Seong-pil (played by Oh Dal-soo) is an actor that once worked with men who ended up becoming major players in the film industry. Unfortunately Seong-pil, lacking as he is in either charisma or talent, is stuck doing stage plays. And I'm not referring to the high-brow stage stuff. Seong-pil plays a dog in shows that are obviously aimed at children, and frequently fail to maintain a decent interest level even in that audience.
So far "The Great Actor" probably sounds fairly depressing. What makes the movie remarkable is that the tone frequently belies the inherently sad nature of Seong-pil's life. Though Seong-pil dreams of being a serious actor, time and again the man is at his most amusing when he is the butt of some cruel joke. Seong-pil constantly petitions for help from people who don't especially care about him yet are unwilling to actually admit this.
All Seong-pil really has going for him is a powerful sense of tenacity, this unwavering belief that he could become a great actor if only the right little pieces would fall into place. As a dreamer, Seong-pil has a great deal of personal dignity. Seong-pil never considers the possibility that he should just give up and try to provide for his family in a more effectual way, because that would be betraying the very essence of the idea that a person can be anything if they put their minds to it.
The sad irony there being that this ideal is, in itself, frequently transmitted through actors and movies, even though the world of entertainment is no less forgiving than the real one. Considering how funny Seong-pil is, often if only by accident, it often seems like the real tragedy is that Seong-pil has aimed too high and is unwilling to lower his sights in view of the changed situation. Seong-pil is a martyr to his dream because that's the choice he willingly makes, even to the point of stigmata.
Right down to the ending "The Great Actor" is completely focused on this contract, leaving us to wonder if it actually matter whether or not Seong-pil succeeds in his dream. After all, even success frequently leads to disappointment and suffering. Yet Seong-pil himself clearly does not care how much pain and humiliation has to be endured so long as something vaguely resembling an uplifting ending is in sight somewhere.
That's the kind of movie "The Great Actor" is- it legitimizes optimism, not by making optimism real, but by pointing out that optimism really can give people the fortitude necessary to do just about anything. By wanting to be a great actor, what Seong-pil really wants to do is just set a good example. Ultimately Seong-pil succeeds in giving that kind of optimism to one person- really the only person that counts anyway. Is Seong-pil satisfied with that modest victory? Of course not. All the same Oh Dal-soo's powerful performance as the earnest dreaming Seong-pil outweighs the greater sadness in "The Great Actor", making the movie more inspirational than it probably should be.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Great Actor""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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