South Korean actor Kim Yoon Seok is entering the third phase of his acclaimed career. For 15 years, Kim was known primarily as a stage actor. For the next 15 years he starred in several dramas and more than two dozen films, winning dozens of acting awards, at least five of which he received in 2018. The latest chapter of his career begins with the film Another Child, which he both directs and stars in.
Kim has played some forceful and determined characters—from a prison escapee to a detective to an exorcizing Catholic priest—so the role he plays in his directorial debut may come as a surprise. His character Dae Won is a hapless man, who through his immaturity causes emotional chaos. Kim Yoon Seok did not plan to play the role, because he thought it might be too difficult to act while directing his first film. Yet Dae Won was such a pitiable character, the role was hard to cast.
“I had to end up playing him because no other actor wanted to,” said Kim Yoon Seok during a recent visit to New York to attend the screening of Another Child at the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival.
Although the effects of Dae Won’s actions ripple throughout the film, he’s not actually on screen much of the time.
“If I had to play a bigger role it would have been difficult to act and direct, so in a way I’m glad it worked out the way it did. Dae Won is the person who triggers the film, but the focus is not on Dae Won, but rather the four women who deal with this incident in their lives.”
Dae Won has a wife, played by Yum Jung Ah, and a daughter, played by Kim Hye Jun, but he also has an affair with another woman, played by Kim So Jin. The other woman, a single mom, has a daughter, played by Park Se Jin, and both girls attend the same school.
After Kim Hye Jin’s character finds out about her father’s affair, the film follows the reactions of the four women, whose lives are forever changed. The women rise to the occasion, which is more than can be said for Dae Won. Although their new connection is difficult for the two schoolgirls to process they eventually come to terms with it in a mature and positive way.
“What I wanted to talk about with this film is that we tend to distinguish adults and non-adults by age. If you’re a certain age you’re an adult, but when you think about it, just because you’re getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you’re growing and evolving psychologically and emotionally as a whole human being. It just doesn’t make sense. So often you see adults doing stupid things. I wanted to raise the question: is this standard for distinguishing between adults and non-adults really the standard we should be going for? Can we really say this is the standard for being a whole integrated human being?”
Although Dae Won does considerable damage with his thoughtless behavior, director Kim Yoon Seok never treats him like a villain. It’s a risky move but one that lends the film a subtle grace.
“It’s much easier to create drama when you have someone to take the hit. That’s why the majority or over half of the films we see today are about people chasing the very bad guy, the murderer, a psychopath, but if you really think about our lives and consider how we really live our lives, you can’t really kill the bad guy. Usually, someone has done us wrong, but ordinary people, such as us, have to live with them, live with the consequences. I really wanted to touch upon the courage of ordinary citizens, the people who live on with these burdens. I wanted to talk about what real courage actually is and I also wanted to talk about ordinary cowards who avoid responsibility in their lives. To sum this up, I really wanted to draw a portrait of our real lives in an intimate way.”
As an actor, Kim Yoon Seok often earns raves from fellow male actors who praise him for being supportive and a pleasure to work with. In this film, the principal cast, aside from the character he plays, is all women.
Despite his easy camaraderie with fellow male stars, Kim says he has always been very interested in female characters, especially the ones who don’t confront their mistakes head on.
“I wanted to capture the fight that these female characters have to preserve their dignity and I think rather than very macho or masculine characters I actually feel that these female characters reveal the human condition even more strongly than some masculine characters.”
While Kim Yoon Seok plans to focus the next phase of his career on directing, and his stellar debut ensures his ability, he has not given up on acting. His next role will be as an actor in the film Virus, co-starring Bae Doona. Virus, the first commercial feature by indie filmmaker Kang Yi Kwan, will also be the first time these two accomplished actors work together. In the film Kim plays a researcher investigating a virus that prompts people to fall in love, while Bae plays someone who has been infected.
The film begins production this year.
This story was originally published on forbes.com.