[Herald Interview] Kim Yoon-seok on playing principled Joseon minister

By Rumy Doo

Veteran actor says ‘The Fortress’ is ‘uncompromising,’ authentic period piece

  • Published : Sept 27, 2017 - 15:17
  • Updated : Sept 27, 2017 - 15:17

Kim Yoon-seok’s criteria for choosing film projects is simple.

“I pick the best scripts,” he said in an interview Tuesday at a cafe in Palpan-dong, Seoul.

The acclaimed actor, known for his gloomy gravitas, has starred in films such as Na Hong-jin’s 2008 thriller “The Chaser.”

French novelist Guillaume Musso proclaimed himself a fan of Kim, which is how Korean producers were able to obtain remake rights for Musso’s novel “Will You Be There?” The film, with Kim taking the lead role, opened in Korean theaters last year.

This time round, Kim stars in “The Fortress” as a loyal adviser to Joseon’s King Injo. The film, set to hit theaters on Oct. 3, is a 10 billion won ($8.77 million) endeavor directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk.

It deals with the Qing invasion of Joseon in 1636, which prompted King Injo to flee the capital and take refuge in Namhansanseong, a mountain fortress located some 25 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Isolated in the fortress in the dead of winter, the king and his advisers desperately debate how to thwart the Chinese soldiers that surround the fortress.

Kim Yoon-seok poses for a photo before an interview in Palpan-dong, Seoul, Tuesday. (1st Look)

“I was happy because it made no compromises. It had the original story (that Hwang) had intended, as an authentic period piece,” Kim said of the film.

Kim plays Kim Sang-heon, who was a minister of culture and education in the Joseon court in the late 1500s. A staunch practitioner of neo-Confucianism, the royal adviser upheld such values as honor and dignity. On the opposite side was Interior Minister Choi Myung-gil, played by Lee Byung-hun, who prioritizes practicality.

Choi argues that it is better to surrender to the Chinese and preserve life rather than fight an impossible battle. Kim Sang-heon, meanwhile, argues that life without dignity is not life. The Joseon king cannot bow down to a foreign power, he argues.

Kim Yoon-seok poses for a photo before an interview in Palpan-dong, Seoul, Tuesday. (1st Look)

Actor Kim said he shares similarities with his character. “I think life can have meaning when you are prepared to die fighting for something,” he said.

Kim Sang-heon is also the most “humane” character, contrary to initial impressions, the actor said. In the movie, he is portrayed as a complex character who has firm principles but is also empathetic toward the people’s suffering.

“He’s willing to learn,” Kim Yoon-seok said of his character. “He sees others and learns from them.”

The conflicts the film depicts are also conflicts we face today, Kim Yoon-seok said. “I think they always exist in every period. People will always believe that they are right. You need to be considerate and try to understand each other.”

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)