By Lee Hyo-won
The director, who has featured heartthrobs Jang Dong-gun as a gangster ("Friend") and Jeong Woo-sung as a disheveled hobo ("Mutt Boy"), did not necessarily choose Kwon because of the actor's knack for pulling off macho roles.
Kwon has played tough characters that tend to engage in fist fights ("71-Into the Fire") and is currently filming the Jackie Chan action film "12 Chinese Zodiac Heads", but he is expected to demonstrate more of his romantic side in Kwak's upcoming melodrama.
"This movie is very different from Kwak Gyeong-taek's previous macho movies", Kwon told reporters in Seoul, Thursday.
The actor stars as a man who, ever since undergoing a traumatic accident, has been grappling guilt and analgesia, the inability to sense physical pain. He falls in love with a lovely young woman who is the complete opposite of him - who cannot withstand any kind of infliction or wounds due to hemophilia. Jeong Ryeo-wo plays the heroine.
"My character is stuck in his past memories; he is sort of stoic and dimwitted. The movie is essentially a love story from the point of view of such a guy", said Kwon.
Though Kwak may be reputed for helming tough, male-centric stories, he shared his soft spot for melodramas.
"When I watched melodramas as a younger man I would become sentimental and completely immersed in my feelings. It used to take days for me to recover. That seems to be why I avoided melodramas as a director. But love is a universal theme and it's something that I wanted to explore as a director. Especially after making "a LOVE" (starring Joo Jin-mo) I wished to direct a more profound love story", said Kwak.
He said he was going through a slump when he received the scenario for "Pained", which is based on an original story by popular cartoonist Kang Full. The artist-writer has inspired other films such as "Late Blossom" and "Hello Schoolgirl". "I cried three times while reading it. I was completely captivated by it and I just had to do it", said Kwak.
The cineaste said he immediately thought of Kwon for the lead role. "The production company told me kwon Sang-woo was contemplating the part, and I said I would do it only if Kwon does. There was nobody else".
He said the same thing about Jeong, how the sickly character was tailor-made for the actress who has demonstrated her capacity for playing psychologically disturbed characters ("Castaway on the Moon").
About preparing for the role of a hemophiliac, Jeong said she met an actual woman suffering from the condition in which blood does not clot normally and thus could result in her bleeding to death.
"My character is someone whose life depends on a single drop of blood. I imagined a hemophiliac would be super sensitive and averse to socializing with others, but the woman I met was not like that at all. She was in fact very loving, strong-willed and independent", said Jeong, adding how she was able to relate to the sense of independence, having left her Australian home 11 years ago to debut in Korea as a singer.
The former pop star said she learned how to use syringes for the film since hemophiliacs tend to regularly take coagulant shots themselves. "Director Kwak insists on realism, so I practiced how to give myself shots. They were vitamin shots actually", she said.
Meanwhile, the press event invited special guests including Sooyoung of Girls' Generation, who is a close bible study friend of Jeong; composer Kim Hyeong-seok, a regular drinking buddy and creative collaborator of Kwak; and actor Kim Yeong-jun, who plays a thug in "Pained" and is a longtime friend of Kwon. The three joined in the talk to support the promotion of the film.
"Pained", distributed by Lotte Entertainment, is due in theaters around Chuseok in September.
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53rd Baeksang Arts Awards 2017