'Hair-raising': Actors Cho Jin-woong, Kim Hee-ae discuss new film 'Dead Man'
A man selling out his name to lucrative but fraudulent businesses for money seems like something that would be dealt with in crime documentaries, but that’s exactly what the premise is for the new film “Dead Man,” coming to theaters on Wednesday.
“It is hair-raising that our film deals with this subject, which crime shows usually go in depth about,” actor Cho Jin-woong said during an interview with reporters at a cafe in Jung District, central Seoul, on Tuesday. “Of course, I haven’t had that experience myself and have never met such a cover-up either, but the concept was refreshing and it lent to an exciting story.”
In “Dead Man,” Cho plays Lee Man-jae, a man who lends his legal name to shady businesses in exchange for payment. But one such business ends up getting caught by law enforcement and Man-jae becomes legally dead in Korea, leading him to flee to China. After years of unsuccessfully trying to clear his name, he meets a political consultant and fixer played by actor Kim Hee-ae and sets off on a quest to exonerate himself once and for all.
Although Man-jae didn’t commit the crimes that were carried out under his name, he is still a criminal nonetheless, and Cho felt that he should not be depicted in a positive light.
“I had that part cleared with the director from the first time we met to talk about the film — that Man-jae is a bad person and should not be glorified,” Cho said. “If there wasn’t the cruel punishment he receives in the first part of ‘Dead Man,’ I wouldn’t have had the confidence to play this role.”
Kim, who plays Ms. Shim, the political consultant and fixer who teams up with Man-jae, said her role was one that any female actor would have wanted to play.
“Ms. Shim is someone who is at the forefront of her field and has more power than her male colleagues,” Kim said during another interview with reporters on Tuesday. “Politics move under her fingertips, and she is also very charismatic. I was immediately drawn to the character and felt that such strong women needed to be depicted more in film and dramas.”
While some viewers may question how Man-jae could have been fooled into lending his name out to a business that ended up getting him into such an impossible situation, Cho said it could be possible because a lot of things in life are unpredictable.
“There are unthinkable things that happen around us and things can go wrong in a moment,” Cho said. “My own father once stood for a surety that turned out badly for him. You may think, ‘Shouldn’t you have been smarter in noticing that things like that could go wrong?’ But these things — like voice phishing and other crimes — happen when you least expect it.”
Man-jae keeps getting into impossible situations even as he tries to clear his name and goes on emotional rollercoasters, and Cho tried to hold on to a centrality to the character throughout all these ups and downs.
“There was a key element to the character of Man-jae that I tried to maintain throughout the film’s story,” Cho said. “It could be boiled down to the humanity of the character. Man-jae is a bad person and a criminal, yes, but he is also someone who has tried all that he could to survive and make a living. There is a humanity in that survival, and that’s what I wanted to show in ‘Dead Man.’”
Cho and Kim both praised each other for their work in “Dead Man,” with Cho commending Kim on her immaculate routines on set and Kim calling Cho best suited for the role of Man-jae.
“Kim has a standard routine in life and as an actor on set, and she follows that daily routine so well that it’s awe-inspiring to watch,” Cho said. “I couldn’t do that myself. Kim is a prime example for other actors to emulate, and it was an honor to work with her.”
“I knew that Cho was a good actor, but he has so many charms as a person, too,” Kim said. “He is very homey and agreeable. He reminds me of one of my sons, and he really brought a lot of humanity to the character of Man-jae.”
“Dead Man” is the directorial debut of Ha Joon-won, who co-wrote the screenplay for director Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 film “The Host.” Bong has participated in special talk sessions with the audience for “Dead Man” in pre-screenings and has praised the film, which the cast was also grateful for.
“Bong gave a lot of pointers for the script and gave detailed advice regarding the characters also,” Cho said. “I think that he thinks of director Ha as one of his own people. The fact that Ha was a protégé of Bong didn’t affect me in deciding to appear in ‘Dead Man,’ but I found out after I got involved.”
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BY LIM JEONG-WON [email@example.com]