The unexpected success in Asia of Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, the South Korean fantasy film focused on the afterlife, could be partly because of the shared Buddhist world views across the region, according to its stars, actor Ha Jung-woo.
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Ha, 40, one of South Korea’s most prolific and versatile actors, told The Korea Times: “I think the first part of the fantasy series was able to have so much success in the region because of the shared interest in the Asian Buddhism [on which] the film is based.”
Ha – the eldest son of veteran South Korean actor Kim Yong-gun – who also starred in the 2016 psychological thriller The Handmaiden, is back in the sequel, too, Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, which went on release in South Korea and abroad from Wednesday.
The first film in the series, released in December 2017, became the second most-viewed film of all time in Korea – attracting an audience of more than 14 million people.
The fantasy – filmed with a budget of 40 billion won (US$36 million) – also topped box offices in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
It became the highest-grossing Korean film in Taiwan, and the second-highest-grossing Korean film – after The Battleship Island – in Hong Kong.
In the sequel, Ha plays Gangrim, head of the reaper trio who guide the dead in their 49-day post mortal journey.
It features the backstories of the three reapers and how their paths crossed a millennium ago.
He said he had many “embarrassing” moments while shooting the computer graphic-heavy film because he had to act alone in many scenes next to a “blue screen” while imagining a different setting, but was surprised by the result.
“Since it is rare to appear in a film with as many special effects as this one, it was hard to act at first,” he said.
“Most of my challenges have been me versus machines, coordinating my acting with the cameras.
“In the scene where dinosaurs are chasing after me, I just run behind the blue screen alone and draw a ring around me on the ground to prevent them coming closer.
“I wished something, anything like a doll, could appear so that I could know what I should look at.
“It was a strange and embarrassing experience.
“Then I remembered the behind-the-scenes videos of 53-year-old Robert Downey Jr. acting in Ironman with the green backdrop.
“I clenched my teeth and tried my best to just believe what I was told. But, when I saw the post-production, I was in awe.”
Ha said he was proud to see the quality of Korean films improving over time.
“BTS and Psy played a big role in elevating K-pop in the world music scene,” he said.
“Now I think it should be K-film’s turn. Although the Korean film industry has problems such as less diversity in genres, I think the quality of filming staff can rival those of Hollywood.
“As the film’s first sequel proved it to some extent, I wish to see more such high-quality Korean films [seen by] global film fans.”
The cast of Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days will launch a series of Asian promotional events, starting in Taiwan on August 5.
As for differences from the first film, Ha said that, if the first instalment spoke about maternal love, the sequel focused more on paternal love.
“If viewers had maternal love and tear-shedding emotions from the first instalment, part two will tell of paternal love, which will make viewers choke up,” he said, adding that the latest story was richer than the first since it had an additional storyline of a thousand years ago when the three reapers were human.
Apart from acting, Ha is also known as an artist.
He held his first solo exhibition in 2010 and has been expanding his presence in the art world and, since July 11, has been staging an exhibition titled Vacation in Seoul.
It shows his paintings inspired by his travels to cities such as Rome, Naples, Florence, Barcelona and London, when he takes a break from acting.
Ha said his paintings reflected his wish to communicate with the public.
“Although I can show part of myself through my characters in films, those characters are more like another self of the director and his story, not me.
“My paintings, on the other hand, show all of me – who I am and what I feel at the moment.
“The reason I continue to paint is that I want to communicate with the public.
“Although nowadays it gets harder to just tell my story and reveal myself as I am, I’m afraid.”
This article is originally written by Park Jin-hai for The Korea Times.