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[Herald Interview] Kim Nam-gil says 'Song of the Bandits' was full of new challenges

By Lee Si-jin

Published : Oct. 4, 2023 - 18:00

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Kim Nam-gil (Netflix) Kim Nam-gil (Netflix)

Veteran actor Kim Nam-gil, 43, remembers his debut Netflix series, “Song of the Bandits,” as a project full of never-before-seen challenges in his 24-year acting career.

From handling rifles to weathering the elements in sandstorm scenes, Kim said almost every aspect in shooting the show was new to him, especially as not many Korean films and dramas have been inspired by the Western genre.

Kim explained that he spent a lot of time getting used to an unfamiliar weapon, the Winchester rifle.

"I carried a Winchester replica and trained with it as if it were part of my body. It was a necessary process not only to shoot smooth action scenes, but also to prevent injuries," Kim said in a recent interview with reporters at a cafe in Jongno-gu, Seoul.

Kim Nam-gil plays bandit leader Lee Yoon in Kim Nam-gil plays bandit leader Lee Yoon in "Song of the Bandits." (Netflix)

“It was an exciting experience to design the action sequences in ‘Song of the Bandits.’ The action scenes were not just about flashy moves and audience-entertaining brawls. We wanted to present something more,” the actor added.

Kim’s latest series, “Song of the Bandits,” presents a Korean interpretation of the Western genre, featuring breathtaking shootout scenes with hardboiled characters in dusty towns and desert-like wilderness.

The series revolves around a group of bandits who are fighting to survive and protect their precious families and friends.

Among the action scenes, one of the highlights Kim recalled was the solo fight against Nodeoksan’s gang at the end of the first episode, where he focused on expressing the pent-up rage of his character, Lee Yoon.

“I shot the scenes with long takes, because we (he and the director) felt that was an important moment for Lee Yoon to unleash his anger and show his determination to become a bandit. Aside from the shootouts, the action scenes featured cruel stabbings and relentless hand-to-hand combat with fists as well,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Lee Yoon’s one-on-one clashes with Eon-nyeon, a contract killer, were inspired by the action scenes in the American film “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (2005).

Kim shared that showing the character’s emotions through actions was a major focus throughout the whole project. He believed such a performance would elevate the level of the drama's action scenes and give him an opportunity to evolve as a unique performer as well.

As the show was set in Jiandao -- also known as the Gando region here -- in Jilin Province in northeastern China, Kim was able to experience filming in a new environment, amid sandstorms.

Re-creating the sandstorms on the set took the crew and actors significant effort and time, Kim said.

“At first, we tried to use mixed grain powder in an enclosed space, but safety issues were taken seriously and it could have damaged the cameras and other equipment as well. After careful consideration, we chose to use theatrical smoke and color it with computer graphics,” the actor told The Korea Herald.

Kim said he did not have a clear vision while shooting the sandstorm scenes, making him and other characters' expression of fear and anxiety of the invisible more natural.

The actor felt that was one of the iconic moments when the characters’ emotions were fully conveyed through the actions.

When asked about the abrupt ending of the series, Kim agreed and hinted that the show has more stories to offer.

“Many viewers might have been surprised by how quickly the series came to an end in the last episode. The screenwriters and I had discussions about presenting the series with 20 episodes in a single series or releasing ‘Song of the Bandits’ in two parts with fewer episodes,” he said.

“Lee Yoon’s stories with Gwang-il and Hee-shin are not finished. I was on my way to join hands with the bandit family in the show as well. Nothing is decided or in talks about ‘Song of the Bandits Season 2.’ But, I am the No. 1 fan waiting for the next season,” Kim told The Korea Herald, his face beaming.

"Song of the Bandits" (Netflix)