Time to Hunt Actors – CINE21 No. 1243 Interview

Time to Hunt, the latest movie from director Yoon Sung-hyun after 9 years, is slated for February premiere on the 26th (although the date has been pushed to March due to the alarming spread of COVID-19 in South Korea). The director himself has been invited to give a number of interviews, despite being the director of a movie that is yet to be screened. The premiere date itself was only confirmed during the press conference on January 31st, and the cast members of Time to Hunt arrived at the studio for the photo shoot session of CINE21 cover pictorial later on that day after dinner, having to meet a number of schedules for the whole day.

If we are to describe the movie according to the spoiler-free limit, Time to Hunt is a story of fresh-out-of-prison Jun-seok ( Lee Je-hoon), dreaming of a brand new life with his friends Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-hong), Ki-hoon (Choi Woo-shik), and Sang-soo (Park Jung-min), before they are embroiled in a mysterious chase. Set in fictional South Korea during an economic meltdown and wider gap between the rich and the poor, these characters planned a dangerous crime as their only way to escape their fate. From the released stills and the synopsis, it can be assumed that the movie lies between the likes of Terminator and No Country for Old Men in terms of its genre-centric tone; instead of subtle feelings, the movie is driven by the feeling of thrilling suspense. Under the subtitle print “Will we be able to escape this hell?”, the four leads ( alongside an unidentified mysterious man) all have their gazes directed towards the same direction as they ask the moviegoers that question. With regard to the movie, they said, “It was enjoyable but extremely difficult to film it.” Time to Hunt, which made them burn away their youth, is now all prepared to set fire into the hearts of the viewers.

Lee Je-hoon: “Because I Love Movies So Much.”

If you happen to like movies, you will certainly enjoy discussing movies with Lee Je-hoon as much as you love watching them. Whenever we meet him for an interview, he will always talk about the movies he recently watched or a movie set he recently visited. When asked about his thoughts after finishing the shoot for Time to Hunt, he said, “The filming was not easy at all, so I went for a vacation right afterward. I happened to enter a cinema while I was walking around, and an old movie was playing from the film reel. But then, the movie…” That was how the conversation flowed. Being familiar with Director Yoon since Bleak Night, they were something akin to ‘cinema comrades’. Time to Hunt is a tough and extremely difficult, yet fun movie to him. According to Lee Je-hoon, Yoon Sung-hyun’s Time is not yet over.

What was your impression when you first read the scenario?

Being familiar with the director since a long time ago, we even discussed the scenarios he wrote prior to writing Time to Hunt. Rather than those elaborate details, I was more attracted to the simple thing that is all the straight-up running. I was intrigued; why was this kind of scenario written, and how would he make this into a reality? At that time, I did not realize that I was about to go onboard an express train to Hell.

We are curious about how similar and different they are, between Bleak Night and Time to Hunt.

If Bleak Night was a story weaved from the detailed feelings of characters only visible through the microscopic lens, Time to Hunt requires the characters to express – as well as show – the fear of being chased around in an extremely thrilling setting. Director Yoon wanted the actors to push themselves to their limits as if we’re experiencing the situation in reality. It was an extreme setting I’ve never experienced before on a filming set, and it did push me to my limits physically. There were times when I fell into a groggy state only after finishing one scene. It might be the most difficult project I have even taken as an actor so far. Even when I had shot the war flick The Front Line back then, this set was even more difficult compared to that one.

Director Yoon was said to have told you that Jun-seok, who is like a leader among his friends, was written based on you yourself.

Most of the time, an actor would concentrate his effort in researching for his character in a project, but this is the only time I feel that Jun-seok is not a difficult character for me, since he doesn’t feel unfamiliar at all.

Jun-seok is a character with a clear goal.

He is the person who tells the story. He is the character who carries the story with his charms, like the character in a caper movie who is also responsible for the actions up to the conclusion of the story. Just like the characters in the movie No Country for Old Men, Jun-seok needs to be able to portray the fear and pressure which are visible for the viewers to see. That’s how the viewers will be able to experience the situation vividly by observing the story from Jun-seok’s side.

Director Yoon mentioned a number of movies as his reference for Time to Hunt; on one hand, those are the movies which introduced the excitement in genre-specific work, but at the same time, elements appearing on those movies like design, props, and fashion, became the talk of the town as well as turning into cultural icons.

