This year at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival they were able to get in touch with a rising star of Korean Cinema, Seo Young Ju. Although still in the early stages of his acting career, Seo has had the opportunity to work with many great Korean actors in films and dramas while playing the part of their younger versions. Having also starred in two feature films and won a ‘Best Actor’ award for his role in Juvenile Offender, Seo gained the attention of Kim Ki Duk and was given the chance to work on one of his most controversial projects as of yet, Moebius.
For those who have not heard of Moebius yet, it is the story of a dysfunctional family wherein a wife (Lee Eun Woo) catches her husband (Cho Jae Hyun) having an affair. In an extreme lapse in judgement the wife attempts to castrate her cheating husband only to be fought off, and then goes and castrates their innocent and unsuspecting son (Seo Young Ju). After having suffered this traumatic experience by the hand of his mother, the son falls into a bad crowd and rapes a young woman leading to his arrest. Meanwhile the father, feeling guilty and responsible, frantically researches how his sons condition could be improved so he can lead a normal life. These events all lead to a unique and strengthened relationship between father and son.
Moebius is filled with plot twists arranged to keep your attention. It is also a unique film in the sense that there is no dialogue whatsoever, adding to the atmosphere. Seo, having been 15 when filming Moebius, played his role as the son extremely well, conveying the confusion, hurt, anger and frustration of his character completely, using only his actions and expressions. When asked how he dealt with his role in such a controversial film as the son, Seo answered with:
Looking back I didn’t really understand the script, but the director helped me scene by scene giving me a better understanding the role.
It would be hard for anyone to understand how to act in a situation like in Moebius. Thankfully however, Seo received help from his fellow actor Cho Jae Hyun:
Cho Jae Hyun, who played the father, used to say I know how you feel about playing this role, don’t take it personally when you act. He explained how I would feel in my role in Moebius, that helped me a lot.
Seo seems to be drawn more towards the independent films with darker, more realistic to a point, roles. Having recently completed the filming for his new drama special, 18 Years, due to air this summer, we are likely to be seeing more and more of Seo Young Ju as time goes by.
Read the whole interview below.
SumGyeoJin Gem: How did Kim Ki Duk approach you and why did decide to accept this role in Moebius? Because Kim Ki Duk is known for making quite controversial film.
SYJ: Kim Ki Duk watched Juvenile Offender which I was a lead in, and sent me a script. At first I was scared of how I could deliver the role but then I thought I would regret it later if I did not accept it.
Colette: The part you had to play was very challenging given that you were 15 at the time. I wonder how to dealt with the challenges of being in a film that has very controversial matters, and also in a film with no dialogue at all.
SYJ: Looking back I didn’t really understand the script, but the director helped me scene by scene giving me a better understanding the role.
Eastern Kicks: Since you started acting when you were 10, what do you feel about missing out on some life experiences due to you having to play roles because of your busy acting career. What kind of things to you think you miss by being a busy actor and what things do you learn from acting that you wouldn’t have learnt if you were a regular teenager?
SYJ: It was hard playing the role in Moebius but I was very focused so I forgot about the reality so I can be more relaxed in a way.
I miss playing and studying with my friends at school, but I don’t regret acting in films. However now I feel like my teen life if disappearing quickly.
Minimini Movies: You mentioned Juvenile Offender, I wondered how that film came about. Had you seen director Kang Yi Kwan’s films before, have you seen Sa Kwa? Or had he approached you through something else.
SYJ: I have not seen Sa Kwa, but I auditioned for the role in Juvenile Offender and the director loved the drama I was in before.
KCM: What kind of acting roles would you like to be known for? While watching films, have you seen a role that you really wanted to try?
SYJ: I don’t really want to be remembered as an actor for a specific role. I want the audience to remember because when I’m crying, they could be crying, when I smile they could be smiling. I want to be a person who can deliver those kinds of emotional roles.
