For Moon Seong-geun, an accomplished movie actor and now influential figure in the country's entertainment industry, the theater was the place where he learned the life of an actor and demonstrated his talents to the public for the first time. Although he was away from the theater, busy building his career both on the small and big screen, as well as continuing his controversial political activities in recent years, he is now making a big U-turn. The famed actor is returning to the Daehangno stage on Aug. 31 with a grotesque comedy "Byun".
Written by Hwang Ji-woo, famous playwright and incumbent president of the Korean National University of Arts, and produced by Lee Sang-wu, Moon's long- time friend and artistic director of the theater, Cha-ee-moo (meaning stage shipper), the drama depicts a dictator's obsession with love and power. The play also features a number of renowned actors such as Kang Shin-il, Park Kwang-jeong and Choi Young-min. The drama hits the stage at the Arko Art Center for two weeks.
Adding a big twist to the Korean classic tale "Choonhyang -- the story of everlasting love between the daughter of a "gisaeng", or a female entertainer from the Joseon Dynasty, and Mongryong, a man of noble blood -- the drama focuses on the unjustified political power of Saddo (meaning county headman) 'Byun', and his obsessive desire for Choon-hyang. Moon plays the dictator Byun, who makes an amorous approach to Choon-hyang, hoping to win her over by using all his power.
"I was having a hard time at the beginning because it's been a while for me playing on the stage. Now it seems like I'm back in the good old days", said Moon in an interview with The Korea Herald.
During a two-hour interview held at an underground studio of the Korea National University of Arts, in Sukgwan-dong, northern Seoul,
Moon said that there are some reasons for him to play the drama.
"It seemed like I was losing myself to otherness, watching myself contaminated by other things". said Moon.
"One good thing about drama is that it allows an actor to fully develop his character during the three or four months of preparation. But actors have no time at all when making films or TV productions because it all starts right after they finish reading the script", he continued.
Moon said he is also doing it in order to support his juniors.
"The group of seniors which I belong to will usually get 500 euros for guarantee, but juniors will get most of the money".
Moon debuted in 1985, at the age of 34, as a theatrical actor. But he said he wanted to be an actor long before than that.
"When I was 15, my house was filled with some young drama writers like Oh Tae-suk, (who is now head of the National Drama Company of Korea) and Lee Gun-hyung. They were discussing their ideas and wrote their own drama pieces while drinking and smoking at my house. I went on errands to deliver them packs of cigarettes and bottles of soju almost every night",
"I felt good watching them and talking to them, even though the room was full of cigarette smoke. I thought I would be just like them when I get into the university", said Moon.
After he graduated from Sogang University in late 1970s, he worked for a construction company for eight years. But then he joined Yeonwoo, one of the most renowned drama troupes, and that ended his boring and meaningless life as a laborer.
The actor said he and his fellow actors suffered from constant observation by the military government, which explains his recent political activities in support of democratic government.
Moon was one of leaders of Rohsamo, President Roh Moo-hyun's 78,000-strong long-standing fan club, which supported him during the 2002 presidential election campaign.
"At that time (in 1970s and early 1980s), we had to submit our scripts to police stations nearby and get permission to stage dramas. We fought against the militant government to secure our scripts".
"I was scared of hearing door bell ringing because I was attacked by government officials at the time, and was watching out for my life", said Moon.
Moon is also known as the younger son of late Rev. Moon Ik-hwan, the South Korean pro-reunification activist who passed away in 1994.
"But it seems like people too soon forget about the past. Now people are more interested in making money, something pretty and delicious. But freedom ... was the only thing we craved for ."..
Moon was also an activist who confronted the government's plan to reduce the existing screen quota system.
His ambition failed as it was agreed to have a reduced screen quota.
The government decided to halve the screen quota days from 146 days to 73 days, which went into effect in July 2006, despite strong opposition from local filmmakers.
But Moon said it was not all about the reduced screen quota system.
"The recent decline of Korean movies is not all because of the reduced screen quota system. Another bigger problem explaining the reason behind the recession of the film industry is that it's dominated by a few entertainment conglomerates", said Moon.
Using the specific term "vertical integration", which means how companies are united through a hierarchy and share a common owner, Moon said that such a system makes the industry produce more Korean movies.
Moon didn't hesitate to express his hopes of producing his own films.
"I wanted to do so... but the idea came out a few years ago when I was asked to work for a movie promotion body. And, for two years, I was busy working and researching. I miss the chance (to produce my own film)",
"It (the movie) was about a dedicated middle-aged man who tries to renew his culturally undeveloped life, and end his 'poktanju' life. But ten years passed since the idea of the film came to me .".., said Moon, thus opening the possibility of making his own film.
By Cho Chung-un