If we’re talking about the genre of our movie, it’s a cross between caper and thriller movies. He showed us Mathieu Kassovitz’s movie La Haine/Hate and expected us to use the characters as our reference. The director also wanted to showcase the portrayal of the dystopian world and the elements of subculture in the movie. Hence, the characters wear shabby, loose street fashion clothes. Even Director Yoon’s own clothes made it into the wardrobe and appeared in the movie. (laughs) It was worth anticipating the cinematic art of this, but it is still surprising despite the anticipation to see how the image of devastated Korea in the near future will be showcased. The graffiti lining up the alley makes an enjoyable sight for the eyes as the Hip-hop song from Primary flows in the background. I also heard that special attention was paid on the sound mix to make it comparable to action movies since guns also make their appearances in the movie.

Your upcoming project is an original series on NETFLIX.

I will start filming for Move to Heaven: I am a Memento Organizer (literal title) in early March. It will be helmed by Director Kim Sung-ho, who also directed How to Steal a Dog. It is a story about organizers who clean up after someone’s death. The project requires me to use a bit of my body, so I want to show a perfect hot-blooded youth side of actor Lee Je-hoon. I should manage my health well for that very reason.

Don’t you have any plan to appear on a variety show? A program which combines travel and movies will suit you well.

Filming locations in Hong Kong and The Cinematheque in New York are my sources of inspiration. I would occasionally watch indie movies on film when I visit New York. If there’s something I want to do, it’s to have an indie movie theater, where the movies would be shown using projection from a film reel. It would be nice to have lots of this kind of theater regardless of the region, but I need to ensure that there will be lots of moviegoers who are interested in this. (laughs)

Ahn Jae-hong: “Fresh and Diverse.”

“It will be a new chapter in Ahn Jae-hong’s life as an actor.” If we are to mention actor Ahn Jae-hong, the image of next-door hyung Jeong-bong in Reply 1988 would instantly come to one’s mind. Although the character was the one which turned him into a household name, his personality also fits well with the simple and naive side of a character, thus the association of that image with him for a long time. But then, he is showcasing the rough and strong image of him we have never seen before through Time to Hunt. “If the characters before this required me to bring out something that was already there inside me, Time to Hunt‘s Jang-ho requires me to explore and find something outside.” With Time to Hunt being a movie where the actors looked like their roles, we asked him if there is a character he wanted to try out.

You are portraying the character of Jang-ho in the movie Time to Hunt.

Jang-ho is a character whose world revolves around his friends. Since his life is literally meaningless without his friends, he still goes along with the plan of Jun-seok, despite being aware of the danger of the plan. When there is a group, each member will naturally have their respective roles in it. If Jun-seok is the leader who makes bold decisions that keeps the group going, Ki-hoon is like a member who knows where to step on the brake from time to time. Although Jang-ho might appear clumsy at one glance, his existence is akin to that of a cushioning material, which keeps his band of friends around him together, united as one. He can be regarded as a mood maker, but he is a friend you can trust and lean on during crucial moments despite being sloppy on his usual days.

If Director Yoon’s previous work Bleak Night is the story that penetrates into the characters, this time there is a lot of action involved and the characters have clear roles to play respectively.

As it is an intuitive story, I assumed that there has to be a clear image of the character that can be seen at a glance. The image of Jang-ho that I have embraced is that of a wild dog with a lot of scars. He is a character who was abandoned way too many times and learned the meaning of violence early on in his life. Because of his many scars, he expressed himself in a more radical way than his real intention, so that his wounds go unnoticed. Even in the movie, Jang-ho’s empty heart is mentioned from time to time. I believe that through the detailed description of the characters, there is plenty of room for the characters to be expressed even in a story with a straightforward narrative. It’s only that I chose to approach the character as simply as possible so that there won’t be too much of an exaggeration.

Even from the appearance alone, it seems that this role is a drastic departure from your usual characters before.

I was attracted to this mainly because of it being a strong character I have never attempted before. Just like the other cast of this movie, I was an avid fan of Bleak Night. It was a movie that became a huge influence on me during my student days when I was dreaming of becoming an actor. Even after I became an actor myself, I got curious once in a while, “What is this director doing these days?” At that time, the offer that was his latest project came to me and I was already filled with anticipation as I went through the scenario. I wanted to be a part of it since the offer came right at the moment when I was in a need for change and the anticipation I had for a fresh character. If I approached my previous roles by finding the different sides inside me before bringing them out, this time it’s about making a distinct character by slowly making me wear the character layer by layer. As for the physical aspect, I shaved off my hair short and bulked up my body. According to the actual timeline, I filmed Time to Hunt way before I joined the drama Be Melodramatic and movie Secret Zoo, so it feels a bit weird to see myself before I lost weight on the screen. (laughs)

You’re maintaining it after you lost weight. You’re even hearing that you’ve become more handsome from people around you.