SumGyeoJin Gem: You acted in dramas and films, I was wondering is there a different atmosphere when filming? In Golden Rainbow you acted with other young actors which could have been quite joyous, whereas in Moebius it must have been quite intense. How was the atmosphere different on set?
SYJ: When shooting dramas the process of filming is so fast but the film with Kim Ki Duk has been very slow. So it’s kind of different but in a way he really shoots films fast and in an intense way. I don’t really know what I’m saying. Actually we finished filming for Moebius in one week.
Colette: What was it like working with Kim Ki Duk and what was it like on set?
SYJ: The filming process was so fast so there wasn’t really any time to feel the atmosphere.
Eastern Kicks: I’d like to talk about the latest drama you just finished filming, 18 Years. In this drama you play a young man that makes bad choices because he has no other choices to make. I find the resonance in Moebius and Juvenile Offender where your characters make bad choices sometimes crazy and wrong because that’s how life led them to act. Is there something about this kind of character that you find interesting and attracts you to take this kind of role?
SYJ: I think I’m driven to those dark roles where you are hurt by somebody. I think other people can’t do that sort of role easily whereas I find it easier to do that role. And the drama will be on TV soon.
Minimini Movies: Before you did your feature film in 2008, did you do commercials or stage acting, something along those lines?
SYJ: I haven’t done much commercials or stage acting before that. but I have been playing as extras and supporting roles, and I was really interested in acting after that sort of experience and I had an audition and I got the role in the first drama and that led to my career.
KCM: You’ve already won some ‘Best Actor’ awards for your role in Juvenile Offender, what was it like winning these titles at such a young age? Do you feel any added pressure now?
SYJ: When I received the award I felt so much pressure and thought to myself why can’t I deliver such great performance even though I got it. But I think the award meant I needed to do my best more, I think that’s what it means.
SumGyeoJin Gem: Is there any actors that you look up to and would like to work with in the near future?
SYJ: I admire Kim Yun Seok who was in The Chaser. I was a child actor in The Thieves and when I saw his acting I was awed by his aura. And personally when I met him he was so lovely and gentle and whenever I see his acting I feel the role is delivered very well.
Colette: What other directors, Korean or US directors, would you like to work with in the future?
SYJ: If an opportunity comes I would definitely do it, if the director and the script is great.
Eastern Kicks: You worked as the young version of many famous actors in dramas and films. Including your first drama which was with Lee Joon Gi who is very popular now due to his latest drama Two Weeks. What was it like working with these actors and having to act as their younger versions? And what was your relationship with Lee Joon Gi and if you think you would have another chance to work with him
SYJ: I don’t contact them anymore. On the set we talk with the older actors about how my role as a child actor can be played in order to carry the timeline on. But after that we don’t talk.
Minimini Movies: When you were a child actor working with adult actors and other child actors did you ever learn anything from those of a similar age or was it more from the adults?
SYJ: I didn’t learn anything really, but I think I learnt how to wait on the set.
KCM: You’ve acted in both films and dramas, which one would you prefer to do in the future? Do you find easier to perform in films or in dramas?
SYJ: I prefer acting in films and I’m sure I will work in films more in the future.
SumGyeoJin Gem: Where do you see yourself in 5 years time in your acting career?
SYJ: 5 years?… I’ll be different definitely and I want to be a cooler actor.
Eastern Kicks: You have worked in films with different genres. Your first movie was a period gay romance, Juvenile Offender and Moebius are more thrillers, and in dramas you have some romantic comedies as well. What type of genre do you think you will continue working on, also what genres would you like to try?
SYJ: I played a role in a romantic comedy but my role was always dark and hurt by somebody so I don’t feel like I played in a romantic comedy properly so I want to play in one during my teenage years.
Eastern Kicks: Dream High 3?
SYJ: Haha good.
Minimini Movies: Working with non-dialogue like in Moebius, did it put you off or is it somehow easier?
