muk gong (2006) and Musa the Warrior | Musa (2001); and recently in the US in The Last Knights | Deo Raseuteu Naitsu (2013). You have also worked with foreign directors such as Jacob Cheung. I want to ask you about the different aspects of working with a Korean director in China and a Korean director in Korea and the amount of freedom and the depth of relationship you get to achieve with the director.

Ahn Sung-ki: Working with Korean directors abroad is a hard task. It’s not only a hard task for the actor, but also for the director. When a Korean director goes abroad his influence and strength becomes quite mediocre because to convince the international audience becomes very hard. Working with the first time Director Kim Dal-Jung who directs in Korea as well as in the UK, in Pacemaker | Peiseu Meikeo (2012) was very difficult.

 In terms of working abroad with the Korean directors I think it is fifty fifty. I worked in Battle of Wits | Muk gong (2006) with Chinese Director Jacob Cheung. Previously I worked with Japanese Director Kohei Oguri in Sleeping Man | Nemuru otoko (1996); and lately I have worked again with a Japanese Director Kazuaki Kiriya in the film The Last Knights | Deo Raseuteu Naitsu (2013) which has not yet been released. I have a very minor role in the film and it was shot in Csechoslovakia. I was initially not intended to do the film but as I found out that it was a Korean Production, then I considered doing the role.

Courtesy of KCCUK

Courtesy of KCCUK


The London Tree: I would like to take you back in the past. As you were a child star, has there been any instance that you had a hard time adapting to a role?

Ahn Sung-ki: As a child actor I would play a mischievous son’s role so there wasn’t much difficulty in adjusting. However, one thing I found difficult to do was crying. Now I see child actors crying extremely well on screen and it really astounds me. Whenever I had to do a crying scene I would look around for someone to help me in crying. Some of the more savvy directors our there would just ruthlessly hit me to make me cry. Even as being an adult actor, crying for me is very difficult. Therefore I consult with the director and tell them to show me just before the tears fall, not when they have fallen. The falling tears actually finish the emotional feelings a character makes with the audience, and keeps the emotional feeling intact when the tears are just inside the eyes making them glisten.

In the film ‘Revivre’, there is a scene in which I am walking in the street which is for two minutes, but in the film it’s been cut to a shorter sequence. I am walking on the street and I’m about to cry. The tears don’t actually fall which I think was much better than crying. My eyes remain moist and glistening which made the scene much better. Therefore in this film there has been a lot of editing and there is not much continuity when it comes to showing emotions, which I think was a bit of a shame.

Thanks to you all for spending this time together and I really hope and wish for your continued support and hopefully I will meet you all again.

special thanks to the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London and the following:

Hangul Celluloid



Mini Mini Movies


Korean Class Massive

Mark Morris

Daehan Drama

*NOTE: the first two questions by Hangul Celluloid and Filmdoo have been taken from the Hangul Celluloid website: http://www.hangulcelluloid.com/ahnsungkiinterview.html

Title image and the images within the interview are Courtesy of KCCUK flickr account, and have been back-linked accordingly.

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