You might have misheard it. (laughs) I lost some weight for the sensitive attorney role in the movie Secret Zoo, and my role in the drama Be Melodramatic somehow needed to have a sleek image, so I decided to maintain it. I got asked about my diet tips by people around me from time to time, but it was everything I said on the variety program Take Care of My Refrigerator..like eating mostly seafood? And eating one spoonful less than usual? (laughs) From now on, I can change myself if the time calls for me to match a particular character. I haven’t had much chance to show different types of appearances as an actor so far, hence I aim to show it consciously. As for now, my upcoming project is the variety program on JTBC, Traveler 2 in Argentina. (laughs)

Choi Woo-shik: “My Bucket List.”

Choi Woo-shik had no plan at all. On the day of the press conference for Time to Hunt, he was taken aback when the rest of the cast, including Director Yoon, appeared on the stage wearing black clothes. Matching sky blue and orange outfits for the event, he unintentionally became the ‘lead’, shooting his name to the top of the search rank. Even during last year’s press conference for the movie Parasite, his answer “It’s a bigger role if I have to compare with Train to Busan and Okja.” became a hot topic, earning him the nickname of Size Icon. Fortunately, his character Ki-hoon in the movie Time to Hunt is the most popular and sociable in the group. “He’s someone who is very different from me, hence it was difficult to portray him.” Just like that, he shared his stories from the set of Time to Hunt.

In the midst of your busy filming schedule for The Policeman’s Lineage, there are a lot of news articles about your endless effort to rearrange your schedule for the Academy Awards and Berlin International Film Festival.

I started joining the Oscar campaign when I was free from any filming schedule for The Policeman’s Lineage. We thought that the director (Bong Joon-ho) might be suffering by himself if he did it alone, so the cast agreed that it would be a good help if any of us to join him to provide help and support. Hence, all of us adjusted our respective schedules.

Time to Hunt was filmed prior to Parasite back in the second half of 2018, and the character’s name happened to be Ki-hoon. The name might be easy to be remembered by the moviegoers since it is similar to Parasite‘s Ki-woo.

I realized that Ki-hoon is an important character with a lot of parts after reading the scenario. I was well aware that I was the last one to be cast, hence I became burdened. If I am to follow the scenario, Ki-hoon is a character who is slightly different from my real self. Since it is a character I have to portray, I adjusted myself to fit with the character. Although the movie is set in a near future, the characters who live there also exist in today’s society. My character is someone who puts his friends’ future as his priority over his own.

What kind of thoughts have you exchanged with Director Yoon regarding Ki-hoon?

The director wanted to avoid portraying Ki-hoon like my usual self, smiling and beaming all the time; instead, he aimed for Ki-hoon to be less expressive when it comes to emotions, unloading them slowly over time. But then, when I acted exactly as written on the scenario, the director did not give me an ‘okay’ sign. He wanted to get the feeling of the characters being engrossed in the conversation as naturally as in our daily lives. Instead of meddling with the flow of words in the script, I concentrated more on how to express the emotions between the lines. It was a new experience for me.

Ki-hoon is the character that will have the most intense reaction against Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon)’s ideas. He seems to be a realistic person too.

He plays the voice of reason who is not afraid of expressing his thoughts, acting as the middle person holding the weight between his friends who came from two different worlds. Unlike the other characters, Ki-hoon came from a different background; as a kid, he grew up in a stable household before following his friends for the sake of loyalty. To be honest, I had to portray the natural delicate Ki-hoon, but it was difficult since the character was a complete opposite of my own self. (laughs)

Director Yoon is a much-respected movie buff. Did he give you any movie titles as reference for the character Ki-hoon?

You will see in the movie that Ki-hoon is a cool guy. I remember that one time when the director showed me the movie City of Lights. I think he wanted Ki-hoon to become a character who is popular no matter where he goes.

Lee Je-hoon said that Time to Hunt is even more physically straining compared to The Front Line, referring to Director Yoon’s persistent directing style. What kind of person the director was on the set?

I felt that the director was someone who knew exactly what he wanted. I believe that he is a director who would hold the cast’s hands and see until the end of it. The director and the hyungs would not let me feel discouraged and created a school-like atmosphere on the set. Because of that, he felt like a friend to me, and we could ask questions freely too.

