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[Herald Interview] North Korea is a glass box: Jung Woo-sung

Actor who plays NK special agent in ‘Steel Rain’ not afraid of retaliation from North

In the new political thriller film “Steel Rain,” Jung Woo-sung lost weight and adopted the Pyongyang dialect to portray his character, the North Korean special agent Uhm Chul-woo.

Uhm is tasked with taking care of the injured North Korean leader when his regime is overthrown in a military coup. He manages to flee to the South with the leader, and desperately seeks a way to at once revive his leader, defend his family up North and wade through global politics.

Jung, 44, has never been shy to express his political opinions. It was revealed recently that he had been “blacklisted” for criticizing the Park Geun-hye administration. “I think people should be able express their opinions, but also prepare themselves for the possible backlash,” Jung said at an interview at a cafe in Jongno-gu, Seoul last Thursday. 

Jung Woo-sung (NEW)
Jung Woo-sung (NEW)

While researching his character, Jung says he had some time to reflect on the nature of the North Korean regime and its people. He described the country as “a glass box.”

“It’s surrounded by a very fragile ideology that could be shattered instantly,” he said, referring to “Juche” ideology, North Korea‘s state ideology commonly referred to as self-reliance.

“The people have no choice but to be loyal to that ideology. Some might need to fake it, because they have no choice.”

According to Jung, his character goes against the stereotypes of North Korean officials. Uhm is not a soldier who blindly obeys orders or worships the cause. His mission is not suicidal. His motives for defending the North Korean leader are personal rather than ideological, and driven by a sense of duty toward his job, rather than toward the leader himself, Jung explained.

“(Uhm) is also motivated to protect his family -- his wife and daughter. He’s a father foremost.” 

Jung Woo-sung (NEW)
Jung Woo-sung (NEW)

In 2014, North Korea openly condemned the American film “The Interview,” directed by Seth Rogan, which parodies an interview with the North’s dictator Kim Jong-un, played by Randall Park. A group of anonymous hackers, which the FBI alleged was connected with North Korea, hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, parent company of the film’s distributor Columbia Pictures, in protest of the film. Original plans for a wide theatrical release had to be canceled. Pyongyang denied the allegation.

But Jung is not too anxious about the release of “Steel Rain.” Dozens of movies detailing South-North conflicts have been made in the past, he said. “You hear rumors that Kim Jong-un has already been watching South Korean movies for years.” Additionally, in “Steel Rain,” the North Korean leader’s face is never revealed.

Jung, ever prolific, made his last appearance on the big screen in “The King,” directed by Han Jae-rim and released in January. He starred as the power-hungry prosecutor Han Kang-shik.

Jung, who made his debut in the gangster film “Beat,” directed by Kim Sung-su, in 1997, said he felt early on the ripples films could create in society. “Beat,” which followed three friends’ turbulent, back-alley lives after they drop out of high school, shed light on the marginalized class.

“I realized then that films could send a certain message to the society,” said Jung. “I realized that early, but didn’t know how to deliver a proper message back then. In my 30s and 40s, I think I’ve learned how to do that.”

“Steel Rain” hit local theaters last Friday.

Jung is set to star in the sci-fi action flick “Inrang” (tentative title) directed by Kim Jee-woon (“The Age of Shadows,” 2016), slated for release next year.

By Rumy Doo (

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