Jang Dong-yoon is upright. When he is expressing his thoughts, his eyes light up even more. “I have strong pride, as well as high self-esteem. I want to be a cool person.”
SOMETHING JANG DONG YOON WANTS
“Is it only good when you are doing something you really want to do? Isn’t it okay too if you get to do something you happen to do by chance? I think that the measure of how good or bad you are at something is not from when you started doing it, but rather on how you don’t have to be conscious of it.“
Whenever we are talking about Jang Dong-yoon, the question “The university student who caught the mart robber?” would still be mentioned, even until now.
I heard it hundreds of times since my debut.
Honestly, when you first received the offer to become an actor, what was in your mind at that time?
My current agency saw the news and SNS (social media), so they contacted me. Truth to be told, I wanted to believe that it was an opportunity since I have never thought that becoming an actor was something that I could do. I thought that it was something that only special people could do. But then, once I received the offer, I suddenly have the urge to do it. I was a student preparing for jobs at that time, and it was a part of my plan to go back to job hunting if it didn’t work out.
Weren’t you afraid back then?
I was curious. Would I really be able to do it? I like trying out something new, and I was determined.
Didn’t your story of how you started acting become a source of prejudice towards you?
There was a time when I felt that I was someone without any roots. People seemed to think like that too. I became an actor by chance, and it was not something I originally intended to do in life. But then, is it only good when you are doing something you really want to do? Isn’t it okay too if you get to do something you happen to do by chance? I think that the measure of how good or bad you are at something is not from when you started doing it, but rather on how you don’t have to be conscious of it.
Does being an actor fits your identity perfectly?
At first, it seemed to match my personality well. But in the middle of it, I seemed to have lost myself for a while…since I am originally someone with a strong pride. I have always liked trying out various new things. My personality seems to match well with the job of an actor. But then, one would have to face trials and errors when you start doing something. It is a world I knew nothing of, so it was confusing at first. Acting is a type of public art. It can only exist when there is someone watching you. Because of the nature in this line of work, there was a time when my own identity became blurred. I couldn’t even remember what kind of person I was, and I didn’t know what my original personality was. I have recovered a lot now since I have adapted myself.
Are you the type of person who loves yourself?
You’re right. It seems that being an actor is a job which will make you able to love yourself. If you look around, there are a lot of people who don’t love themselves in this line of work too. I think that I wouldn’t want to lose myself in the process. If I happen to start to be obsessed with other people’s attention, it will be difficult for me to hold myself true to my ground. It is not healthy (to be like that), but it is something that I still care about. Hence, I am taking care of my appearance as well as dieting.
Dieting seems to be quite difficult for you, isn’t it?
HAHA. I have always liked eating. But now, I’ve become good at dieting. If I need to lose weight, I can do that well.
So, do you feel that this is the place you belong to right now?
I become assured recently. It was not in the plan but once I got to adapt myself, it has become better. I am someone with high self-esteem. When I was in middle school, I didn’t study. I only started studying when I was in high school. Our high school was in the neighbourhood where the mothers were very much involved in their children’s studies. It was Kyungshin High School in Suseong District, Daegu. If I were to compare the neighbourhood to Seoul, it was like Daechi-dong. I was not a good student, so people didn’t treat me with respect.
That must have hurt your pride.
Hence, I started studying diligently. When I was in middle school, I thought that the top student in the class was living in a totally different world. Once I started studying, my grades improved and surpassed those who used to get better grades than me. It felt good. At that time, studying was a new world to me, just like how the world of acting is to me at the moment. The experience I had back then helped to shape my disposition now. As I get used to this job as an actor and learn the ropes, I get to know more things, thus finding my assurance in this. I believe in effort, more than being born with talent.
Beautiful Days has become the first film to be included in your filmography. Did you prepare yourself beforehand with the Yanbian dialect for your character Zhen Chen?
Together with actors Lee Yoo-joon and Oh Gwang-rok sunbae-nim, we attended classes on Chosonjok dialect. However, I did practice by myself before going to the class. I was very concerned about the verbal part since you have to make the speaking part seems natural first before you can do the acting. One advantage for me is that their dialect bears some resemblance to Kyungsang-do dialect. I’m sure of it. (laughs) Lee Yoo-joon is also from Busan, and both of us had the same feeling about it.
It seems that Zhen Chen is a character who doesn’t have any similarity to your own self.
Hence, the reason why it’s better for me. I didn’t have to be concerned about that. In the past, I used to act out my characters and showing bits of myself intentionally through them, but truthfully speaking, I’m not someone who is that charming, right? Zhen Chen enabled me to completely erase myself, and it was possible because his way of speaking was different.
It is a film about maternal love and family. It is Director Jero Yun’s own way of delving into the subject. Zhen Chen is a subject who is vying for maternal affection, and he is an important element in the film. We are curious about the sentiment and emotions you felt as you become the character. Plus, the actress Lee Na-young is acting as the mother in the film.
It is quite shocking to have two people with a small age difference appearing in the film as mother and son. That was what made me curious: how would they make it work? When the cameras started to roll, there were different kinds of emotions I received from Lee Na-young sunbae-nim. I was able to react naturally at that time. The director watched over us, assessing the overall atmosphere: how those people will express their emotions and how their acting styles are.
Did the director visit the filming site frequently?
Director Jero Yun doesn’t really go to the filming site. He seems to prefer picking up the scenes he thinks are good during the editing session. If you watch the film, there are lots of long takes, as well as closeups on the characters’ expressions. There was a scene in which I was lying on the bed in the dormitory, and the camera was right in front of my nose. The distance between my face and the camera was probably less than 20cm. I liked that style, since it helped me to focus and concentrate on my acting, and I got to do it more naturally.
