Kwon Sang-woo and Lee Sang-yi on acting, being around water and PH memories
In a survey conducted 12 years ago, South Korea’s Han River was voted the second most scenic location in Seoul, just trailing behind Mount Namsan—where the Seoul Tower is located—for the top spot.
But the 508-kilometer-long river, whose estuary is located at the borders of North and South Korea, has so much more going for it—from pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths to public parks, river cruises and specialty restaurants. All these make the river a picturesque backdrop for the fascinating stories that come out of the six-part action-comedy show, “Han River Police.”
The buddy cop series began airing with a two-part premiere on Sept. 13 and dropped two more episodes on Disney+ last Wednesday.
The idea of using the river to frame his story came to writer-director Kim Sang-cheol (“Stigma”) after negotiations for a hugely anticipated production fell through.
“I was working on a project and suddenly couldn’t work on it anymore because it was scrapped,” Sang-cheol shared at the global press con held last week. “So I would take daily strolls down the Han River because I was feeling vacant. But in one of those walks, an accident happened there.
“Then, I saw people in blue uniform coming to the rescue. So that was when I first became aware of the Han River police force. It felt like I was also being rescued from my sentiments. The Han River is an everyday place, but we don’t know much about the people who are keeping it safe and orderly for us. So I thought about telling their story.”
In the Korean Original Disney+ series, two police officers who are polar opposites of each other are stuck together while patrolling the Han River: Han Dujin (“mom-zzang” luminary Kwon Sang-woo of “Curtain Call” and “Stairway to Heaven”) is reckless and hot-tempered, while Lee Chunseok (Kim Hee-won of “Moving” and “My Love from the Star”) is docile and easygoing.
But Dujin and Chunseok’s perfunctory everyday chores, along with those of their colleagues Do Nahee (the lovely Bae Da-bin of “Love Alarm 2”) and Kim Jisoo (handsome newcomer Shin Hyeon-seung), take on a more exciting turn when Go Giseok (Lee Sang-yi of “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” and “When the Camellia Blooms”), the ambitious nephew of a corrupt businessman, enters the frame.
After attending the press con graced by Sang-woo, Hee-won, Sang-yi, Da-bin, Hyeon-seung and director Sang-cheol, we also spoke to Sang-woo and Sang-yi—who portray archnemeses Dujin and Giseok, respectively—in a separate two-on-one chat.
‘Pride and joy’
Since it’s been a year since they wrapped up filming the first season of the show, we asked Sang-woo and Sang-yi what they thought made the series more appealing and universal to global viewers despite its Korean setting.
“We get a lot of visitors from Asian countries who come to South Korea and the Han River is truly the pride and joy of Seoul,” Sang-woo noted. “So in the show, you will see new aspects and facets of the river that you hadn’t seen before—it’s almost as if you were here visiting Seoul. Against that backdrop, you will be able to see the activities carried out by the Han River police, so that’ll make it refreshing and original.”
Chiming in, Sang-yi added, “You’ll see the beautiful river being used as a backdrop to the stories of police officers who are willing to do anything to protect Han River. Also, while it’s true that viewers meet a lot of [super]heroes on Disney+, I would also say that the best type of heroes are the human heroes who risk life and limb as part of the Han River police force.”
In this fun and insightful interview, Sang-woo talked about how marriage and raising a family have changed his perspective about acting, and why he has fond memories of the Philippines. In Sang-yi’s case, he revealed how his relationship with his parents has helped him pull off “acting bratty” in the Disney+ series.
It’s been about 20 years since Sang-woo’s breakout portrayal in “My Tutor Friend,” for which he won coveted statuettes at the Baeksang Arts, Grand Bell and SBS Drama Awards.
When we asked the perpetually boyish actor to revisit his teenage years, he said that our question about how he has evolved as an actor since “My Tutor Friend” was like taking a heartwarming trip down memory lane. In fact, these recollections, he pointed out, include an unforgettable trip to the Philippines!
Sang-woo explained, “Looking back at my career, it was only about seven years or so where I lived as a ‘hot young star,’ so to speak. After that, I got married (to former Miss Korea Son Tae-young, with whom he has two kids) and became the head of the family for the past 15 to 16 years.
“So, you can say that the years that I was a married actor have been a lot longer than the years when I was a teen star. And I feel like becoming a married man has actually changed the way I think about the acting profession.
“My yearning to become less of a star and more of an actor has gotten stronger. And I feel like I want to throw myself deeper into the projects that I’m working on, even more so than when I was a younger man. I feel like I am filled with more passion when it comes to the mindset of approaching my projects as an actor.
“And hearing from you and your question actually reminds me that it was in the Philippines where I shot my very first personal photo book! I remember those years very fondly, when I was a teen star visiting the Philippines for the first time.
“Unfortunately, I hadn’t been able to go back after that trip. But I really hope that when I get some time off, I could visit the Philippines once again—this time, with my family. I’d love to do that sooner than later.”
As for the similarly versatile Sang-yi, who’s more known these days for playing vulnerable, kind-hearted characters, we asked the actor how he had managed to shift—seemingly seamlessly—from good to bad. How did he channel the sinister side into his role?
“I would have to say that it wasn’t too challenging of a transition for me,” admitted Sang-yi with a smile. “You know, we all have different sides to ourselves, and I definitely think there’s some evil in me, too (laughs). When I look at my character Giseok, if he wants something, he has to get it. He does as he pleases! There’s a lot of childishness or immaturity that you can see from this character, almost like that of a young teenager.
“And that’s true in my real life, as well. Sometimes, I just want to be very lazy … I don’t want to do anything. Sometimes, I want to throw a tantrum in front of my parents, like a kid. And so, I tried to channel those sides of me.
“Also, my character had a lot of scenes where he was very vocal and violent in the words that were coming out of his mouth. So I tried to act in that way [as described in the script]. To do that, I brought in a lot of yelling and shouting into my portrayal of Giseok.”
We also asked Sang-woo and Sang-yi what they have learned about themselves when they were creating their characters.
“Well, I learned the fact that… I really like water way too much (laughs)!” quipped Sang-woo. “And that’s precisely why I intend to go to the Philippines very soon.”
What about Sang-yi?
The actor laughed out loud before answering, “For me, it’s the fact that I’m actually rather scared of water! I love tropical fish … or eating fish. And I love watching water from afar. But having to go deep into the water…? Now that’s a different story. And a scary thought for me (laughs).”