[Interview] Lee Jung Jin on the Golden Lion Award and ′Pieta′
"It feels great. It′s a film with a small budget, but it′s won the Golden Lion Award and it′s also really successful. It′s like a dream come true."
Lee Jung Jin′s face shone with happiness. His most recent film, director Kim Ki Duk′s Pieta, won the Golden Lion Award at the 69th Venice Film Festival. The award is the highest honor given a Korean film out of the many awards Korean films have received in the world′s three biggest film festivals, the Cannes, Berlin and Venice Festivals. No other Korean film has won the grand prize at these film festivals, but this one low-budget film, produced with just 150 million won in just one month with just 12 shoots, won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.
In the middle of all that was Lee Jung Jin.
"I still feel numb. When I walk the streets these days I′m congratulated a lot. It especially feels weird when people acknowledge my hard work. It sounds like something you would tell a national athlete. I′m happy that more people recognize that I′ve been to Venice with the Korean film Pieta. The Master, a big rival, scored with many awards, but we got the winning trophy. It′s great."
Lee Jung Jin first started off on his career with the drama Bloody Beach. It seems he would′ve won many awards in his 10 year career, but he′s actually never received even one. His first award was the grand slam, the Golden Lion Award.
"I was never even nominated for an award at movie award ceremonies. That′s why it feels more like a dream. I never knew a day like this would come."
Because he had never received any awards, he never thought he would be getting one in Venice either. Of course he thought again and again inside that it would be great to win one, but he didn′t think Europeans would cast their votes for a little film from Asia. The Master was also pretty popular among the locals. One of the reasons he went to Paris after the official screenings wrapped up was because he was afraid the film wouldn′t make it in the giant international ceremony. He wasn′t able to be there when his movie won the award.
"I knew it′s not easy to receive an award, so that′s why I went to Paris. I hoped we would win, but it was hard for me to answer when I was asked whether I thought they would pick us. It was also impossible for me to stay in Venice any longer even if I wanted to. I had to check out of the hotel the festival coordinators had provided us, and even though I wanted to move to another hotel, there were no rooms free. Since my plane stopped in Paris, I just stayed there. It was my first time in Italy, and it was also my first time in Paris. On the day of the ceremony I received a call telling me I should be there. I looked far and wide for ways to go back to Venice, but there were none. I would′ve asked for help if I knew anyone in Paris or Venice, but there was no one."
He was sorry not only because he couldn′t be at the ceremony, but also because he couldn′t meet the many big actors there. Because they had all set up their schedules for their own film screenings, Lee Jung Jin never got to meet a single one.
"At the Busan International Film Festival, actors get together and drink together, and they also meet while they′re moving around. I thought there would be a gathering or a party, but there was nothing. Everyone just came and went, so I didn′t get to meet anyone. I had people who asked for my autograph, though. I was wearing a training suit but they still recognized me."
It was his first award for a movie in his life, and on top of that it was the Golden Lion Award. Of course he felt sad he couldn′t be there.
He said, "I was especially sad because director Kim Ki Duk, Cho Min Soo sunbaenim (senior) and I had completed the film through a difficult process."
For Lee Jung Jin, his appearing in a piece by director Kim Ki Duk was an adventure in itself. In the biggest moment when that adventure and the challenge he had taken up bloomed, he wasn′t able to be there.
"Since I′m an actor, I always felt I wanted to be in a piece by director Kim Ki Duk, like an unrequited love. The opportunity came so unexpectedly. I starred in the romantic comedy Wonderful Radio before Pieta, and after that film, I got many scenarios similar to that piece. A lot of people became curious why I chose to work with director Kim Ki Duk after that. On top of that, my role was an evil bond collector. Still, I just didn′t want to miss the chance. In the film No Doubt I appeared as a pedophile. Films like No Doubt and Pieta are films that are needed in the Korean Box Office. I had to choose it as a filmmaker living this age."
Lee Jung Jin was brought up like any other boy in a normal family in Seoul. This normal man chose to star in a Kim Ki Duk piece, which are usually called hurricanes of films, as an evil bond collector.
"There was dialogue I had never even imagined of saying. Of course I didn′t understand it all. I received the completed scenario ten days before shooting commenced, and started preparing eight days before my first shoot. I lost weight, too, and I met the director two times before filming. It took us just 12 shoots and one month to finish shooting; how do you think I would′ve understood the main character in full?"
The shoots were short, the budget was small with 150 million won and the actors participated on a running guarantee. The film produced in this manner was the one that became an important piece that rewrote Korean film history.
The press, which had been quiet when the film left for Venice, suddenly boiled over when it returned. As soon as he returned from the film festival, director Kim Ki Duk complained at the press roundtable about the oligopoly in the film market and how the interest of the press was swayed toward that oligopoly.
"There were about four reporters at the airport when we left for Venice, but when we returned, there were dozens. We held an interview with the newsroom, too. I do understand the problems the director pointed out, but I believe they′re like growth pains that lead us toward something better. I don′t want to criticize everyone, but I do hope things get better after Pieta. The film The Weight won the Queer Lion Award, but no one talks about that one; they all talk about Pieta. I know it′s because it′s received such a great award, but I hope everyone will show interest in the other films too."
Lee Jung Jin said about his future plans, "I plan to meet my fans through another good piece. I have one I′ll start shooting next year."
There are no plans yet to go overseas. "It′s not something that happens just because I want it to," he said with a smile.
"I will when I get the chance. I want to appear in a piece from overseas if it has a good scenario. The problem is the language. I can speak some English, so I don′t know how it′ll be."
After a record of no awards, Lee Jung Jin finally topped his 12 year career with the Golden Lion Award. He teaches us that like his drama 9 End 2 Outs, people need to view life in the long run. Who would′ve known that an actor who had never won any awards at all would star in a film that will be down in the books forever?
Photo credit: Hea Jung Min
- Lee Jung Jin 20121022