Korean actor Kang Dong Won was presented the Asia Star Award last night at the 16th New York Asia Film Festival.
Director Um Tae Hwa’s “Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned” imagines a surreal world in which time stops and flows as if a cruel joke of the gods. Kang Dong Won plays Sungmin, a boy who must bear the passage of time alone, while the rest of the world remains frozen. We met with KDW yesterday evening at the Lincoln Center to discuss the film.
I’m curious as to why you tend to gravitate towards sci-fi and fantasy. Do you think there’s something about the genre that reveals the human experience more so than others?
KDW: I think the reason why I like sci-fi/fantasy is because I prefer the extreme. I like drama that unfolds within extreme and surreal situations—it helps explore the human condition. In my twenties, I did enjoy making those types of films more, but as I’m getting older, I find myself more inclined towards realistic representations.
What I found especially striking about this film was that the sea was such an integral part of the narrative—there’s an emphasis on the imagery of water. How did you perceive this as significant?
KDW: The narrative of this film was actually developed around one image. It’s an image of a great big wave frozen in time. So really, the idea of what the sea would look like without the context of time is what inspired this film in the first place. It was also important that the story took place on an island, because when time stops for the three children, they can’t escape elsewhere. They’re given an absurd amount of time to explore the island, and because of this setting, water obviously had to be a significant part of the film.
I know that many actors study certain figures or characters from other movies in order to develop their own. Was there anybody in particular who inspired your character Sungmin?
KDW: No. For me, I find that studying other characters blocks my imagination. I feel like I have to mold myself into an already existing frame, and it becomes counterproductive because then I can’t develop the unique character that I am assigned.
So how did you form your character for this film?
KDW: I always design my characters based on my first reading of the script. It’s kind of an instinctual thing.
And how do you usually pick your scripts?
KDW: I think I read about 70 to 80 scripts a year. I look for structurally well written scripts with subjects that I believe will touch the audience. If I like a script, I’ll meet with the director, and if I feel that I can trust him/her, that’s how I’ll choose my next project.
Speaking of subjects, this movie dances around a lot of different ones. Time is an obvious one, but it’s also about friendship, love, death, and mourning among other things. What was the most poignant one for you? What hit you the most?
KDW: I think it’s really about faith. When we’re young, it’s easy to believe in people and things because we’re so pure. But sadly as we get older, we develop so many doubts and suspicions, especially towards each other. For me, that’s what this movie was really about.
Is there anything else you’re learning/doing outside of acting?
KDW: I’m currently studying Korean history. But other than that I don’t have time for much else, because every time I prepare for a film I have to get into my character, whether it’s boxing or kung-fu. So I guess I’m always learning new things from preparing for my roles. I’m working on making my body for my next movie, which is an adaptation of the Japanese anime thriller Jin-Roh.