Known throughout his career for playing soft, sensitive men, the pan-Asian heartthrob will be all suited up in black ― the default uniform for screen tough guys in Asian gangster films ― taking a violent turn as a merciless enforcer against criminals of the underworld.
The word “ajeossi” has several connotations ― none of which the 33-year-old star has been associated with until now.
How did it feel being called the word most Korean males dread after having been considered Asia’s sexiest movie star?
“Of course I’d like to always be called an “oppa,” Won joked during the official unveiling of his film at a press conference in Seoul on Thursday, adding “I’d want to remain an ‘ajeossi’ only on screen.”
Directed by Lee Jung-beom, the film follows the travails of a man with no name ― a la Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns ― who befriends a neighborhood girl played by newcomer Kim Se-ron.
|Won Bin (left) with co-star Kim Se-ron and director Lee Jung-beom at the press conference to unveil his latest film “The Man From Nowhere” at the CGV in Apgujeong,Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap News|
Perhaps inspired by Hollywood films like “Man on Fire”, the two characters form an unlikely friendship. But like in Denzel Washington’s blood-soaked film, the story’s title character goes on a mission knocking off one thug after another in pursuit of the girl after she is kidnapped and taken hostage.
“My character is someone with a tortured past and lives his life in self-imposed exile from society. But when he meets this innocent little girl, her warmth and humanity pulls him out of his reclusive state little by little,” Won said.
“This is an action drama and the most important thing for us was to make this violent and hardened man likeable to audiences, and we tried showing that as best we could through the scenes which involve my interaction with (Se-ron).”
Lee Jung-beom, whose previous film also had much to do with the criminal world, said many brows were raised when Won Bin was cast in the title role.
Up until then, his boyish, clean-cut looks and repertoire created a soft image which was difficult to shake off.
“It is true (Won Bin) is seen as someone very fragile and somewhat soft,” Lee said.
“But that was the key reason why we cast him ― because it would be believable that he would open himself up to this little girl. And I saw in him someone who could switch from soft to vicious in a blink.”
Having played typical leading men in his previous films, Won began considering more challenging roles, starting with his portrayal of a mentally challenged man in Bong Joon-ho’s critically lauded psycho-thriller “Mother”.
It was through his convincing performance in that film that the public began to see the acting range in a man widely regarded as just a pretty face with no acting chops.
“The first time I met him he was already excited about the project. I could tell he had a lot of fun reading the script and it showed as he was very enthusiastic in creating this character,” Lee said.
“It’s a very macho film and it’s true I’ve cast typically macho-looking actors for my previous films. But I’ve always been interested in depicting not just outward machismo but machismo that comes from the inside and I felt (Won Bin) did a great job in doing just that.”
The film opens nationwide on Aug. 5.
By Song Woong-ki (firstname.lastname@example.org)