Cast of spy thriller 'Phantom' reflect on film's difficulties and merits

From left, actors Seo Hyun-woo, Park Hae-soo, Park So-dam, Lee Ha-nee and Sol Kyung-gu pose for photos during the press conference for "Phantom" in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on Monday. [YONHAP]

The new spy movie "Phantom" boasts a mighty cast, including veteran thespian Sol Kyung-gu, "Squid Game" star Park Hae-soo and "Parasite" actor Park So-dam, who all gathered at the CGV in Yongsan I'Park Mall for the movie's press conference on Monday.

The film is set during the Japanese colonization of Korea (1910 -45) and revolves around five people suspected of being spies, or, in this film, "phantoms" of the anti-Japanese organization in Gyeongseong, which is present-day Seoul: Junji Murayama by Sol Kyung-gu, Park Cha-Kyung by Lee Ha-nee, Yuriko by Park So-dam, Baek-Ho by Kim Dong-hee and Section Chief Cheon by Seo Hyun-woo. They end up locked up in a secluded hotel after being captured by the Japanese security forces, led by Kaito portrayed by Park Hae-soo. The plot advances as the five “phantoms” attempt to escape.

Lee Hae-young, behind films "Like a Virgin" (2006), "26 years" (2012), "The Silenced" (2015) and "Believer" (2018), directed “Phantom.”

"Studying the historical records on Korean independence fighters during this colonial period, I realized how intense and difficult their struggles must have been," Lee said. "As someone whose job is a film director, pictures of their difficulties passed through in my head and I felt a strong urge to portray them as well as my feelings toward them, with the same passion that Korea's independence fighters must have felt at the time."

Sol commented, "In the film, those who are suspected as spies want to free themselves from imprisonment while the real spies struggle to complete their missions."

He said that he was drawn to "Phantom" because its plot took such an important part of history and turned it into a story that could be enjoyed by the public.

"I was drawn to the project after the director said he intended to make it into a genre film," Sol said. "There are many Korean films set in the Japanese colonial era, but I anticipate that this one will be different from those." His character, Junji Murayama, is the communications supervisor of the colonial government's police bureau.

Playing the Japanese antagonist in the film, Park Hae-soo of Netflix's "Squid Game" (2021) had to speak Japanese. He was at first hesitant to take on the role because of the language barrier, but was drawn to the role because the character "had many layers."

Park said he studied the language for five or six hours every day for two weeks, before going into shooting.

"Using a different language puts a lot of pressure on actors, but Park masterfully played the part, not only memorizing his own lines in Japanese but also all the Japanese lines in the script," said director Lee.

Actor Park So-dam, who was part of the 2019 Oscar-winning film “Parasite,” also attended the press conference. She had been largely out of the public eye since being diagnosed with a type of thyroid cancer late last year.

"This same time last year, I was in bed, unable to move or speak after my surgery, but this year is different," said Park. "I am very glad to meet everyone back in a healthy state."

Her character in "Phantom," Yuriko, is the secretary of a high-ranking official within the colonial government.

Lee Ha-nee's Park Cha-gyeong is the person responsible for recording coded messages inside the police communications department.

Lee said that she worked especially hard on her action scenes, which included guns.

"I thought I was going to pass out while I was practicing shooting," she said. "I wanted to be believable in the role and really tried my best."

"Phantom" will premiere in local theaters on Jan. 18.