On the other hand, we also heard that the filming period was very short. You did not even have the time to monitor your acting properly even after filming several cuts. We think you need to have an emergency plan as an actor.
We filmed for a little over one month, and there were 15 scenes. A standard-length film that is shot with only 15 scenes is pretty unheard of. It was not physically demanding. I have confidence in my own stamina. It’s only that Zhen Chen didn’t have any scene which was not emotional for him: he was asking why his father sent him to South Korea, he was asked by his mom why he came to find her, he also met his mom’s lover and saw his mom in her drunken stupor, and he also got to read the letter penned by his mom.
If we are to follow the story as it unfolds, he seems to be the character to be caught up in emotions more than the others.
Right. The director said this: that the viewers should be able to follow Zhen Chen’s emotions, as well as his attention. The scenes were not filmed according to how it would appear on the final cut of the film, so it was difficult since there were many parts where I had to express things emotionally. I tend to be inclined towards improvisation and spontaneity, where I would be concentrating on the situation without having any set emotion. There are many senior actors who can show their emotions well according to their plan, but I still can’t do that.
What do you think would be the most precious part of Beautiful Days, out of various issues portrayed through the film?
The act of pitching hope. It is a story of a broken family and people who have to be exposed because of a tragic situation, but still, the film shows that there is still hope to the son; that a fine day will come to him. I have a lot of interest in people who are hurt and wounded. I think that the film is something that will be able to mend the broken hearts of those people. There are different kinds of families to each and every one of us. The leads are people standing on the boundary of their own, but the film portrays a very universal emotion since it is a story of a family.
We heard that your hobby is writing poetry. Although you have talked about it a few times in other interviews before, we still have a lot of things we are curious about. Since when did you start writing continuously?
I started back in middle school. There wasn’t anyone who told me to do so. I was most active in writing when I was in high school. I even attended a literature academy sponsored by the local education office and took poetry classes. How should I say it? Poetry seems to be something fate has given me. People might be wondering why a middle school student is writing poetry in his pastime? He should be playing StarCraft at the internet café instead.
We think that you have written a lot on certain subjects.
What I write is mostly related to people: wounded and hurt people, the weak people in the society, people who struggle to make ends meet. If you make a quick search on the internet, a few of my poems will appear on the search result. All of my poems are like those.
How do you put those kinds of lives into words?
I don’t put it as a sad and pitiful thing emotionally. I like to tell it as it is, just like the reality. Calmly. Whenever I am reading poetry, I like it when the poet writes his words calmly. For instance, poet Moon Tae-jun’s Flatfish. And…umm…although I like writing poems, I haven’t read a lot of poems myself. HAHA. There isn’t any poem that I can memorize on top of my head. I can’t even memorize my own poems since my poems are usually 3 pages long.
First, my sentences tend to be lengthy. Don’t you think so too when I am talking right now? I am rambling a lot, right? HAHA. I participated in a lot of spring literary festivals, but it was arrogant of me to do that. I continued to fail in the festivals, so I took part in a literary prize selection and made it. And that’s it.
We also heard that you love movies so much that you have been collecting movie posters since you were in middle school, and you even tried writing a scenario for one.
Since I have always liked writing, I did try writing scenarios on a whim.
You also revealed that you have a lifeguard license on air when you appeared on Law of the Jungle. You seem to be the type who cannot sit still.
I’m certainly not that type of person. I started swimming when I was young. It was so early on that I can’t even recall who taught me how to swim. When I entered high school, swimming was one of the things I could do well. As I looked around finding something to do with my skills in swimming, I took the lifeguard test and got the license. At that time, I joined a small band too. I liked Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Radiohead, and I even learned to play guitar.
Did you know that you have the image of an upright youth to your name?
Having that kind of image..I am not sure about that. When I started attending high school there were a lot of restrictions I made for myself. Let’s not watch movies, let’s not listen to songs, let’s not date, and let’s study diligently. I am someone with a strong pride, as well as high self-esteem. It would be good if I can grow up to become a cool person. But then, there are lots of things I have to be careful of if I want to become one, in order to protect myself. If I happen to commit disgraceful, bad acts, I would be ashamed of myself. I want to be able to live without shame.
People think of actors as those with a special kind of job. Every actor would want to shine brighter among those special people. How do you work on being a cool person now that you have become an actor yourself?
Whenever we talk about a shining life, most would be thinking of worldly success; where one would attain popularity, gain fame, and accumulate wealth. As for me, the most important thing is not to lose myself in the process. I don’t think of it as a fight against the speed, and it’s healthy for me. After all, this line of work is like a game of who gets to be recognized by half of the country’s population in the shortest amount of time.
Someone with strong pride usually thinks that he should be the best. Isn’t that so?
Someone could be impatient in making himself special not only in this line of work but in other jobs as well. However, this is the world where it is difficult to free yourself from that kind of thought. So, I decided to change my view from the beginning.
Now that your first film has been screened, there will be many opportunities coming your way from now on. Do you have anything you want to do?
I want to encounter a lot of projects which would be worth the challenge. I like something with lots of room for research. First, I would like to do some action, since I don’t spare myself when it comes to physical activities. I also want to do the role of a hot-blooded reporter or a prosecutor who uncovers social injustice. Since I already turned 28 this year, I would also like to do a youth melo with a hint of summer scent before it is too late. Something like the film Secret (2007) Now that we talk about it, there are lots of genres I want to do. From now on, I should tackle them all, one by one.