By Shim Sun-ah
SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) -- You might know actor Ju Ji-hoon as Lee Shin, who played a good-looking crown prince of a fictional constitutional monarchy in Korea who is forced to marry a high-school girl in the 2006 MBC TV drama "Gung (Palace)." Or maybe as Mun Seon-mo, a good rookie cop who turns into a villain, if you catch him in his 2016 film "Asura: The City of Madness."
But after the release of the last of the two-part fantasy action series "Along With the Gods" early next week, you will probably remember him for a long time as Haewonmaek, one of the three grim reapers who guide dead people into the afterlife and a skilled swordsman.
"Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds" smashed the box office last summer and become the second-most-viewed film of all time in South Korea with more than 14 million admissions.
Haewonmaek stands in the center of the main plot in the sequel, titled "Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days," about the secret past of the three reapers from about 1,000 years ago.
"For me, this was the first time to be loved so much with my film," Ju said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency at a Seoul cafe on Friday. "Yesterday, I asked the audiences when I visited a theater for the new film's promotional event if there's anyone who hadn’t seen the first film yet and saw only one or two people in a total of four screening rooms raising their hands. Then I realized, 'wow, the film was really popular'."
Directed by Kim Yong-hwa, the first installment was about a righteous firefighter named Ja-hong (played by Cha Tae-hyun) who is judged in seven hells for 49 days after his death, guided by three grim reapers played by Ha Jung-woo, Ju and Kim Hyang-gi.
In the sequel, the two grim reapers, Haewonmaek and Deok-chun (played by Kim Hyang-gi), go to carry out their mission to fetch an old man who lives with his only grandson in a shabby house and bumps into Seongju God (House Guardian God) who knows the secret pasts of the three grim reapers who were human beings before becoming gods. Actor Ma Dong-seok plays Seongju God, who helps people.
The two films were shot simultaneously, a first for the Korean film industry.
The 36-year-old actor said it was a really tough job but the 11 months of filming remains as a "pleasant" memory.
"We, the cast and crew, tried to constantly assure ourselves that we can do it, but it actually was too much trouble," he recalled. "For instance, we filmed the first installment on the same hell set in the first two days and then the second one from the third day. After a courtroom scene, we shoot the past. It was like my head was going to burst."
What was really interesting is that despite all those hard work, it all remains as good memories thanks to the good teamwork with other actors and the director, he said.
However, Ju confided that he wasn't sure 100 percent if wanted to be in the series upon reading its screenplay.
"There were lines that I had to introduce hell to the dead, and actually they are for the audiences. I was supposed to naturally deliver the lines but I wasn't confident that I could."
After finishing the two movies, Ju said he learned a lesson that he should not prejudge what he has not done before.
"I had a kind of a prejudice about audience-friendly movies before. Now I no longer have such a prejudice and understand that every film has its own virtues if made well."
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