The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Playing tragi-comic rescuer a balancing act for Ha Jung-woo in ‘Ransomed’

By Kim Da-sol

Published : July 30, 2023 - 14:01

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Ha Jung-woo (Showbox) Ha Jung-woo (Showbox)

Ha Jung-woo, with a filmography versatile and colorful in terms of genres and characters, has created many memorable moments on the screen with his natural and realistic approach, such as with Choi Hyung-bae in 2012’s “Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time” and Gang-rim in 2017’s “Along With the Gods.”

As much as it appears that acting runs naturally in his blood, acting is still the focus of Ha’s intense efforts and labor, even after 20 years of experience.

“I’m always concerned about presenting freshness to the audience. Because I’ve shown a duo acting pair with Ju Ji-hoon in ‘Along With the Gods,’ many would see us acting together again boring. But I don’t want to miss out an opportunity to do great work out of worries of such audience feedback. Of course, it’s my homework to avoid banal acting,” Ha told The Korea Herald in an interview in Seoul on July 24.

In his upcoming adventure flick “Ransomed,” his first film in three years since “Closet,” Ha reunites with director Kim Seung-hun, who helmed 2016 thriller “Tunnel.” Ha appeared as protagonist Jung-soo, who becomes stuck inside a demolished tunnel.

He now plays Min-jun, who is on a mission to rescue a fellow diplomat, with a bag full of cash to trade with local gangsters for the hostage's release. With local taxi driver Pan-su (Ju), they are in a chase to evade those trying to steal the money.

“When I first received the scenario, I had little information about the real events on which the film is based, other than it's about a Korean diplomat who went missing in Lebanon in 1986 and was rescued years later. It put a lot of pressure on me on how to portray well the dramatic storyline depicting the urgency of a diplomatic rescue operation,” said Ha, adding that he watched three different edited versions, concerned about how the director would unfold the heaviness of the story.

“As I’ve known him (Kim) for many years and with a deep trust in him, I knew that he would balance out the plot with wit between the scenes and simplify the message in the film,” Ha added.

Ha Jung-woo plays diplomat Min-jun in “Ransomed.” (Showbox) Ha Jung-woo plays diplomat Min-jun in “Ransomed.” (Showbox)

Ha said “Ransomed” was not an easy project for him at first.

“Min-jun, a diplomat who flies to Lebanon to rescue his fellow diplomat, was not an easy character to play. I wasn’t sure about this character’s tone and manner, because he is a character of both comedy and tragedy,” Ha said. “But thinking about the role of this film as a commercial film that wants to give both joy and a touching storyline, I thought Min-jun can make room for drama despite the heaviness of the story.”

The project was launched in 2018, but the actual shooting only began in 2022, due to pandemic delays. Immediately after shooting Netflix series “Narco-Saints” in the Dominican Republic, he flew to Morocco to shoot “Ransomed.” Being away from home for more than six months, Ha said he mastered cooking Korean dishes with limited ingredients, training himself to find the silver lining even as borders were still shut down.

It was his colleague Ju Ji-hoon who made him feel at ease and more familiar in a new place.

“Five years have passed after ‘Along With the Gods’ and seeing Ju acting gave me a feeling that he did gain some experience over that time. I was very impressed. We first met in our 30s, and now in our 40s we have great chemistry as seasoned actors," Ha said. “We wouldn’t do rehearsals in some scenes because in our gut feeling, we knew that we would show great harmony.”

Regarding Ha and Ju’s collaboration, director Kim Seong-hun said in a previous interview with media that it was like a “Latin dance.”

“Maybe director Kim mentioned ‘Latin dance’ because we knew what we were thinking just by looking at each other’s eyes,” Ha replied.

“Ransomed” hits local theaters on Wednesday.