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[Herald Interview] Choi Min-sik brings to fore charisma of shamanistic practitioners in 'Exhuma'

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : Feb. 26, 2024 - 16:56

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Actor Choi Min-sik (Showbox) Actor Choi Min-sik (Showbox)

A veteran actor with 35 years of experience in films and TV, Choi Min-sik sought to bring to the screen the charisma of Korean practitioners of shamanistic beliefs such as geomancers, to push people to think about how our perceptions of land impact society, in "Exhuma," his first occult film.

Directed by the master of K-occult, Jang Jae-hyun, "Exhuma" follows the story of a feng-shui expert, an undertaker and two shaman exorcists who try to find a new resting place for a deceased person for a hefty sum of money. Choi plays the role of Sang-deok, a skilled feng shui specialist with 40 years of experience, who is instructed to find the optimal site to relocate the grave to.

On Saturday, the film crossed the 1 million mark in ticket sales, making it the fastest to reach the milestone this year, according to Showbox, the film's distributor.

Choi decided to do an occult flick, the first since his debut 35 years ago, because he saw potential in director Jang to cinematically interpret metaphysical concepts, such as religious beliefs.

"I liked the way Jang's ideals and values were fused into his works," said Choi, during an interview on Thursday.

"Jang's works depict his subjective motifs and ideas regarding metaphysical and supernatural concepts. While his previous works such as 'The Priest' and 'Svaha: The Sixth Finger' could be seen as maniacally portraying his beliefs, 'Exhuma' explores such themes in a softer, more flexible and more entertaining fashion," Choi said.

Choi added he chose to participate in "Exhuma" due to the familiarity he felt with Korean shamanism and the role that it and other spiritual practices still play in modern society.

"For example, when I was 10 years old, I survived a life-threatening bout of tuberculosis. Even when the doctors had given up, my mother went to a Buddhist temple and prayed, and strangely, I got better," said Choi.

"I feel like such a miracle happened because of my mother's dedication, rather than her prayers to deities. In our lives, there are aspects that we cannot logically or rationally comprehend. Such emotions and customs still exist today. For me, practices like feng shui and shamanistic rituals are familiar and enjoyable." he added.

To play the role of a seasoned feng shui specialist, Choi said he tried to mimic the charisma feng shui practitioners and shamans demonstrate when engaged in their work.

"The notion that one must have a profound perspective when observing nature has always lingered in my mind. Shamans and individuals engaged in spiritual practices sometimes have moments when their gaze suddenly changes. I remember witnessing that," said Choi.

"I think feng shui specialists rely on spiritual intuition and a spiritual connection with nature, in identifying auspicious and inauspicious lands. In scenes where Sang-deok is observing things, I tried to shift modes and to express Sang-deok feeling every cell in his body coming alive," said Choi.

Choi argued that "Exhuma" is more than just a ghost movie or a horror film.

"'Exhuma' is not made to simply entertain. It is rather a film that cinematically incites contemplation on how the way humans perceive land, along with how land, spirits, ghosts and gods might influence society," he said.

Actor Choi Min-sik (Showbox) Actor Choi Min-sik (Showbox)