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Quendrith Johnson

Everything happening in film covered from LA... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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If You Loved Him in "Lucy", Korea's 'Robert De Niro' Choi Min-Sik Is "The Admiral" Next!


by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent


Though the nickname may be over the top, actor Choi Min-Sik is often called the 'Robert De Niro' of Korea, and with the villain he plays opposite Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson's box office smash LUCY, you can see why some people would say this of him.

Okay, okay, he is much younger (52) and some say better looking than Robert De Niro, but audiences sometimes need a peg to appreciate an international actor. With his next release, The Admiral: Roaring Currents, a period piece about a sea-going general who changed the rules of marine warfare, you can judge for yourself. The Admiral is directed by Kim Han Min, one of the exceptional helmers that are part of the roaring box office draws right now.


This movie is killing it at the box office in Korea, setting records, and generally decimating the competition. It was released on Aug. 8 in the US. The numbers aren't as important as the profile of its lead. If you can get the image of Scarlett Johansson's Lucy with her terrified face as she goes up against Choi for the first time, you're lucky. There is just something about this dude, as they say in America.


That said, Choi is incredibly versatile as an actor. So much so, fans have their definite raves. The first thing they usually say is  "Did you see him in "Old Boy?!" Not the Spike Lee remake, but the original cult classic Oldboy, that is. Or, "Did you see him in 'Crying Fist!" Both performances are gritty, frightening, and a treat.


What belies the comparison to any other actor is the fact that Choi bleeds a unique energy on screen. One that crosses boundaries, cultures, and even platforms. His intensity can rip through on the big screen, tablets, even mobile screens. And that signature is because Choi Min-Sik is at the top of his craft as an actor right now. 


Recently Choi Min-Sik took some time out of his busy schedule to chat about his new film, any Hollywood plans, and playing The Admiral...

Q: “Lucy” and “Old Boy” have these frenetic moments of freedom after confinement, and this new movie has a kind of confinement in the ship - do you intuit your actions from the limits your character faces, or do you just roll with whatever comes in the moment with the director?


I just know it by intuition. For the other stuff, however, I discussed with Luc Besson directly. When I received the scenario for the film, I first try to understand the overall color and feel of the film. For the more detailed parts, I share my thoughts with the director and we sit down to discuss them.


Q: Playing a mega villain like you do in “Lucy” - does it feel like there is less room or more room to interpret the nuances? Who are your favorite villains in all of cinema history, on stage?


Whether I play a strong character or a weak character, I never feel burdened with my work. I don't think that is the correct mindset for actors to have. I believe there are multiple layers for both the protagonist and antagonist. I strive to look at both characters as a whole, not only one side to it. Becoming the protagonist or antagonist is not the main point, the most important part is how well you can carry out the role given to you.


Q: Did you know his history before the film, and how does one  prepare to play a period character in terms of gestures and intent - since so many physical movements and indicators can peg an actor as contemporary?


Admiral Yi is more than just a general. He is a respected historical figure and a hero that everyone looks up to. I knew the history behind Admiral Yi but had a difficult time fully expressing his character. In order to become an admiral from that time period, I tried to understand his heart and where he was coming from more than focusing on his image alone.


Q: Do you think the most exciting part of your new movie is the period aspect and elucidating this time in history when Korea “tricked” Japan - but, that said, how does this bode for Pan-Asian relations?


This is a part of history that has actually happened 400 years ago. During this period, Korea went through great suffering.This film has many implications for the people that are living in this generation, but I feel these implications doesn't necessarily have to  impact our lives in a negative way. This film is merely a story about how Admiral Yi resolved Korea's situation and alleviated the suffering of the nation.


Q: Jumping back to “Lucy” for a moment, what did you think of the premise, this brain-cracking through line, and how did the script come to you? Did you already know Luc Besson?


I started out of my own curiosity for the film. I've always wanted to work with Luc Besson (director) and the storyline really grabbed my attention. Being able to use 100% of your brain involves a lot of scientific knowledge and I felt it was an interesting subject that you could not find in just any movie. I also really enjoyed Luc Besson's "The Big Blue". For this particular role in "Lucy", Besson came to Korea with the materials and he explained the movie in detail and I thought it would be a really interesting movie to try.


Q: Where there special language choices you made in doing a period piece for the Admiral? 


Of course the language used 400 years ago is different from the way we speak now. For this film, I focused more on the words and phrases that are not used today. Playing the role of Admiral Yi, I tried to understand his way of thinking and language seemed to be part of that. For example, I didn't feel I necessarily had to copy the tone and volume of an admiral.


Q: Has Hollywood come knocking?


There are no plans for any Hollywood films so far. However, if there is a chance for me to work with a good film or director, my door is always open.


(The Admiral was released last week, in the AMC chain in the US, see the AMC website here for more.


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