Busan: Choi Min-sik on Hollywood Breakthrough, Lucy, Roaring Currents
'Oldboy' star talks about his chemistry with Scarlett Johansson and appearing in South Korea's top grossing film of all time
Choi Min-sik is "the most popular actor in the world," filmmaker Luc Besson said recently, as Lucy topped box offices in over two dozen countries, while South Korean epic The Admiral: Roaring Currents (a.k.a. Roaring Currents) broke all-time box-office records at home.
The 52-year-old thesp spoke about finally making his Hollywood debut 10 years after his international breakthrough in Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, his chemistry with Scarlett Johansson and the spectacular success of The Admiral.
How does it feel to be the star of Korea's highest-grossing film ever?
It is overwhelming, and honestly I can't believe it. The film has been subject to some controversy and negative criticism, but I actually appreciate this. It's a very healthy indication. Not everyone can, and should, have the same opinion on a creative work. It is amazing that this film has reached out to so many people from such a wide demographic range, like my own uncle, who goes to the movie theater maybe once every 10 years. It is a great chance to engage in debates and reflect upon the meaning of leadership.
You've been offered countless roles in foreign films since Oldboy. Why did you wait so long?
I wasn't being particularly stubborn but there are linguistic and cultural differences. Actors need to directly use their bodies, and my lack of English is a hurdle in delivering nuances. It was always a dilemma for me, and I didn't feel the need to overcome [the language barrier] in order to be in a foreign film.
[Exporting actors] is different from exporting cars. I also don't think going to Hollywood is necessarily a career boost, and am I personally more comfortable working in Korea. But I've always been open to new possibilities.
How did Besson convince you to be in Lucy?
There was the comfort of being able to deliver lines in Korean, and Luc came to Korea himself to explain the project with such sincerity. The script itself was extremely interesting, but I was touched by the sincerity of this world-renowned director. Luc is always taking on new challenges, and this was a very big inspiration for me.
You delivered lines in Korean while Johansson answered in English. How was the chemistry?
Me speaking in a foreign language was supposed to intensify the fear and confusion Scarlett's character Lucy felt during our first encounter. When I said things in a threatening voice, Scarlett would look at me with knowing eyes. There was a mutual understanding in spite of the language barrier, and I felt a kind of thrill I've never felt before.
How was your first Hollywood experience overall?
I was very curious how this director, whose works I've been a fan of since the 1980s, made movies. It's amazing how such opportunities come around when you pursue one thing — acting, in my case — as long as I have. When I arrived on-set I realized that, in spite of the linguistic and cultural differences, it wasn't much different in that it was a joint effort by the cast and crew.
But personally I am not very satisfied with my acting in Lucy. There seemed to be a lack of focus. However, it was a great learning experience, something that could help me deliver a better performance in a foreign film if the opportunity presents itself again.