It takes a good friendship to be able to freely, and affectionately take aim at someone, knowing it’s all good-natured and to be taken in the endearing way it was intended. Which is why when we met Korean actor Song Kang Ho, it was clear that he boasts a very close relationship with the acclaimed filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, as within mere moments of us sitting down to interview the performer – one of the shining lights in the truly remarkable thriller Parasite – he poked fun at his dear friend, who he calls ‘Director Bong’.
“Although he looks like a bear he’s very playful and humorous so his sets are always so fun and full of laughter,” Song began. “I think he looks a little unlikeable, and you can tell him that anytime.”
The pair have worked together on several occasions, but never in as striking a way as in their most recent collaboration, on the Palme d’Or, BAFTA and most likely soon-to-be Oscar winning production Parasite, which has been adored across the world ever since it’s premiere last Spring at Cannes. We wanted to know how much Director Bong has changed across the past two decades, ever since the duo first worked together.
“Twenty years ago goes very fast, now he is just getting bigger and bigger,” Song said, which we assumed was about his career trajectory. We were wrong. “I’m a little concerned by the next project. That is when we were shooting Memories of Murder,” he said before showing me a photo of the auteur back in 2003. “That was him then, you’ll see him tomorrow and you’ll know he’s twice the size,” before the actor started to laugh, in a rather manic fashion.
Song scrolled through his phone out to show me more pictures. He zoomed in on himself. “I am the same. I haven’t changed a bit,” he smiled.
But fear not, this isn’t as cruel as it sounds, he shares a great affection and evidently admires the director’s body of work, who he believes is a special filmmaker, the sort of will continuously surprise not only the viewer, but also his cast.
“With Director Bong’s scripts, just reading it doesn’t give you the full picture of the story and all the surprises and the emotions that the story carries, you don’t get a full sense of it. For me they’re only the tip of iceberg, all of the iceberg is under the water and invisible, and that’s all hidden within Director Bong.”
“That’s the consistent evolution that Director Bong has showed throughout his work. All that consistently led to Parasite and culminated into this decisive film.”
Parasite is an exceptional feat of filmmaking. It transcends genres, it subverts expectations, and above all, it’s just hugely enjoyable to sit through, and manages to be enriched so intelligently by its socio-political context. “What really resonated with me with this character is the self-awareness that he has, the despair knowing that he has things he wants but the world will never go as he wants,” he said.
So much of the film’s brilliance derives from its central performances, as the family at the core of this narrative have been expertly put together – but Song admits for most of the ensemble, this was the first time working together properly.
“A couple of the actors I had short encounters with before, but it was my first time truly working with them for such a long period of time and forming an ensemble as a family together,” he continued. “But did we manage to form this great ensemble? The answer is ultimately alcohol,” before he laughed, in his distinctive (and quite loud) way. We asked which was their tipple of choice to which he replied, “Various. Mostly beer.”
So on to more serious matters, Song also told us how it felt when they won the Palme d’Or last year, and while they’re bringing in awards left right and centre at the moment, it was this accolade which truly kick-started the Parasite frenzy we’re all currently living through.
“We didn’t expect to win the award at all, we were all very surprised at the closing ceremony, it was such a moving and emotional moment,” he said. “Director Bong had his speech up there and he forced me to go up there with him, so I said a couple of words as well. I’m so grateful that people are understanding and sympathising with this story that we’ve told and the values that Director Bong wants to present with this film.”
“In Korea and the US and UK people have been very passionate about the film. The Koreans have been following the success of Parasite like it’s something that has been happening to him.”
But needless to say it was only the first award of many – and we asked him if he had picked out a new suit ahead of the forthcoming Academy Awards. “I think it’s Director Bong who needs to buy a new suit. A custom-made one, they don’t sell them in his size anymore!” he finished, with that same trademark cackle.