July 10, 2006
Driven by nationalist beliefs and the scenario of another Japanese invasion, the W10-billion (US$1=W942) movie “Hanbando (The Korean Peninsula)” is generating a controversy. In the film, Cha In-pyo plays a member of an elite government organization. But in stark contrast to the dire predictions of the movie, he was beaming when he told the Chosun Ilbo how the role was something he wanted and needed to do.
Cha’s character Lee Sang-hyeon is, in the first half of the film, pro-Japanese but is converted to the noble causes of Korean unification and independence like a latter-day Paul. Why was the actor was so quick to choose a part whose political implications could become a liability in his acting career?
"Before I even knew it, I found myself in middle age, and my thoughts began to revolve around the idea of unification. It’s true, I started to worry whether we were going to be able to hand a peaceful, unified country to our sons and daughters."
What matters is confronting society and throwing out questions, he says. If the movie succeeds in that, Cha feels it will have been worth the unprecedented W10 billion budget.
So committed is Cha that he repeatedly says he would have acted in the film for free. What were his feelings when he saw the finished product? "The reviews will be divided. But my conviction that the film is right, is unchanged. Even if the majority can’t sympathize, it would be great if the controversy generated more discussion."
Director Kang Woo-suk said he cast Cha because the actor has shown his himself to be a very aware and honest performer. Cha confides that being saddled with the image of the upright man is a burden.
"If my employer, the public, entrusts me with the upright character, it becomes my responsibility and my duty. So, if only to avoid disappointing my employer, I can’t act carelessly."
At a recent event in Tokyo with some 1,200 fans, an NHK reporter asked the obvious question, "Why would you appear in a movie like ‘Hanbando’?” Cha rose to the challenge. "I’m a citizen of the Republic of Korea, and in the film industry of the Republic of Korea, I don’t think there is anyone who would have turned down the script," he said.