Yeon Woo-jin says new passion-filled film highlights humanity

Yeon Woo-jin [JNC MEDIA GROUP]

In the upcoming R-rated romance film “Serve the People,” actor Yeon Woo-jin completely destroys the tender image that he’s created of himself in his prior romantic comedies. Yeon plays a simple peasant soldier, eager to please his superiors in a bid to get promoted. That is until he meets Su-ryeon (played by Jiahn), the wife of a powerful military commander and the duo begin a passionate love affair.

Adapted from the famous Chinese novel “Serve the People!” by Yan Lianke, the film is set on an imaginary communist state. The character that Yeon portrays is Moo-kwang, a low-ranking soldier who is sent to cook for the household of a powerful military figure. Moo-kwang’s sole life purpose is to get a promotion and move his family — his wife and his young son — to a city and secure a steady job and a stable life. Then he meets Su-ryeon. He is ordered to attend to her needs in the second-floor bedroom whenever the wooden ‘Serve the People’ sign is removed from its usual place on the dinner table.

Yeon Woo-jin, left, portrays a low-ranking soldier who gives into his desires and engages in a passionate affair. [JNC MEDIA GROUP]

“What I thought this film was about was, under the pretense of love, how raw and explicit humans can become as they pursue their desires and pleasure, and the emptiness which comes along at the very end of that road," Yeon said during a press interview on Thursday.

"I think that even a soldier with iron-clad will and determination who has set his eyes only on his goals, is just a weak human in front of desire. He continues to seek other desires, have a taste of what it feels like to be at the upper end of the social hierarchy, and he has a chance to vent his anger [to Su-ryeon] as an equal, not as a submissive servant. He is encroached on by these desires and these desires lead him to pursue bigger desires [...] I thought the most critical point of our film was to portray the vast emptiness which comes at the end of that pursuit, and at the end, what kind of choices he makes as he instinctively follows his nature. It made me ask questions like if ideology has any meaning at all compared to human nature, and what does it exist for.”

Yeon also gave his thoughts on a somewhat scathing press review that said “the actors were consumed uselessly for the intimate scenes.”

“I don’t think that the scenes are meaningless,” he said. “It was the most effective way to portray a story, a character who’s knee-deep in pleasure. We did deliberate a lot about how to show these scenes, and the level of intimacy shown in the film may be shocking for some. Nonetheless, we thought those scenes were necessary — to show more than what anyone has imagined so that the hollowness that the characters feel at the end can be outlined more clearly.”

Yeon as Moo-kwang, a once simple-minded soldier whose sole purpose lay in getting a promotion so that he could secure a stable life for him and his family [JNC MEDIA GROUP]

Yeon said that his perspective for the film changed as he portrayed the character.

“I first thought the distinctness of this film lay in portraying two human’s unconventional love, but as time went on, I felt that it was about highlighting various types of humanity and how they each pursue their desires under a rigid social structure.”

The actor viewed this role as taking a big step toward a challenge, something that he’s been avoiding in his acting career.

“Prior to this film, I think I mostly preferred [roles or works] that felt comfortable for me,” he said. “If I’d continued to live that way, I would have never chosen this role. That’s how much of a challenge this film has been for me. I understand that not all of the audience may see how much hard work I put into this role, but if they could glimpse even one percent of the effort, then that’s enough for me.”

The film is set to be released in local theaters on Feb. 23.