[Herald Interview] Yeon Woo-jin craves innovative movies like “Serve the People”

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For Korean actor Yeon Woo-jin, director Jang Cheol-soo’s new project “Serve the People” caught his eye because it was full of new challenges and innovative elements.

“I thought I would be jealous to see another actor play the role. I felt that for the first time,” Yeon said during an interview via Zoom with a group of local reporters. “If I had to choose a safer and more commercially appealing film, I would have chosen a different project, but at the time I was craving an innovative film rather than a comfortable one.”

Based on a novel of the same title written by Chinese novelist Yan Lianke, the new film is set in a fictional socialist country similar to North Korea in the 1970s.

Yeon’s character, Mu-gwang, a soldier hungry for success, sees an opportunity for promotion in the military when he starts working for his commanding officer (Jo Sung-ha). There, he meets his boss’ wife, Soo-ryun (Ji An). When her commander is away, Mu-gwang and Soo-ryun engage in a dangerous and forbidden romance.

During the interview, Yeon said that he read the script in 2014.

“It was right after we finished filming ‘Marriage, Not Dating,'” he said, referring to the tvN drama.

At first, he simply saw the film as a good opportunity to show that he could play a character far removed from the typical romantic comedy role.

“When I read the script again, after seven to eight years, it spoke to me differently,” he said. “I understood its depth. How it portrays different human desires. I thought it could be a project where I could be true to myself and show what human desire is.

When asked if he had any qualms about some reviews saying the movie had too many provocative sex scenes, the actor emphatically replied, “No.”

“It’s an unconventional movie, so I don’t feel bad about people seeing it that way,” he said. “I just think that’s the unique feature of this film.”

Yeon then explained how the movie’s sex scenes were filmed on set.

“We only had a limited time, so we had to concentrate as much as possible,” Yeon said.

“The day before the sex scenes were filmed, the director, Ji An and I had meetings. We worked on the emotions while filming the scene, and we rehearsed the actions the day before. If we don’t know what do during the actual filming, it becomes difficult for everyone, so we tried to make every move as predictable as possible.

When asked about the atmosphere on set, Yeon said he didn’t like the process of filming the risky scenes.

“I had a lot of pressure because I had to concentrate,” he said.

As the film is based on a popular Chinese novel, the actor was also asked if he had read the original work.

“Yes, I read the book. I think the book was more focused on criticizing the socialist system. I think today’s Korean audience will probably have a hard time understanding the story. On the other hand aside, our movie focuses more on human nature and fun,” he explained.

Towards the end of the interview, he also briefly talked about actors Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin getting married after a two-year relationship.

Yeon and Son recently wrapped filming for the JTBC drama “Thirty-nine,” which began airing on Wednesday.

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