'People must love in order to live': Song Joong-ki addresses criticism of Netflix's 'My Name is Loh Kiwan'

Actor Song Joong-ki, who plays the titular role in Netflix’s “My Name is Loh Kiwan,” sat down for an interview with reporters in central Seoul on Wednesday following the film’s premiere on March 1. [NETFLIX]

Korean films are notorious for starting off great and then smothering viewers with tear-jerking clichés and the awkward “love conquers all” message at the end. Netflix's latest original film “My Name is Loh Kiwan” was accused of doing just that, starting off with a North Korean defector lost in Belgium but ending as yet another love story.

Actor Song Joong-ki, who took the lead role as the young Loh Ki-wan, is fully aware of the not-so-savory reviews the film has been getting since its release last week — and he says that's the very reason he initially turned down the offer.

The movie, which is director and screenwriter Kim Hee-jin’s first feature film, hit the streaming service on March 1 to mixed reviews. Many expressed confusion about the implausibility — and unrelatability — of a person falling in love in an extremely dire situation, which Song says is understandable.

“I realize there is a lot of criticism about the romance element in the film,” he told reporters in an interview held Wednesday in central Seoul.

“I completely understand, because I turned down the role once because of that factor. But I have fully accepted that it is a story about humanism and about love. I hope the viewers will be able to find something they can relate to when they watch the movie again, just as I did.”

A scene from romantic drama film “My Name is Loh Kiwan” [NETFLIX]

The film, an adaptation of the 2011 short novel “I Met Loh Kiwan” by Cho Hae-jin, follows the story of Loh Kiwan, a North Korean defector who goes to Belgium to receive refugee status. With the little money he has from selling his dead mother’s corpse as his only possession, Loh is left stranded in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, nor has any means of getting by, when his refugee application is denied. Unable to even find accommodation, Loh lives on the street as a beggar.

The film differs from the original novel through its introduction of Marie, a Belgian citizen to Korean immigrant parents. Formerly an athletic shooter, Marie lives a troubled life and first encounters Loh when she steals his money.

A scene with character Marie, played by Choi Sung-eun, in ″My Name is Loh Kiwan″ [NETFLIX]

Marie is played by actor Choi Sung-eun, known for her lead role in the Netflix original series “The Sound of Magic” (2022) and her supporting role in JTBC drama “Beyond Evil” (2021).

Loh falls in love with Marie in the midst of struggling to survive and going through the arduous process of applying for refugee status — something Song says he also couldn’t quite understand, which is why he initially turned down the role when he first received the script.

“I thought it was a luxury for Kiwan to fall for someone in such a dire situation. His mother had even sacrificed herself for her son and asked him to survive as her dying wish. I couldn’t relate.”

But despite the script not having undergone major changes, he said he himself had gone through changes in his own life and values that he “can’t specifically pinpoint” but nevertheless transformed the way he approached the story when he reread it seven years later.

“The main storyline of the script was the same, but the way I interpreted it was different, which means I must have changed.”

“Since Loh had survived, he surely must have wanted to live a good life. I asked myself, what constitutes a good life? Surely it is one that is lived among others. So, whether it is love between a man and a woman or love between friends, people must love in order to live hand-in-hand with others.”

Actor Song Joong-ki [NETFLIX]

Despite the mixed reviews, Song says he has “no regrets” about the film.

“I have absolutely no regrets about the film. I’m proud of the movie and what the production team was able to achieve.”

“I feel more attached to it because it feels like seeing a friend I hadn’t been able to meet for seven years. I’m proud of its completion and that I can introduce it to other people.”

Song also said he appreciated the opportunity to play a North Korean defector in the film, which allowed him to delve into a role he had never played before. That also had a lot to do with Song’s decision to take the role, which he said he chooses with careful deliberation and responsibility.

“I learned 80 or maybe even 90 percent of the dialect from a North Korean teacher, who is a veteran in the industry for North Korean films and dramas. He would tell me his actual experiences, which were unimaginably horrifying, using a very soft tone. It was more painful to hear him talk about his stories in such an indifferent way. I decided I should play Kiwan in a character similar to that teacher. I tried to replicate his sentiment.”

Rather than shying away from the bad reviews of his works or criticism of his acting, Song says that he reads them all as “a lesson to learn.”

“Though I felt pressured to do well, rather than wasting time on feeling burdened, I focused on doing a good job.”

“I’ve always wanted to explore a wide spectrum of roles as an actor. I alternate between taking roles in dramas and movies because I feel drama series deal with less commercial topics that are harder to deal with in movies."

That wide spectrum could very well include a role in a foreign film, if given the chance, according to the actor.

“I failed all of the auditions,” he said with a smile. “My wife is helping me with them. I hope at the next interview I will be able to bring more good news.”

To find out more about Song Joong-ki, visit Celeb Confirmed.