A Korean businessman encounters a Chinese woman he used to know. He cannot speak Chinese. She doesn't understand Korean, either. The only common language they share is English. Remarkably, not much gets lost in translation, an intriguing feat that underscores the strength of director Hur Jin-ho's latest film, "A Good Rain Knows."
Jung Woo-sung, who plays Dong-ha for the romantic film, said he started sharpening his English skills last year, vaguely aware that he might join a foreign project some day. After all, considering his high status in the Korean film industry, it is a surprise that he hasn't joined a Hollywood project yet.
"I didn't really expect to make a debut as an English-speaking actor in a film made by director Hur," Jung said in an interview with The Korea Herald. "And Hur initially wanted me to speak the so-called Konglish for the reality of the film, but I tried to speak as naturally as possible."
Gao Yuanyuan, a top-rated Chinese actress who plays opposite Jung, said Jung definitely has a talent in picking up a foreign language. "Throughout the film, we spoke in English, but there was not a problem communicating with him at all. And he quickly learned the expressions I taught, and that's how the sentence 'Wo xiang ni' (I miss you) got included in the film on the spot," Gao said.
The chemistry between the two stars bolsters the film's otherwise simple plot in a way that opens up new possibilities in a joint project between Korea and China. It is nothing new that a Korean filmmaker sets up a joint project that recruits Korean and Chinese actors, but it is rare to see a seamless integration of actors' performances and cinematic skills that can appeal to audiences in both countries.
"A Good Rain Knows" is basically concerned about romantic emotions that people want to keep and cherish. Despite long distances or a wide gap in timeline, something delicate tends to linger deep within.
Director Hur presents a set-up in which Dong-ha flies to China on a business trip and comes across May (Gao Yuanyuan), a Chinese friend he got to know when he was studying in the United States some years ago. She is now working as a tour guide in China but her real interest lies in a great Chinese poet, whose work has inspired the movie's nuanced title.
For Jung, working with a Chinese counterpart was nothing if not inspiring. "First of all, Chinese actors tend to show different reactions compared to Korean actors," Jung said. He noted that Korean actors usually react in an expected way, making it easier to follow some patterns, but this rule did not apply when he was working with Gao.
"Her unexpected reaction came as a pleasant surprise, and I tried to understand why she responded that way, and this kind of communication was, I believe, reflected in the performances for the film," Jung said.
Jung, a representative Korean star whose iconic image inspired other top stars such as Cho In-sung, said his latest take on a normal Korean businessman was part of efforts to seek some breakthrough in his acting career.
In previous movies, critics pointed out that Jung's silver screen image is stuck with a handsome guy whose expressiveness remains stolid at best. But in the new film, Jung's Dong-ha is refreshingly removed from his superstar image.
For instance, at a cramped hotel room, Dong-ha revises the trip expenses, changing the cost for a meal from 60,000 won to 90,000 won, an extremely minor detail that goes against Jung's trademark picture-perfect image. Yet Jung's performance as a "normal businessman" seems convincing enough.
"The twentysomething image I created years ago had some impact on Korean youth in their teens. For the thirtysomething image, I think I have to put together my value and other people's life," Jung said.
Gao, who drew keen media attention here in Korea for her impressive acting in "A Good Rain Knows," said she's willing to join a joint project as long as she plays a Chinese character.
"I don't think I can play a Korean character in a film, but I can take up a role for a Chinese character," Gao said. "This is my first role in a Korean film, but it's really an honor to work with director Hur because I began to watch Korean movies through Hur's films," she said.
Gao said, however, she got an impression that the majority of Korean moviegoers are not familiar with Chinese filmmakers and actors. "A lot of Chinese people are watching Korean television dramas and movies, and I hope more Korean people would watch Chinese movies," she said.
"A Good Rain Knows," distributed by N.E.W, is hitting local theaters today.