South Korean Actor Jung Woo Sung: 'Indies Make a Healthy Film Market' (Q&A)

Jung Woo-sung P

The Asian mega-star sits down with THR at the Jeonju International Film Festival to share his no-nonsense approach to judging movies and why he believes indies are the lifeblood of cinema.

JEONJU, South Korea – The Jeonju International Film Festival, South Korea’s foremost showcase for arthouse and independent cinema, is  usually a quiet, modest affair -- in spite of its growing global reputation. But the arrival of Korean cinema superstar Jung Woo Sung as a jury member of the international competition section created a bit of a frenzy at the 2013 edition.

The actor rose to fame with the 1990s smash hit teen drama Beat, and has since enjoyed one of the country’s most commercially successful careers onscreen, playing action heroes (The Good, The Bad, The Weird) and heartthrobs (A Moment to Remember) with equal dexterity.

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The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Jung to discuss his experience in Jeonju as a judge and his prospects of taking on more independent-spirited film projects following his 40 birthday in March.

The Hollywood Reporter: You were invited to judge films before at the Busan Film Festival. How does judging films in Jeonju compare to your experience at Busan?

Jung Woo-sung: Compared to Busan, Jeonju, the city itself, is very calm and allows you more time to think [about the movies]. Also, there are certain things I can take into consideration since this is the second time I’ve been invited to judge movies.

The Busan Film Festival is an international event that draws a lot of people from around the world… But being large in scale also means it is very busy, with lots of parties for example, that add to the festivities.

Jeonju on the other hand is also an international film festival, but the city itself is very cozy. And as a film festival I personally don’t think it has to grow large [like Busan] -- the sense of intimacy it provides could actually be its defining characteristic. The city also has a “hanok” village [medieval village with traditional Korean architecture], so that adds to the unique, very classically Korean character of the festival.

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THR: What's your criteria as a judge?

Jung: I have seen six [out of 10 films in competition] so far. They’re not the same genre; some are documentaries, others are features, and some are a combination of both. I am assessing films according to their characteristic genre. The good thing is that there are three prizes.

And in terms of setting a standard, because most of these films are first-time projects I am not looking at the overall production values but the degree to which they reflect the filmmaker’s thematic vision and how sincerely that touches the viewer.

THR: Jeonju is a showcase for arthouse and independent films. Are you a fan of the genre?

Jung: One of the reasons I wanted to take part in Jeonju is because of this chance to see works you can’t see in local theaters. Watching such films allows me to learn new styles of cinematic language and forms of expression you don’t get to see in mainstream cinema -- which helps immensely not only as an actor but also as I take on the roles of producer and filmmaker, eventually.

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THR: What are your thoughts about the independent film industry in Korea?

Jung: Before analyzing the industry itself, it should be noted how there is a serious need to screen independent films more in Korea. Without the chance to be distributed, arthouse movies become just one-time festival films.

It hasn’t been long since the Korean cinema market has been industrialized, and before there really was no concept of major versus minor genres. Usually, you started with indie cinema before going on to the big scene, and less experienced filmmakers would make B-movies that would also contribute to creating a B-movie market. That way, their experience can help them manage a bigger budget for mainstream projects. This step-by-step process seems to be very important.

Just like how moss is necessary for clean, running water, I think independent films are essential to a healthy film market.

THR: So, will your next film as a producer/filmmaker be an independent movie?

No. It could be a major movie. It should be a major movie [Laughs].