By Kim Boram
SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- Everybody in South Korea knows who is Kim Dae-jung, who served as the country's president from 1998 to 2003. But far less is known about Eom Chang-rok, a mysterious election strategist who helped Kim become the president after a decadeslong political career.
Actor Lee Sun-kyun, who plays the title role in the upcoming political drama "Kingmaker" inspired by the life of Eom, said Friday this public ignorance rather served to free him from the pressure of portraying a big-shot figure from modern Korean history.
"I knew nothing about him until I read the screenplay of 'Kingmaker.' And I tried to find more records online, but I couldn't," he said during a virtual group media interview. "That means I have no element of reality to refer to. That took a weight off my mind."
The new film from Byun Sung-hyun of the acclaimed crime actioner "The Merciless" (2017) has been attracting wide public attention as it will be released Jan. 26, about a month before the presidential election slated for March 9.
"It's just a timely coincidence. We didn't intend the schedule," Lee said, citing several postponements of the film's theatrical release due to the protracted COVID-19 pandemic. "It is about political competition and fierce electoral tactics."
All characters in the movie have fictional names as it is not a biopic.
Lee's character Seo Chang-dae is a capable and energetic tactician who leads behind-the-scenes election campaigns for Kim Woon-beom (Seol Kyung-gu), an opposition party candidate who has failed several previous local elections.
Chang-dae dares to use lies, malfeasance and coverups to win elections and finally makes his boss the presidential candidate of the main opposition party for the 1971 election.
Lee said it took time for him to decide to join the project when he was offered the role, as he was afraid to portray a real-life figure aged from 20-60s in the film.
"I wondered if I could afford this big role. I felt it was too big for me," he said. "But I loved to work with Seol, one of my role models as an actor. And I trusted director Byun and his crew."
He said he is grateful that "Kingmaker" will finally hit local screens later this month in the midst of the pandemic. It is Lee's first theatrical project since the Oscar-winning black comedy "Parasite" (2019).
"More than two years have passed since we finished filming. We've tried several times to release our film," he said. "Finally, we've set the date and I hope 'Kingmaker' will mark a good start in 2022."