“Public duty” and “faith” are keywords in an interview with the actor Shin Hyun-jun ahead of the release of his film “Barefoot Ki-bong.” The actor’s mother reportedly prays nonstop for six hours a day, and his older sister is said to have the gift of prophecy. The actor himself is now in his third year of volunteering to help bathe and look after children with cerebral palsy.
In a recent meeting with the press in Japan, the actor got a little carried away while talking about missionary work, until finally the head of the company that sponsored the event and invited the actor said, “Could you please just talk about something else.” The actor said, “If that’s what you want, I’ll return your money and leave.” The company president apologized.
But maybe our feelings about Shin Hyun-jun are a little narrow-minded, even if most of the fault for the misunderstanding lies with the actor himself. After getting his foot in the door in Chungmuro with the role of the Hayashi in the film “The General’s Son (1990)", the actor played opposite Han Seok-gyu in "The Gingko Bed" (1996), in which he and Han’s character both loved the same woman in a previous lifetime. The actor’s already intense eyes took on an even darker shade in the film, but his attempts to project a tragic and cruel beauty fell flat.
In the comedy "Marrying the Mafia" (2005), the actor played a mob boss and looked unable to shed his intense air even in a lighter movie.
But in "Barefoot Ki-bong" the actor successfully regresses to a child to give a splendid performance. The character is more convincing than anyone had a right to expect.
Ki-bong is 40 years old, but his mental development stopped at the age of eight following a high fever. He is treated like an idiot by his neighbors, but because of his strong sense of duty to his mother, he enters a marathon to buy his mother a set of dentures. Shin calls Ki-bong “the first character I really wanted to play.”
Asked whether too much emphasis on the beauty of humanity can seem mawkish to an audience, Shin offers a spirited defense. “I have a friend who looks like Frankenstein; he teaches music at a university. But when he plays the piano, he is beautiful. His appearance is completely changed. I hope that people aren’t prejudiced about me just because of rumors they heard, or because I have scary eyes, a big nose and look like a foreigner. I used to be unable to say this kind of thing out of concern that people would get me wrong, but now that I’ve turned 40, I feel comfortable to say what I want.”