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[Herald Interview] Yeon Woo-jin ‘thirsty’ for innovative movies like ‘Serve the People’

Actor Yeon Woo-jin (JNC Media Group)
Actor Yeon Woo-jin (JNC Media Group)
For Korean actor Yeon Woo-jin, director Jang Cheol-soo’s new project, “Serve the People,” caught his eye because it was full of new challenges and innovative elements.

“I thought that I would be jealous to see another actor play the role. I felt this way for the first time,” Yeon said during an interview via Zoom with a group of local reporters. “If I were to choose a safer, more commercially appealing film, I would have chosen a different project, but at the time I was thirsty for an innovative movie rather than a comfortable one.”

Based on a novel with the same title written by Chinese novelist Yan Lianke, the new film is set in a fictional socialist country that is similar to North Korea in the 1970s.

Yeon’s character Mu-gwang, a soldier hungry for success, sees an opportunity for a promotion in the army when he starts working at the house of his commander (Jo Sung-ha). There he meets his boss’ wife, Soo-ryun (Ji An). When his commander is away, Mu-gwang and Soo-ryun engage in a dangerous and forbidden love affair.

During the interview, Yeon said he had read the script back in 2014.

“It was right after I finished filming ‘Marriage, Not Dating,’” he said, referring to the tvN drama.

At first, he simply thought of the movie as a good opportunity to show that he can play a character that is far removed from the typical sweet rom-com lead.

“When I read the script again, after seven to eight years, it spoke to me differently,” he said. “I came to understand its depth. How it portrays different human desires. I thought that it could be a project in which I can be true to myself and show what human desire is.”

When asked if he had any qualms about some reviews that say the film has too many provocative sex scenes, the actor emphatically said, “No.”

“It is an unconventional film, so I don’t feel bad about people seeing it that way,” he said. “I just think that it is this movie’s unique feature.”

Yeon went on to talk about how the sex scenes in the movie were filmed on set.

“We only had a limited amount of time, so we had to concentrate to the fullest,” Yeon said.

“A day before filming the sex scenes, the director, Ji An and I had meetings. We worked on the emotions when filming the scene, and we rehearsed the actions the day before. If we do not know what to do during the actual filming, it becomes difficult for everyone, so we tried to make every motion as predictable as possible.”

Asked about the mood on set, Yeon said that he did not enjoy the process of filming the risque scenes.

“I was under a lot of pressure because I had to focus,” he said.

Since the film is based on a popular Chinese novel, the actor was also asked if he had read the original work.

“Yes, I read the book. I think the book was more focused on criticizing the socialist system. I think Korean audiences today will probably have some difficulties relating to the story. On the other hand, our movie focuses more on human nature and pleasure,” he explained.

Toward the end of the interview, he also briefly talked about actors Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin tying the knot after a two-year relationship.

Yeon and Son recently finished filming the JTBC drama “Thirty-nine,” which started airing Wednesday.
“Serve the People” (JNC Media Group)
“Serve the People” (JNC Media Group)
“I congratulated her and she said thank you. I really had not expected the news because we didn’t share much about our personal life on set but I was happy to hear the news,” he said. “I am looking forward to witnessing the next chapter in her life and career.”

The 146-minute film “Serve the People” will hit local theaters on Feb. 23.

By Song Seung-hyun (
Korea Herald Youtube