There are new reports of your Hollywood advance, starring in a romance movie Past Lives, produced by Studio A24.

It’s still under discussion but it’s not to the extent of a ‘Hollywood advancement’. I think they considered me favourably because of Parasite.

We think it is okay to ask this now. How do you think Ki-woo’s life would be after the events in Parasite?

I’m confident that Ki-woo will be successful in whatever thing he does. After all, he’s a brilliant, optimistic guy who does have a plan. (laughs) No matter how it is, he will definitely save his father.

Park Jung-min: “Going off the Rails.”

Easygoing, unaffected and perfectly accurate. That was how Park Jung-min described his character. 10 years after his debut project Bleak Night, where he first encountered Lee Je-hoon and Director Yoon in a story about teens in high school, this time he turns into a desperate youth planning for one last shot in his late 20s. Despite that, Park Jung-min’s character Sang-soo is lonely and full of secrets, aloof and slightly detached from the group of friends. “It’s like producing something by myself in my own way at first, but in the end, a new result is made from the joint effort with the director and the fellow actors on the set. That is something enjoyable.” Park Jung-min does not hesitate to show his affection and respect for his latest project, which is also a product of hard work from the gathering of young blood in Korean film industry.

Sang-soo is a cinematic character in many aspects. Although his part might seem relatively small, he also holds a symbolic side to him with regard to a certain part in Jun-seok’s dream.

Sang-soo is the one who made Jun-seok continue to look behind instead of keep running forward. I think that he plays the role of someone who affects the emotions of other characters. Although I did have interactions with the other cast in their characters, Lee Je-hoon provided me with most help when it comes to acting. Jun-seok himself had a sense of guilt and Sang-soo had a role that contributed to it.

Even among his friends, he seems to be a bit isolated and lonely compared to others, We are getting more curious about Sang-soo’s story that is not shown in the movie.

Sang-soo can be regarded as someone who is out of place, be it among his circle of friends or even in society. He had a clear reason why he had no choice other than to participate in the plan since he was indebted to Jun-seok. There were a number of scenes where Sang-soo stared at his friends and I paid special attention to his gaze. For some reason, the scenes seem to hold the nuance that he won’t be able to continue staying together with his friends. I believe that I had to put some emphasis on his unfortunate feelings in this kind of scene. I used to imagine Sang-soo’s poor and difficult past of taking care of his sick mother, which might be how he started borrowing money from his friends, including Jun-seok.

You have been portraying a number of youth characters in recent years. From Svaha: The Sixth Finger, Tazza: One-Eyed Jack, Sunset in My Hometown, and even Time to Hunt, your characters are mainly from the non-mainstream social class people, rebel, and even a cult member. You’re a young man who goes slightly off the rails.

It’s something grateful for an actor if it’s interpreted like that. However, isn’t most youth stories have something lacking in it, for instance, a lacking character? A story can take off and unfold only from the lack of something. Of course, it’s true that there’s a different kind of excitement to be able to portray a character who strays off a bit from the usual.

You yourself are aware that after Tazza: One-Eyed Jack, your character becomes a regular at the gambling house again in Time to Hunt. Do you usually enjoy watching crime-themed movies?

I watch them like crazy. (laughs) When I was young, I went crazy for movies like Se7en, Snatch, The Usual Suspects, and Memories of Murder. Even when I was studying film directing at Korea National University of Arts, I submitted a project on a crime story. I like underworld-themed genre. There is a lot of room for imagination and basically looking to be rhythmical. As for Time to Hunt, the unique thing is that the music director is singer Primary, whose songs’ beat affects the movie rhythm.

Looking at your filmography so far, you seem to be an actor who is flexible and comfortable with ensemble acting. When the lead role is shared between the actors, there is no sense of disharmony.

It is something important. I don’t think that I have huge popularity myself, so I feel comfortable and brave when I am doing it together with many people. I filmed Time to Hunt right after I finished Svaha; even if I was dead tired, I was always looking forward to going to the set. Perhaps, it’s more of enjoying the company of friends than going for acting back then. Surrounding yourself with likable friends makes it possible and easy to try out something bold.

The mood on the set would have been different with a young director and young cast.

Lee Je-hoon also had the same thought as mine, and it was more like a concern: what kind of role could be achieved by the young actors of Korean cinema? It seems that the time has arrived for the young actors, who started their career after the senior actors paved the way for Korean film industry, to prove their worth through results. Not only Director Yoon; even the staff and the cast are all young, so it was a group of people gathered and worked together to produce the movie. We want to show the results of our hard work. It would be nice if it gets noticed.

