q & a with jang dong-gun

The martial arts action western flick The Warrior's Way, directed by Sngmoo Lee, opened in theaters over the weekend. The film marks the English-language debut of Korean actor Jang Dong-gun, and I recently got to sit down and talk with the "international superstar" while he was doing press for the film. I will say one thing about Mr. Jang: he is a good-looking man. But if you want to know more, read on...

You've had a very successful film career in Korea. Why did the time feel right, at this point, to make the jump into American movies?

It's not that I chose this moment in time to cross over into the American market or anything. What I've always done is picked the right film -- the film that I really liked, that I thought was great. And I just happened to come across this one at that time. So you never know. It's not a matter of where is it made. My next film could possibly be made in Russia.

So what was it about this project that appealed to you? Why a western?

When I was young, I watched a lot of westerns with my dad, because he loved westerns. And we would watch films with John Wayne or Clint Eastwood on a black and white TV. The most impressive movie for me was Shane. And when I read the script for this film, I thought it was very similar to Shane in some ways. I thought the idea of having an Asian hero come over to a western town and save it from these villains was a great story.

In a lot of ways, the western is the most American movie you can make. The genre is quintessentially American. And in a lot of ways, your character is you -- relatively unknown, having already made a name for yourself abroad, arriving in a completely foreign and established setting. What kind of statement did you want to make, and what was your approach to creating a new identity for yourself amongst American audiences with this project?

So far, I think the image of Asian actors in Hollywood films, and the United States, is somebody who does martial arts. And yes, this film does contain a lot of martial arts, but I think the character of Yang was also very important. So in the future, I'd like to be known here as an actor who can do the martial arts and the action scenes, but who can also work with a lot of different kinds of characters.

There's a growing trend of actors from Asia -- many from Korea -- who have made the attempt to cross over into Hollywood movies, with varying degrees of success. Why do you think action films are such a popular way of introducing Asian actors to American audiences?

I think, at the start of all this was obviously Bruce Lee. He was such a huge success. But because this formula, so to speak, has continued to work and succeed, I think that less effort has gone into trying to develop Asian actors and characters in other genres. They've been suppressed.

You're an extremely recognizable face, not just in South Korea, but across Asia. However, you're not very well known here. How does it feel to start from the ground up and have to re-introduce yourself to a completely new audience?

I don't feel bad about having to do that. It is definitely more work. I understand that have to put in a lot more effort and energy to prove myself.

Let's talk about shooting The Warrior's Way. What were some of challenges you faced while working with an international crew, acting in English for the first time?

It wasn't as challenging as I thought it would be. I thought working with a cast and crew that spoke a different language would be really difficult. But because we all came together with the same purpose of making this film, we were able to overcome all the differences in culture. It was a lot easier than I had expected.

The difficult part was being away from Korea, and being away from home, for almost five months. I was working in a studio in New Zealand, and because we were working in front of a green screen, I thought, "Oh, this is great. We can continue working regardless of the weather." But the longer I worked with the green screen, the more suffocated I felt. I developed a condition where I would feel nauseous just looking at the color green.

What sort of input did you have in developing your character, Yang? The strong, silent hero seems like an ideal fit for an actor making his English-language debut.

When you're shooting a film, you usually talk a lot with the director and discuss how you're going to develop the character, and sometimes the character changes. But in the case of The Warrior's Way, this character was so distinct, and very clear. Rather than trying to adapt the character to suit me, he was such a cool character, I just worked hard to try and be more like him.

Here in the United States, one of the prevalent media stereotypes is that Asian men aren't viable as romantic leads. But I know for a fact that, even just looking at your own career, that's not the case at all. And while The Warrior's Way is an action movie, we do get to see the inklings of a love story. What was your approach to Yang's relationship with Lynne?

When I heard that Kate had been cast for the role, I started thinking about how we were going to proceed, and what direction we were going to take. The important thing was that it's not a matter of Yang chasing after Lynne as his love interest. My character had to be somebody that Lynne would find attractive and would be drawn to.

What was it like working with Kate Bosworth?

At first I was kind of concerned because of the negative stuff I've seen on TV about Hollywood actors. It made me develop a kind of prejudice towards them, and I was worried that Kate might be just like them. But when I actually met her, she wasn't like that at all, and I realized that I'd worried about nothing. She's someone who is incredibly sincere about her work, and very hard working, and very considerate of others. So it was a wonderful experience working with her, and especially because we worked together on my first English film, I'll always remember it fondly.

Now that you have your first English-language film under your belt, what's next for you?

I'm currently working on a film called My Way. It's set during the second world war, and is about this Korean guy who's wearing a German army uniform, and fighting for the armed forces in Normandie. The question is, how did he get there? I'm working with director Kang Je-gyu, who directed Taegukki. We started shooting about a month and a half ago, and I think I'll be working on it until about mid-2011.

What's something you'd like to do that you haven't tried yet, in Korea, Hollywood or elsewhere? Any regrets?

One possible regret that I have... Since my early twenties, which is when I first debuted, up to now in my late thirties, I've always tried to take roles that are very different, where I'm a desperate character or I'm covered in blood. Because I got a lot of attention for my looks, so I think I intentionally avoided taking roles where I'd be a good-looking guy. I regret worrying about that so much.

What makes you angry?

(Laughing) A lot of things! But recently, the instances that have really made me angry are when the truth is twisted or distorted.

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