'Tale of Cinema' Star Looks Back at Cannes Fest

By Shim Sun-ah
Yonhap News Agency

Film actor Kim Sang-kyung calls himself a fatalist. Believing all events are predetermined by destiny, he does not like to make any plans in advance _ about his work, marriage, anything.

So he says it was just luck that delivered him a chance to share the red carpet at this year's Cannes Film Festival with director Hong Sang-soo, another turn in his journey through life.

Kim's latest work, "Tale of Cinema (Kukjangjon)", screened last week in the competition section of the festival. Kim was in Cannes for the 58th festival accompanied Hong and the film's two other leads. It was his first time to the festival and its high gala events.

"Reporters asked me why I didn't look nervous on the red carpet", Kim said in the yard of a book cafe in northern Seoul.

"To tell the truth, I wasn't even nervous that much. The red carpet looked only about 20 meters or so in length, and I flew to the end of it at almost 9,000 kilometers".

"However, I think I had a really great life experience because people cannot just go to the place (Cannes) even if they really want to".

When "Tale of Cinema" was first screened for private audiences in South Korea, the audience laughed straight through at the eccentric behavior and dialogue of the film's protagonist played by Kim. Even critics called it a comedy. The movie is scheduled to open nationwide on Friday.

At Cannes, however, the audiences appeared somewhat serious all through the movie, according to journalists who attended the screening. Many pointed to subtitling problems that failed to translate the delicate nuance of Korean humor.

"Seeing foreign viewers who didn't understand the film as much as South Korean audience, I thought again how much I'm happy to have local viewers who can deeply understand, enjoy and evaluate my acting".

Kim says some people who understood the humor that pervades the movie had laughed, but that the laughter was giggly rather the explosive.

To the disappointment of South Koreans, the movie failed to bring home a prize from the prestigious film fest.

"I don't think winning a prize is important. I think it is a great honor that this film was selected as the 21st candidate for competition out of some 3,000 entries from across the world. On my return home, I had a good talk with director Hong (Sang-soo)".

"I was just happy when so many foreigners with blue eyes and yellow hair stood up in their seats to applaud before and after the screening of the film".

"Tale of Cinema" is Hong's sixth film. His five previous works had very modest box office takings at home, returning nothing near the average 1.2 billion won ($1.2 million) they cost to make.

The less-than-warm reception by South Korean film-goers is in no small part due to Hong's consistent elliptical reflection of such subjects as desire, imitation and memory combined with de-constructive storytelling.

With his latest work, Hong is kind enough to explain how the protagonist felt at every moment through narration. "Had there not been the narration, it would have been a totally different film. After hearing the reactions, I've come to realize audiences tend to like easy things".

Is it some way of Hong compromising with his audience? Kim is quick to reply "No".

"He doesn't give up trying to help his audiences easily understand, although in choosing a narrative method, he tries to get as close as possible with them. If he did abandon himself and compromise, I think the value of his film would disappear".

It was not Kim's first time to work together with Hong. Turning 33 this year, he played the seemingly aimless film actor Kyong-su in Hong's fourth film "On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate" three years ago.

Actors rarely work again with the same director, but Kim didn't hesitate to do so. It is in part due to his personal relationship with Hong that stemmed from that movie that he is often called a "persona" of Hong by local film critics.

"When he first offered me a chance to work together, I knew by intuition he would give me something new".

Asked how Hong explained his affection toward the actor, Kim was reluctant to answer. Only after persistent questioning did he answer, "Hong told me he liked me because I'm straightforward. As an actor, he said he got the feeling that there is something different in me".

However, the Hong-Kim pair had a fairly bumpy ride in completing the film.

"I think both of us felt a bit of a burden with our second work. The biggest problem was how to play Tong-su differently from the way I carried Kyong-su", Kim said.

One method the director chose was to keeping saying "No" to Kim's acting. "He kept requiring different styles, even though I felt my acting was a natural portrayal of the scenario that he wrote", Kim recalled. "As viewers who have already seen the movie might know, the protagonist Tong-su is very bizarre. I think the character and my own ego clashed in my head because Tong-su is a person fairly incomprehensible to my way of thinking. I ended up having to take medicine several times for the resulting migraine".

In the film, Tong-su is an incorrigible film director aspirant who has been out of work for 10 years. He lacks social skills and is so outspoken and strange that even college friends dislike him.

He goes to see a film directed by one of his school buddies, and on his way home meets up with the actress who played the movie's beautiful lead. Recognizing that the plot of the film is based on his own life, he tries to get closer to the actress, convincing that their encounter is the result of destiny.

Compared with Tong-su, Kyong-su in "Turning Gate" is a fairly normal person, Kim said.

"Sometimes I found myself totally exhausted when I got home after work. It was very difficult work, but I felt a great pleasure, too", he says.

Kim agreed with delight when this reporter suggests he appears to be a completely different person when his character Tong-su sees the actress Yong-sil for the first time in the movie.

"As an actor, I thought I knew how my face looks from every different direction. That was a kind of face that I myself haven't known. I surely acted with my own body and voice, but to draw out a different persona from me was a thrilling and ecstatic experience".

Kim says he will next appear in the role of a lawyer in a TV drama about work and love that will begin July, and plans to do another film this winter. "I haven't decided on the movie yet", he added.

Kim said he dreams of becoming a strong presence on screen and television and making a living as an actor until he retires. Going by his brilliant performances in Hong's two films and Bong Joon-ho's "Memories of Murder", the dream seems unlikely to remain a fantasy.