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[Herald Interview] 'Actors are drawn to exciting stories'

Choi Min-sik shares his thoughts on creative content business, global popularity of Korean dramas and films

March 28, 2023 - 14:50 By Lee Si-jin
Choi Min-sik (Walt Disney Co. Korea)

While many drama fans felt “Oldboy” star Choi Min-sik’s return to the small screen with “Big Bet” represented the big-name movie star’s acceptance of video streaming services, the 60-year-old actor revealed that he simply felt the need to tell a fascinating story to the world.

“I said in a press conference that I decided to star in ‘Big Bet’ because I really missed TV dramas, but what I actually meant was (I missed) the long, epic stories of an interesting character. I was drawn to the life-long journey of my character in ‘Big Bet’ just like any other actor,” said Choi in a recent interview with reporters in Jongno-gu, central Seoul.

Disney+’s “Big Bet,” titled “Casino” in Korean, centers on Cha Moo-sik (played by Choi), who becomes a gambling king in the Philippines. When he becomes caught up in a murder case, the casino mogul makes a “big bet” to escape his misfortune.

Choi shared that shooting the 16-part series overseas amid the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly a big task, but he felt that delivering Moo-sik’s story was the biggest challenge.

“Drama series are not limited to one- to two-hour playing time. I was not able to let my guard down for a single episode. I tried to successfully deliver the heart-racing stories to the viewers from start to finish,” the actor told The Korea Herald.

Choi added that his latest series does not purport to send a message on social issues, but that it is more than just another crime noir series.

“The actors and the staff wished to show how a person’s life develops as he meets different types of people across the globe. ‘Big Bet’ is not about a hero or a villain. It’s just about an ordinary man, Cha Moo-sik,” Choi said in an excited tone.

“I think that may be the reason why 'Big Bet' did not follow the cliches and characteristics of most noir films and dramas," he said.

Choi Min-sik plays gambling king Cha Moo-sik in "Big Bet." (Walt Disney Co. Korea)

When asked about acting in English for the first time in his 34-year acting career -- about 40 percent of his lines are in English -- Choi jokingly said that he will not be speaking English in other future projects.

“From tone to accent, English was very difficult. English lines were ... hard to memorize,” the actor said.

“Kim Min, who played John in ‘Big Bet’ and had studied abroad, was my English teacher. I couldn't have done the English acting without him. But again, I will not do any (more) work which require me to speak in English,” Choi said to The Korea Herald while thanking Kim for his support throughout the project.

Choi shared that even a veteran actor like himself still struggles to find the answer between what the public desires and what the actor wants to portray to the audience.

“I personally believe that the public’s preference is very fickle, so the trends change very quickly. But we cannot work in this business if we ignore viewers’ opinions and do what we want. I feel that mutual communication is the most crucial thing for actors,” the actor said.

“Instead of thinking about what the audience likes to watch, an actor should focus on the viewers’ feelings and thoughts when we showcase a project. Actors should have fun in creating, delivering and sharing their stories with the viewers,” Choi added.

Choi, who mesmerized international audiences with several hit films, including “Oldboy” (2003), “Sympathy For Lady Vengeance” (2005), “I Saw The Devil” (2010), well before Korean pop culture became so popular around the world, shared that he felt ashamed when comparing himself to the young actors performing in front of global audiences.

“Given the growing popularity of Korean dramas and films, many Korean actors are receiving global recognition at international award ceremonies and film festivals. And they are shining brightly without trembling with excitement or being nervous,” he said.

“I couldn’t do that when I received unexpected attention from overseas audiences in the past,” Choi said.

The actor told The Korea Herald that it is a great pleasure to see his colleagues being loved by so many fans.

He added that he will continue to work hard to become a better actor. With his face beaming, Choi said, “I've still got it!”

Choi Min-sik (Walt Disney Co. Korea)