Posted : 2013-09-08 19:43
Updated : 2013-09-08 19:43

Hollywood dream up for grabs

Actor Park Joong-hoon talks with The Korea Times at the Westin Chosun Hotel in downtown Seoul, Tuesday. Making Hollywood debut in 1998, he said chances are high for Korean actors to star in American films.
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Park Si-soo

Asked to name a Korean pop star, many in the world would readily say Psy.

An actor? This question ― frankly ― is difficult to find a clear answer.

There are some who are well known in China, Japan and Southeast Asian countries. But still there is no Korean actor who rocked the United States, the cinematic capital of the world, as strong as Psy did with "Gangnam Style" last year.

Park Joong-hoon, left, in his debut movie "Kambo," released in 1986.

Actor Lee Byung-hun recently jumped into the spotlight there following the release of "Red 2," a Hollywood action flick Lee he starred in along with Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren. Nonetheless it's still a premature conclusion that he now can stand shoulder to shoulder with them on the red carpet.

Veteran actor Choi Min-sik is set to play with Scarlett Johansson in renowned director Luc Besson's sci-fi movie "Lucy," while Song Kang-ho is poised to leap onto the global stage with Korean blockbuster "Snowpiercer" that has been exported to more than 160 countries. Yet it remains to be seen how much recognition Choi and Song will win globally with their work.

 Park leapt to stardom through the action/comedy film "Two Cops" in 1993.

Given track records of the past, it's reasonable to bet on skepticism rather than optimism. But actor Park Joong-hoon said he would ― willingly ― make a risky bet.

"It's obvious that there is a ‘barrier' standing in the way of winning global recognition. In other words, it's very difficult for a Korean actor to play a major role in a Hollywood film. But it doesn't mean it's impossible," Park said in a recent interview with The Korea Times in downtown Seoul. "There is sign that the barrier is crumbling down. The latest evidence is Lee Byung-hun."

Park, left, in "Once Upon a Time in a Battle Field" (2010)

The award-winning actor, 47, who made his American debut in 1998 with "American Dragons," said the signs are reaffirmed with an increasing number of Korean movies making into U.S. and other foreign cinemas.

"Until the 1980s, not one Korean film was exported. For now, Korean movies are drawing attention constantly from Asian and European countries. This is a great achievement," he said.

Recollecting the time of film studying at New York University (NYU) in the early 1990s, Park said, "Back then there was no class teaching Korean movies. But I was told that it's now included in the official curriculum."

Park poses with actor Um Tae-woong after shooting "Top
Star," his debut film as director.

He noted that the linguistic barrier is not a critical impediment to have a Hollywood job.

"Having an ability to speak English fluently is a big advantage, but not critical," Park said. "After earning a degree from NYU, I subscribed to The Korea Times for about two years to maintain my English proficiency. I still try to improve my proficiency by reading English-written articles or talking with my foreign friends."

Showing a Korean-English dictionary installed in his iPhone, he said, "Today I searched the meaning of ‘heartthrob' and ‘lenient.' I think they are frequently used in daily life, don't you?"

Making the big screen debut in 1986 through action/crime movie "Kambo," Park has since starred in nearly 50 movies, many of which were sizable hits here. He recently put a fresh twist on his career by making his debut as a director. "Top Star" is the first film he directed, which will be released later this year.

"This is a story that I have wanted to tell the audience," he said, citing its storyline focusing on bittersweet behind-the-scene tales of the ostensibly splendid showbiz industry. "This is the 28th year in my acting career. Now I feel tempted to show more of my stories to the audience."

Asked about the probable theme for his next film, Park said, "Happiness."

"During the early years in my career, I thought social success guaranteed happiness, but now I realized it was not the case," he said. "I want to show my truly happy life."

He also introduced his philosophy as a director.

"If I cannot pull at the heartstrings of one person, one member of an audience, it might be a pipe dream to think that I can do it with 10 million," said the rookie director.

He said he just turned the "half-way point" of his life and will never slow his pace until reaching the final destination.

"I think it's good to say that my life is now in ‘late summer.' I wish I will be able to run well until December," he said. "It's the dominant view that the beauty of life reaches its peak in the summer and then recedes. But I don't agree with that. Each season has its own beauty. Autumn is beautiful because of colorful foliages and winter is beautiful as well because of snow-covered mountains."

Korea Times intern Huh Yoon-jin contributed to this article.

Who is Park Joong-hoon?

Born in Seoul in 1964, Park graduated from the department of drama and film of Chung-Ang University. He started his career as an actor in the film "Kambo." (1986)

His performance in "My Love, My Bride" (1991) was highly esteemed in the Asia Pacific Film Festival, and he won the Best actor's award. Park entered the graduate school of New York University, majoring in acting education. After winning the master's degree, he returned to Seoul and starred in "Two Cops" (1993), a box office hit, which brought him and Ahn Sung-ki the best actor's award of Grand Bell Awards. He married in 1994 and has a teenage daughter.

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