Although Bleak Night was invited to International Film Festival Rotterdam back then, it would be the first time for you to walk the official red carpet for a film festival through the participation in Berlin International Film Festival.

Back then for Bleak Night, we went to Europe 3 weeks prior to the schedule for the festival. The three of us (Park Jung-min, Lee Je-hoon, Director Yoon) stayed together in one room as we went around freely in our hoodies. This time around, each of us would be wearing tuxedos. It is nice that we will be going there together. We might go there one day earlier before the schedule, and I look forward to trying out German beer there. (laughs)

Park Hae-soo: “Like a Wild Animal.”

The rumour is abundant. Han, the character portrayed by Park Hae-soo, is a killer who chases after the four friends quietly, giving off the surreal energy of a Grim Reaper. His intention is hard to decipher, while his existence is like smoke and darkness. Park Hae-soo regarded it as an enjoyable pain more than ever, to be able to meet a character with endless possibilities when it comes to interpretation and room to portray it. From his memorable character in Master – which led to a satisfying result of becoming a stepping stone and extension into his acting career – to his character in the drama Prison Playbook, his charms are presented almost like a twist when the two characters are put side by side. “A filming set that enabled me to be honest with myself. It was like having a 1:1 fight with my character.” We heard from Park Hae-soo the beauty of acting from his reminiscence of Time to Hunt.

Did Director Yoon ever tell you the reason behind your casting?

There was this one photo taken during an interview when I acted in a stage play during my younger days. I think he liked seeing me in that photo. It was back in 2010 or 2011, and I shaved my head at that time. Perhaps, that was the reason my eyes were more noticeable. (laughs) As a diehard fan of Bleak Night, I was really happy to receive the offer from the director.

Typically, it has been proved that you fit well with a fierce, charismatic character like your role of Chairman Jin’s henchman in Master; however, when we compare Han with the existing characters, he seems to be the most advanced one when it comes to abilities.

I had a lot of conversations with the director since it was difficult to find the reason and determination with regard to the character itself. Although the character of Han was not a defined character, Director Yoon told me that we would continue searching for it together. I used to think that perhaps Han had a past as a special task force team member or a soldier, where his line of work pushed him to be close to death. He seemed to have the aftermath effect or trauma related to death, possibly after he was forced to be in a life-or-death situation. I was able to get a glimpse into it since I wrote an acting journal every day.

Han is the definition of terrifying, as he holds a direct and apparent significance to the story by doing the deed of ‘hunt’ mentioned in the title. How did you portray the character who enjoyed murder as a sport?

I used to think about how a person who likes killing people without flinching as if he’s playing a game would behave, but that kind of interpretation would make light of that character. In the end, I concluded that Han was someone who turned himself into a referee. I portrayed him as someone who physically moved according to his own instincts, and possessed immaculate skills when it comes to tactics and firearms handling in any situation given.

We can’t help but to be remembered of actor Javier Bardem in the movie No Country for Old Men. Just like Bardem’s mushroom hairstyle which became famous at that time, is there any physical trait unique to Han?

His fierce eyes. Rather than spiteful eyes, should I say that they are a pair that can pierce through everything? A pair of eyes like those of a wild animal’s; those that won’t waver even in the face of death.

Your lines are short and the focus is mainly on your back or silhouette. Since the situation seems to call for a strong presence in front of the screen as well as intense aura, how do you manage yourself for that purpose?

Whenever I got distracted over the thoughts like, “Am I doing the right thing right now? Is this correct?” the director would surprisingly be made aware of my thoughts just from watching how I walked at that time. I think I could grow more relaxed as I got along well with the other four actors, but Director Yoon was quite strict towards me. (laughs) It’s intentional in order to make me lonely in solitude. Strangely, I became more comfortable like that over time. The chasing scenes were mostly shot during the night, so I would find myself sitting in a dark, secluded area or even stayed inside an empty room by myself. Later, when we had to attend the post-recording session, I realized that I used a sharp voice during the filming instead of my usual voice. Although I was in agony when I was immersed in the role, to the point of suffering from insomnia, I realized soon afterward that it was the most amazing and memorable point in my life as an actor.

You seem to enjoy using your body in acting since you started out through stage plays.

Basically, I enjoy doing acting which requires me to use my body, and I intend to continue doing so. Rather than the saying ‘acting can only be free if the body is free’, I think that the energy radiating off from your body plays a huge role. You can deliver whatever lines being thrown at you, but you need to train your body.

©CINE21

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