[Interview Part I] Jung Woo Sung Knows How to Age the Right Way
Jung Woo Sung′s eyes still betray the fighting spirit he has inside him, but in his smile that follows, there is sadness.
To the man who seems to embody both the emptiness and the sadness that follows youth, we asked about what it feels like to become a man.
First, it′s nice to meet you. You worked on the XTM channel campaign as its model and director. It must′ve felt different to be in charge of one full work as a director from how you work as an actor.
Directing is more fun. I have to care for the artwork, continuity and even the music. Of course, I was more lighthearted because my work wasn′t a full length film. When I act, I just concentrate on the fictional character as if he were a real person, but when I direct I have to bring to life the virtual reality lying inside my head with the help of the staff′s technique and skill. If the scenes we take from filming are like the pieces of a montage, I have to edit and sew them together to build a story. That feels different and exciting.
Like XTM says, you′re ′the ideal man′ for Korean men; you′re like an icon to them. Do you feel you act accordingly?
As I become more seasoned, I start to hear more of that from the people around me. When I look at myself, however, I just think of myself as an individual and a man. I don′t think much of what others think about me. I just try to concentrate on becoming a better man and fulfilling what I want, or how I age with every year. How you age is very important, so I feel I should become a better person with every year.
With the drama ′Asphalt Man′ (1995) and the films ′Beat′ (1997) and ′City Of The Rising Sun′ (1998), you became the icon of youth and delinquency. It′s been 10 years since then, so we want to hear what ′youth′ means to you.
[Youth is] in general a unique struggle to stand out, which may look like delinquency. It could also be a struggle to tell others who I am. Even before you figure out how society works, you have to struggle to know how to fit in, and sometimes you learn the negative sides of society first before you learn of its positive sides. Personally, there was a time when I struggled to express myself. When you′re young, you don′t know how to express yourself. As we grow we start to use a wider pool of examples to talk, but back then I charged forth asking everyone, "I′m like this but why don′t you acknowledge that?" I wasn′t able to tell others effectively that the Jung Woo Sung you think I am isn′t all there is to me. Back then, though, I had my own ways of expressing myself that fit that age. It wasn′t the kind that made problems for society but a kind that I needed in order to find out who I am and to set my values. That phase was very long and rough for me.
Have you ever felt your youth is slipping past, or that it has already slipped past?
I think I′m still in my youth now. It may seem immature, but I′m still very curious about a lot of things and everything feels new to me. The way men like cars as adults is just like the way they used to like toys when they were little. In the past people used to ride their best horses to venture to far off places, but now that has just changed to cars. Men are like children with a lot of money even when they′re older. They become children that can use their money for themselves and are rich enough to do what they want. I always think grown up men are rich children who need to restrain themselves. It′s actually pretty dangerous if you can′t restrain yourself. (Laugh)
I′m curious on what kind of friend you would call your ′life friend′ and why.
I believe Mr. Lee Jung Jae (He actually called him ′Mr.′ Lee Jung Jae) would be that type of friend. I went through a difficult time a few days ago, and I realized it′s important to have a friend you can respect. I met him while we were shooting City Of The Rising Sun, and at the time, everyone tried to pitch us against each other as rivals for fun. We didn′t care, however, and we became friends quickly. Since we respected each other′s career, though, we didn′t rush to act comfortably around each other or try to speak informally too soon. Even now we don′t speak informally or act comfortably around each other. It′s more comfortable to treat each other with formal speech. We can talk about the concerns we have regarding our work, and even in my personal life he makes me tense. I feel I′ve gained a very precious friend.
You have a very long filmography. Is there a theory to acting Jung Woo Sung always tries to keep in mind as an actor?
I′m still looking for it. To be honest, I think I know just a little bit more about acting now compared to back then. You could think, ′Then you didn′t know anything about acting these past 20 years?′ but I would answer boldly, ′It′s my style of acting!′ As I grow older I′m becoming softer and more intelligent about how to act and about its techniques.
Are there any memorable moments in your past days as an actor and star?
That would be when I attended the Cannes Film Festival with The Good, The Bad, The Weird. It′s a story that everyone can relate to, and I′m happiest when I′m on set. I′ve filmed in China often. Everyone asks me how I can live abroad when it would be so hard for me, but it′s not that hard because I′m on set. My staff is there, and I have a role I can concentrate on. I even miss those days when I would sit down in the middle of a wasteland and just think. When I act on set I spill out my energy, but I can start thinking deeply in the short breaks in between. Those experiences still last inside me.
A lot of actors say they were inspired by the film ′Beat′ or that you were their role model. What type of advice do you usually give your young juniors?
Rather than give them advice, it′s more effective to show them the attitude they should keep on set. They need to feel what it′s like to mingle with the people. I was told by Choi Siwon, Kim Bum, Han Ji Min and Son Ye Jin that they learned the attitudes they should show on set as an actor.... I was really happy. I was thankful that they felt that way and that they returned the favor to me. I realized I′m spending my time in the right way on set, and that I′m a senior that can make them feel something. On set, we′re all just colleagues. I learn a lot while I work with them too. It′s important to get something from each other when you work together.
Do actors like you still meet new people? Isn′t it uncomfortable because you have less people around you now?
Of course my relations are very limited. They can′t help but be that way. Those who have jobs which require them to expose themselves to the public have no anonymity. Others know about me and hold prejudices against me, which means I need to break through that prejudice, lay the foundation and start from there. It′s like starting from the negative side [of a graph]. It′s different from when you meet without any prejudice. It′s uncomfortable but I′ve grown older, and it′s too late for me to start caring for what others think about me. (Laugh) I do want to meet as many people as I can when the opportunity comes.