SYJ: I want to act again with non-dialogue films. I watched Moebius for the first time at Venice Festival and I wasn’t really satisfied with my performance so I want to try again.
Colette: I think you’re being a bit hard on yourself, I think your performance in Moebius was extremely good and authentic.
SYJ: Thank you.
Eastern Kicks: In your movies you act very mature for your age. Do you have the feeling that when you go to casting that the roles come to you more because you have this maturity that you gain throughout the years in the industry and as a person.
SumGyeoJin Gem: How do you select scripts? What kind of criteria are you looking for in order to take on a particular role?
SYJ: I don’t think I have the eyes to choose good scripts yet. But when I like a script I audition for it.
KCM: You started acting at the age of 10, what motivated you to become an actor? If not acting, what you your dream job be?
SYJ: I enjoyed acting so much that it motivated me to start playing as extras and supporting roles in films and dramas. If I wasn’t acting, I would want to perform in the musical theatre.
SumGyeoJin Gem: During filming, do you ever have the time to de-stress? What do you normally do before you go on set?
SYJ: I think I just read scripts over and over again.
Colette: What was working he Kim Ki Duk like and would you work with him again?
SYJ: It was a great experience with him, if there was another chance I would go for it.
Eastern Kicks: When you read the script for Moebius, is there something in the Korean culture that made you used to the feeling that the character had after the castration that led him to evolve that way in the film?
SYJ: I can’t recall anything more shocking in my mind.
Eastern Kicks: So all your training led to this performance letting you feel what the character was feeling. How do you work when you have to interpret the character? Do you imagine the emotion, or in this case was it possible to try to relive the same experience.
SYJ: The other actors are so focused on set so it led me to keep focused on the script and on my role.
Eastern Kicks: Do you get any advise from them or is it just the director?
SYJ: Cho Jae Hyun, who played the father, used to say I know how you feel about playing this role, don’t take it personally when you act. He explained how I would feel in my role in Moebius, that helped me a lot.
SumGyeoJin Gem: When you acted in Moebius, I’m sure it’s quite shocking when acting certain scenes. When you’re offset, where there times when you had nightmares of being in that situation?
SYJ: We shot the film in 1 week so there wasn’t much time for nightmares. We were all so tired so we just went to sleep and the week passed by very quickly.
KCM: Do you see yourself directing films in the future?
SYJ: I would want to be a director one day.
Eastern Kicks: Is there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
SYJ: There are no projects I have signed but there is one we are discussing at the moment.
Minimini Movies: This isn’t really film related but, is there anything in particular you plan to do while staying in London?
SYJ: I want to go and see a lot of musicals, I watched Billy Elliot last night. I want to feel the difference between Korea and UK so I’m going to walk around a lot.
KCM: Do you prefer supporting or leading roles?
SYJ: Of course the leading roles.
SumGyeoJin Gem: Do you feel that as the main character you you experience a heavy responsibility compared to as a supporting actor?
SYJ: It’s true that I feel more responsibility when doing the lead role. But other actors who are older that me always help me so it’s alright.
Eastern Kicks: You work on TV dramas which are inherently more commercial but in the beginning you also worked on period action with bigger budgets. But Kim Ki Duk is more of a different area with independent cinema and with more edgy subjects. In which direction do you see yourself spending your time in? In the future do you see yourself working in international films?
SYJ: If I’m good at English then I would definitely try international films. Naturally I love Indie films which has a voice, but I want to do commercial too.
SumGyeoJin Gem: If you were given the opportunity to not be in acting, what would you do, within your teenage years?
SYJ: I love sports so I would love to play football.
SumGyeoJin Gem: Any particular team?
SYJ: Real Madrid.
Many thanks to the lovely Seo Young Ju for taking the time to talk with us and we hope he enjoys his time in the UK! Also, thanks to Terracotta Far East Film Festival for arranging the film and for another successful festival!