How Jung Hae-in forged ‘connections’ with Takashi Miike, Go Kyung-pyo
It was easy to understand the fan frenzy that followed Jung Hae-in (“Start-Up,” “Something in the Rain”) wherever he went during the Disney Content Showcase (DCC) at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore last week.
In fact, the dashing 34-year-old actor was greeted with thunderous shrieks and cheers as he walked the red carpet on his way to the DCC cocktails event at Marquee, aptly described by a fellow writer from the Philippines as something you’d only see in Manila.
“Naging Megamall bigla ang Marina Bay Sands,” he quipped, laughing.
Beyond the fandom, however, there’s good reason for K-drama aficionados to be excited about when Hae-in’s first supernatural suspense-thriller series “Connect” premieres on Disney+ today.
Aside from Hae-in’s stellar appeal, the series benefits from the experience and expertise of Japanese director Takashi Miike (“Audition,” “Ichi the Killer” and “One Missed Call”), whose films have been cited for their shocking depiction of extreme violence and sexual perversion.
Indeed, for all its gothic gloss and the exceptional portrayals of its lead actors, “Connect” isn’t for the faint of heart.
The creepy production also gets a big boost from co-stars Go Kyung-pyo (“Love in Contract,” “Reply 1988,” “Decision to Leave”) and Kim Hye-jun (“Kingdom,” “Inspector Koo”), who were just as popular with the press and the fans during the show’s promo blitz in the affluent city-state.
Based on a popular webtoon, “Connect” tells the story of immortal humanoid Ha Dong-soo (Hae-in), who falls victim to organ traffickers. When his right eye is transplanted into the body of serial killer Oh Jin-seok (Kyung-pyo), Dong-soo embarks on a mission to get back what’s been taken from him.
Helping Dong-soo accomplish his mission is mysterious Lee I-rang (Hye-jun), who knows a thing or two about what they’re dealing with. But Dong-soo soon realizes how his stolen eye could lead him to the elusive killer-cum-transplant recipient, because it doesn’t take long before he starts seeing what the killer himself sees!
At the DCC press con, the 62-year-old director expressed how much the project meant to him. “I had a lot of new experiences making this series,” he shared. “This isn’t just my first time to work with a Korean team, it’s also my first time working with a streaming platform like Disney+. It felt to me like a whole new world, that’s why this whole experience means so much to me.
“If I were to go back in time to the early days of my career as a young director, I’d probably tell myself, ‘It’s OK, Miike. Just believe in yourself and continue doing what you do. One day, you’ll have your work featured on Disney+. So don’t doubt yourself so much, but keep up the good work!’”
Asked why he chose “Connect” out of so many webtoons (manga) out there, Miike admitted, “To be honest with you, it was not my choice. I believe the decision-makers saw the great potential of the original manga and decided that Miike Takashi was the right person to fully capture the spirit of the original story.
“But it’s a new story for me to work on as well. It’s my first attempt to create something based on a webtoon. I thought to myself, ‘Isn’t it somewhat [part] of destiny that I get to work on something like this in an era when we have these new forms of content?’
Level of passion
“Truth is, I’m a huge fan of Korean series and films. Whenever I watch Korean content, I always wondered why Korean actors’ performances are so different from their Japanese counterparts. I wondered what made that difference.
“What I could confirm from working with a Korean cast this time was the level of passion. I found all the actors very passionate about what they do. They made me realize how powerful the energy of a person could be. Their ability to act is a given, but I felt that they had all the elements that are crucial to an actor beyond his acting skills.”
Hae-in was just as thrilled to work with the Japanese director. The handsome actor said, “I connected with director Takashi on set. In the series, my character has his eye stolen from him, and that is how he gets connected to Jin-seok. But while filming the series, I felt that director Takashi and I were looking into the same direction and shared the same vision for what we wanted to create.”
We then asked Hae-in how he managed to forge a connection with his own character. “The first thoughts that came to my mind when approaching my character, Dong-soo, were loneliness and solitude,” he disclosed. “He essentially has a good heart, and he slowly figures out his special abilities and decides to use his power for the right cause. I thought about how he would move and what he would think every second.
“When portraying Dong-soo, I didn’t see him as a hero, but as someone who aspired to be a hero. His journey very much felt like the struggle of a man who wants to prevent bad incidents from happening.”
The role did come with some discombobulating challenges for Hae-in. “I had to keep an eye patch while filming, which felt uncomfortable … especially when I needed to film an action scene,” he admitted. “It warped my sense of distance, and I occasionally felt a little dizzy. But I got used to it gradually, so much so that, towards the end, it felt a little awkward when I took it off.
“Also, this was my first sci-fi project, and I had more CGI scenes than I initially anticipated. We have by now seen a lot of Marvel films, featuring superheroes, that quite often involve CGI. So, my respect for those actors deepened throughout this project.
“Shooting scenes with CGI was very difficult. I had to use a lot of imagination as I performed, which was quite strange and awkward for me in many ways. But the energy on set was great, and we had great teamwork working in our favor. So, I eventually overcame that initial awkwardness.”
As for Kyung-pyo, who was recommended by Hae-in for the role, he said that he wanted to show a different side of himself, compared to all the previous characters he had played. “I paid a lot of attention to my portrayal. I think it will be refreshing for the audience to watch a type of character they haven’t seen me essay.”
According to Miike, he loved having Kyung-pyo on the set. He explained, “Kyung-pyo plays a psychopath in this series. But what do you usually associate a psychopath with? We often think of someone who completely lacks facial expression or someone who seems very cold.
“But Kyung-pyo was always very positive and would often joke around on set. But once the camera was on, he instantly slipped into his character. That’s why I said he was such an adorable and precious person to have around.”
Kyung-pyo and Hye-jun were just as happy to collaborate with their Japanese director.
“I have always been an avid fan of director Takashi,” Kyung-pyo disclosed. “The entire time we were filming, his passion and energy energized me as well. He’s also very kind and considerate of others. And when something needs to be clarified, he makes sure that it is clearly understood. Personally, I found him to be the perfect role model as a great director.”
Hye-jun agreed, “I had quite a bit of action scenes in this, and when I was struggling with them, director Takashi, who’s an expert in action scenes, would show me how to do these action movements. He was so nimble and fast! My only regret is that I could only keep up with half of what he was showing me (laughs).
“The role was a challenge because it was my first time performing with CGI and doing action scenes. In terms of my character’s appearance, I tried a lot of new styles. I had my hair bleached, for example, and tried a variety of things to make this character unique.
“Watching Hae-in performing with CGI, I could see that he felt it was a little absurd. I would make fun of him trying to get through a CGI scene. But when it was my turn to do the same, I regretted making fun of him (laughs)! I could hear people giggling behind the camera.”
What was it like for Hae-in to work with Kyung-pyo, and vice versa?
“I got to work with Kyung-pyo for another project (‘D.P.’) before this. Although I performed with him only briefly, I could feel great energy from him. It was more of a wish … I thought how great it would be to work with him again on a longer project. So, even though our characters are antagonistic toward each other in the series, in reality, we got along so well on set, exchanging ideas and just having fun working together.”
For Kyung-pyo, the feeling was mutual. He mused, “One of the biggest reasons why I decided to participate in this project was my respect for Hae-in and me wanting to work with him again. Throughout the process of filming the series, I just felt that we just clicked. I’ve always felt that we understood each other very well. So, I would always welcome an opportunity to work with Hae-in, regardless of the project or role … I will always keep a lookout for that opportunity.”
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