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Lee Sun-kyun plays corrupt police in 'Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage'

With his mild demeanor and low baritone voice, Lee Sun-kyun has the look of a gentle soul. This is ironic given that he is playing a police officer that he describes as “a total scumbag” in director Lee Jeong-beom’s upcoming crime film “Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage.”

“(My character) is a police officer, but he really is trash,” said Lee in describing his character Jo Pil-ho, during a promotional press conference for the film in Seoul on Monday. “He doesn’t compare to other characters that I have played in being harsh and ill-natured. He is the worst. Of all-time.”

The movie follows Lt. Jo, who takes joy in taking bribes and turning a blind eye to corruption. When an explosion occurs, however, the corrupt cop becomes the prime suspect and embroiled in a conspiracy involving a multinational conglomerate. 

“Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage” (Warner Bros. Korea)
“Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage” (Warner Bros. Korea)

Director Lee, about to release his first feature-length film in five years, said that Lee’s acting was crucial in carrying the drama, as the protagonist is an extremely emotional character with dramatic highs and lows.

“There is an enormous gap in him from when he is peaceful and when he is in hell. (Lee Sun-kyun’s) facial expression was very impressive when depicting such state,” he said. “The main character’s way of thinking changes drastically along the way, and I needed an actor that can cover that range.”

Pushing him to the limit is Gwon Tae-ju, a right-hand man of an “the biggest evil in Korea” played by Park Hae-joon. The director said that he thought that Park’s handsome face has a “beast-like, violent side” that erupts when met with Lee.

Park said that he was neck-deep in the role that he failed to even notice a bruise near his ear, perhaps an hint of the “beast” the director talked about.

“It was hard, physically. I’ve prepared a lot, trained a lot, but they always required more,” he said.

Holding the key in the film is Mina, a high school student played by Jeon So-nee. This marks the first leading role for the 27-year-old, who said her character was “not such a bad kid.”

It seems that Lee Jeong-beom’s trademark style of a flawed man going through hardship and spiritual growth throughout the film -- most notably in his most successful film “The Man from Nowhere” -- will also be found in this flick.

“My first (feature-length) film ‘Cruel Winter Blues,’ ‘The Man from Nowhere,’ and ‘No Tears for the Dead’ all have same endings: with the male protagonist finally understanding something and weeping. ... I like films that show (the protagonists’) inner growth,” he said. “But this film doesn’t end there and takes another step. Jo Pil-ho’s action, after he comes to a realization, is important. I think this film will be an important turning point for me.”

The “Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage” opens on March 21.

By Yoon Min-sik

* Official English title of the film has been changed by its distributor from "Bad lieutenant."