The trio from the Korean monster movie THE HOST, director Bong Joon-ho, actor Song Kang-ho, and actress Ko Ah-sung, are back together again, and it’s a very successful reunion. In SNOWPIERCER, an apocalyptic tale about a caste system that rattles the train holding the last of humanity, Song and Ko play a fugitive family who aid the poor from the back of the train in their journey to reach the front. I caught up with Song and Ko for a moment recently, and was lucky enough to ask the actors a few questions. In the interview, we chatted about working with director Bong, depicting the roles of father and daughter for a second time, and what leads Song to choose characters that are so different from one another.
So, a wonderful job that the two of you did in this film, separately and together. This is the second or third time that you’ve worked with director Bong. What is it that keeps bringing you back to working with director Bong? What is it about him and his films?
Song Kang-ho: This was the third time that I worked with director Bong and working with director Bong was a wonderful experience. Even more than that, this time around, working with the wonderful cast members was a wonderful experience.
Ko Ah-sung: When director Bong first offered, about the script and about the opportunity, he didn’t offer very much explanation, but he told me that there was an original work that it was based off of. But he just said, “I want to do this with you and with actor Song”, and just hearing that from him it just gave me assurance that I could do it, so I decided to collaborate with him because of these reasons.
What did you guys learn from this project? It was such an international cast, such an international environment and you speak English so well in the film so did you kind of practice the dialogue or how did you do these things?
KA: Prior to SNOWPIERCER, I’ve had many other international projects which forced me to be in an environment where I would have to converse in English, but especially as I was preparing for this project specifically, I would have to practice more of the dialogue to familiarize myself with it.
SKH: For me, rather than the language, the Hollywood system was a tremendous learning experience and that was the main thing that I took away from the project.
This film has already opened in South Korea and I think some other countries as well, and I was just kind of wondering what has been the response or feedback that you’ve gotten from people who’ve seen it?
KA: Director Bong is one of the most famous, renowned filmmakers in Korea, so obviously, a lot of the audience was waiting for his next project, and the response was greatly positive when the film was released in Korea.
ICONS: So, you played father and daughter previously in THE HOST, and since you’re doing that again, I was wondering if that helped your performances, and what it was like coming together again?
KA: At first, in THE HOST, the film, it was my debut project so I was not very familiar with the system, and I was too young and inexperienced at the time, so I did not know what to take away from the collaboration with actor Song, but this time around, in my second project, with him, by this time I had much more to take out from him and from the chemistry between the two actors.
SKH: So, this is the second time playing father and daughter after THE HOST and I don’t know if I would call it a hidden intention of director Bong, but it was definitely something planned on his part in the casting. THE HOST and SNOWPIERCER are two very different stories, but in terms of what the director wants to see, through those films, I feel like what he wants to say is very similar, and that’s why in terms of the casting, it’s sort of an extension of how they would cast THE HOST.
So, you guys are big in Korea, but in working with the famous Hollywood stars, in this film, did you guys have kind of like a starstruck moment? Or like, “It’s so exciting to talk to them in person”.
SKH: Actors like Chris Evans I was already a fan of, and to work with international talent like Tilda Swinton and John Hurt was definitely an exciting and inspiring experience.
KA: I was already a fan of all of the Hollywood cast and I was already familiar with their previous works, so I would have to sort of put in this mind control on myself and tell myself not to have those moments because I do have to work with them.
SKH: Something I was particularly amazed by was, again the Hollywood system, the production system, how everything is perfectly prepared before going into shooting because in Korea, the production experience is generally that things are prepared, but at the location. Things are constantly being worked out. So, compared to that, working on SNOWPIERCER, it was amazing to see how everything was thought out and prepared before going into shooting.
ICONS: So, Song Kang-ho, your characters, each one of them is vastly different from one another, I’ve noticed. You’re a sergeant in J.S.A., you’re a vampire in THRIST, you’re a grieving father in SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE — I was wondering if you purposely take on roles at the opposite spectrum from one another, or how you go about choosing your characters?
SKH: The main reason for choosing a project is not really the renown of the director, who is making the project, but I feel like it’s the fate of an actor to constantly want to do different things, especially to try new, creative things, or find refreshing stories and that’s how I’ve come to choose those roles and came here, to this day.
So Ah-sung, I have to ask you, now that he’s been your father twice onscreen, how is he for a father? Would you want him for one?
KA: Even though we met twice, playing father and daughter in that specific role, in reality I actually do have a lot of respect for him.
ICONS: Did it make it easier working together because the chemistry was already there?
SKH: In working with director Bong and Asung a second time, it was definitely easier. We didn’t really have to speak to each other to know what each other was thinking.
How did director Bong challenge you this time because you all have come through the journey since THE HOST. He’s improved as a director, the two of you have improved as actors and raised the bar. So how did he challenge your skills as actors this time?
KA: For me, it was the first time ever to be involved in a pre-production stage into the movie. So, fairly earlier in the stage of the film, I was able to get involved, which gave me an opportunity to produce my own ideas, and pitch in my own idea during the screenplay and when there was a talk of scripts. All of this experience, because it was so unique, it was very special to me, and that helped me to understand the role, and how specifically to express and to act in the character.
SKH: For me, the language, since I was the only one speaking in Korean in the film, while all the other actors were speaking English, so the awkwardness and being the only person speaking Korean, and the strangeness of the experience was one f the challenges for me, and because you had to wonder what the audience would think watching two different sets of actors, one speaking Korean, and the other speaking English and also for all the actors involved as well, how to figure out what that meant to have two different sets of actors speaking two different languages in the same film. So that was the most difficult part, but at the same time, it was very challenging and refreshing and something very fun to do as well, so that was the main challenge that I experienced through this film.
You talked about being involved pre-production on the film. Did you have any input on your characters? Tilda spoke about having a lot of input on her character and how it developed.
SKH: Director Bong is known as a perfectionist and he works very meticulously on his details, so as an actor, there are things that I want to freely express, but at the same time, I trust the director with his ideas, because director Bong has a lot of ideas and he’s very meticulous with his work.
KA: For me, I had, despite his perfectionist side, I had a ton of ideas. Not all of them came through, most of them got rejected (laughs). Even then, there were some changes that I was able to make. For instance, my character Yona, originally, she was supposed to be an inuit and then that was changed, and in the classroom section of the train, there was a teacher who was pregnant, and that was actually based on a teacher that I actually have in my own classroom, so that’s something that I had integrated into the script. Actor Song did not want to make her pregnant just because it sounded so cruel because it was all about murder. And even then, director Bong said okay to my idea.
But your idea made it very funny, because she’s pregnant and then pulls a machine gun.
KA: In addition to the comical factor of it, the teacher being pregnant, I also wanted to communicate the idea of the next generation being brainwashed, and the idea of Wilford being the ultimate ruler so I think it has a sense of irony in it.
SKH: It’s very symbolic because the teacher has a new life in her belly and so, in that way it was very symbolic.
I’m just curious, what was that prop that was the drug? What was it actually? What did it smell like?
KA: It was all made out of sugar and it smelled very sweet, but I had to act as if it was a drug or a substance.
Well, if you eat enough sugar it could be a drug.
*This roundtable interview was conducted by Kalyn Corrigan of Icons of Fright, Laurie Curtis, Debbie Elias, Christina Radish, Fred Topel, Scott Huver, Todd Gilcrest, and Michael Dequina. Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung were assisted by their translators.