Park Sung-woong makes a career turnaround in 'Woong Nam'

Actors Park Sung-woong, left, and Lee Yi-kyung in ″Woong Nam″ [CJ CGV]

Park Sung-woong, a veteran actor with appearances in critically and commercially acclaimed films such as “New World” (2013), “The Fatal Encounter” (2014), “The Shameless” (2015) and “Hunt” (2022), is attempting a completely new genre in the upcoming film “Woong Nam.”

The comedy flick revolves around twins who turn into superhumans in the midst of an investigation into an international crime ring. Based on the Dangun Myth, the mythological founding tale of Korea in which a bear becomes a human by eating garlic for 100 days, "Woong Nam" is a harmless comedy led by Park's stellar performance. This is the first time for Park to lead a comedy blockbuster.

“I tried to act out the comedic scenes by focusing on the content of the story and not just comedy,” Park said during a press screening for “Woong Nam” at the CGV Yongsan branch in central Seoul on Tuesday. “I did not focus just on trying to be funny but wanted to arrange the humor in a way that would not interfere with the flow of the story.”

Actor Park Sung-woong speaks during a press screening for the comedy film ″Woong Nam″ at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul on Tuesday. [CJ CGV]

Park plays a dual role in “Woong Nam,” as both Woong-nam and his twin Woong-bok. Woong-nam and Woong-bok were separated at birth and each becomes a “jobless neighborhood loser” and the second-in-command of an international crime ring. When Woong-nam starts realizing his potential through the secret that he is actually a bear that has become human through eating garlic, in accordance with the Dangun Myth, he faces his twin brother Woong-bok as they get embroiled in large-scale crime-fighting.

Although the directing of “Woong Nam” is weak, Park’s performance in the dual roles of Woong-nam and Woong-bok makes the comedy worthwhile. “Woong Nam” is directed by first-time director Park Sung-kwang, a well-known comedian. Expecting that the film would be funny because it was directed by a comedian could be an easy mistake, but the real star of “Woong Nam” is Park Sung-woong.

Main poster for ″Woong Nam″ [CG CGV]

Director Park attempted to explain how he came to make “Woong Nam” during the press screening.

“I tried to refrain from pulling too many punches and tried to not focus too much on getting laughs,” said director Park. “I did not want to be weighed down by having to deliver gags too often. I was able to hire these great actors — Park Sung-woong, Lee Yi-kyung, Yum Hye-ran and Choi Min-soo — because of my background as a comedian, and I wanted to give this film my all. I still cannot believe I am debuting as a director.”

Perhaps it would have been better for “Woong Nam” if the directing had been left up to a more seasoned director, since the attempt to steer clear of the expectations viewers may have had for a comedian-director seems to have gotten in the way of Park Sung-kwang really leaving a mark with the film.

Actor Park Sung-woong, right, as Woong-bok in ″Woong Nam″ [CJ CGV]

While the actors' performance is outstanding, “Woong Nam” lacks a grounded central theme, and the comedic elements seem forced at times. The characters, especially Park Sung-woong’s dual roles as Woong-nam and Woong-bok, are endearing, but the film’s function as a comedy ends at the charm of the characters — the structure, plotline and tone of “Woong Nam” is no different from other B-movie comedies churned out by domestic cinema in recent years.

That is to say, “Woong Nam” is a harmless comedy no worse than others and does the job of delivering some solid jokes, but it is questionable whether Park Sung-woong’s performance itself is worth the trip to the cinema.

Park Sung-woong is hopeful, though, as the actor expressed that “Woong Nam” may make it to the top of the box office soon.

Actor Park Sung-woong as Woong-nam in ″Woong Nam″ [CJ CGV]

“I hope a Korean film would make number one again this spring season,” said Park. “And I hope that our film will be the one to achieve that.”

"Woong Nam" opens in theaters on March 22.