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(LEAD) Script depicting importance of human life resonates with actor Ha Jung-woo

All Headlines 17:07 July 07, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with more quotes, minor edits; ADDS byline)
By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, July 7 (Yonhap) -- One day, an ordinary car salesman is locked inside a collapsed tunnel alone on his way back home by car. All he has is a mobile phone, two bottles of pure water and a birthday cake for his daughter. And the public becomes growingly indifferent to the man in trouble as the recovery efforts make slow progress.

This is the main plot of the upcoming Korean disaster flick "Tunnel" starring Ha Jung-woo, Bae Doona and Oh Dal-su.

Ha, who plays the main character Lee Jung-su, said on Thursday that the film's script showing the importance of human life intrigued him.

"There's an irony in the story: Outside the tunnel, the whole nation strives to save the man, but inside he quickly accepts reality and adapts to it, sometimes finding happiness in small things. I thought that setting is amazing," he said during a press conference to promote the film at a cinema in southern Seoul.

Based on a namesake novel by author So Jae-won, the film was directed by Kim Seong-hun, who was invited to the directors' week section of the 67th Cannes Film Festival for "The Hard Day" (2013).

Ha described Jung-su as a man full of curiosity and positive spirit. "So he strives to adapt to the situation and survive by all means. He is like an uncle next door."

Even for the veteran actor who appeared in many Korean films such as "The Chaser," "Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time," "Assassination" and "The Handmaiden," spending most of the two-month filming period inside the set that reconstructed a collapsed tunnel was a big challenge.

"It was a fight against dust. I had to inhale dust countless times inside the narrow, dark set."

Ha jokingly said that he really hated the film's director and the crew at that time because they were wearing masks two- to three-folds while he was the only person there who wasn't wearing a mask.

Bae plays the role of Lee's wife Se-hyeon, who never loses hope of seeing her husband alive.

"There's a kind of fear that I feel whenever I passes a tunnel. This is about an incident that can happen to anybody," said the actress best known to Western moviegoers for Japanese film "Air Doll" (2009) and the Hollywood sci-fi films "Cloud Atlas" (2012) and the "Jupiter Ascending" (2014).

She chose "Tunnel" to be her first Korean work in two years because it wasn't a typical disaster film, which usually has a hero or two saving other characters during a crisis.

"The story contrasting situations in and out of the tunnel was interesting and wasn't serious enough to make me feel Jung-su is cute," she said.

Bae said "never cry" was her character's motto.

"I relentlessly tried to imagine how hard a man locked inside would be. I thought I should not expose my weakness to the man who is running out of water, mobile phone battery in freezing weather."

She didn't put on makeup to look exhausted. "I made efforts to make me look tired even though the art of makeup of course could make it possible. But I don't usually like to put on makeup in other movies, too."

The actors didn't have much chance to meet each other on the set because they were physically separated in and outside of the tunnel. But they tried to elevate their emotion by actually exchanging telephone calls when they had to film a scene involving phone conversations with each other.

"It was Ha who first proposed to do so. I got his phone calls comfortably lying in bed at home," Oh, who acted as the head of the rescue team, said while laughing. "Since I was invisible, it didn't matter whether I was lying on my bed or in my bathroom. I tried to be of help."

Bae said she even received Ha's calls during her stay in Berlin for "Sense8," a Netflix drama. "I was moving at that time. The driver was surprised because I abruptly yelled and screamed on the phone."

In the same way, she called Ha when it was her turn to work alone on set. "I badly needed his voice to immerse myself into acting," she recalled.

"Tunnel" is set to open in local theaters in August.

sshim@yna.co.kr
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