Broker's Song Kang-Ho On The Directing Styles Of Hirokazu Kore-Eda And Bong Joon-Ho [Exclusive Interview]

Song Kang-ho is easily one of the most globally recognized Korean actors working today. His lead role in the Academy Award-winning 2019 film "Parasite" earned him international acclaim, but I have been a fan of his for years. He often plays likable characters that make questionable choices, as he did in Bong Joon-ho's earlier films, "Memories of Murder" and "The Host." And thankfully, he also steals the show in Hirokazu Kore-eda's newest film, "Broker."

His character, Sang-hyun, runs a dry-cleaning service by day and brokers illegal adoptions for abandoned children by night. Being a broker earns him and his partner, Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), a small fee. At the same time, the pair try to make sure the babies end up in good homes and provide them with a better life than they would have in an orphanage. Sang-hyun also struggles with parenting his own daughter, who lives with her mother.

"Broker" centers around the baby boxes in Japan and Korea, where children are left to be looked after by the state. The topic is morally complex, as are the film's characters. I had the honor of asking the incomparably charming Song Kang-ho for his opinions on Bong vs. Kore-eda, Japan vs. Korea, and good vs. evil.

Bong and Kore-eda have 'very different styles,' but share good taste in actors

I recently saw an interview in The Korea Times where you mentioned that you wanted to approach your character like a mystery. I still had a lot of questions about Sang-hyun at the end of the film, so I wanted to ask if you feel like you solved the mystery of your character, or if you still have questions about him as well.

Yeah, I agree with you in that I think this is a character that has no definitive answer to it. I think these characters are really a result of the environments that bear them and there isn't really a precise answer to the questions that are posed in the film. And I don't think pure good and pure evil exist. I think good and evil always coexist and just because you're doing good things doesn't mean you're a good person and vice versa — just because you do evil things doesn't make you an evil person. I feel that both are really a part of being alive, and the character that I play, while he is both warm and kind, he is in a situation in which he is doing things that are not very good. So, I can't give you a definitive answer and this is sort of how I interpret this character.

I like that answer. You've done lots of work under Bong Joon-ho's direction as well. A personal favorite of mine is "Memories of Murder," your 2002 film, and I'm a big fan of the films that you've made with both Bong and this new film with Kore-eda. I was wondering how you felt that their directing styles differed, or if their personalities were at all similar to you?

Of course they're from different countries, one is Korean and Japanese, so I would mention that. I mean, jokes aside, of course, every director, they have a focus on good and creative acting, so they share that in common for sure [laughs]. But in the way that Director Bong is very quintessentially Korean, Director Kore-eda is very quintessentially Japanese and it really shows in the specificity of their direction and the nuance in it. Initially going into this project, I thought they might have similar styles, but in fact, they have very contrasting styles and different worldviews as artists towards cinema.

I mean, I think it's easy to have the conception that because Director Bong and I are both Korean, we will connect much easier, but there are ways that I found through working on this film that I really deeply connected with Director Kore-eda, and their kind of contrasting styles show. Like, Director Bong, he's very detailed and he has a very precise way of directing, whereas Director Kore-eda, there's a sense that he's waiting for me and that I'm able to build my own character. It was very exciting to answer his waiting and questions as an actor and to fill in the blanks. So, I mean, I like both of them, but they have very different styles, and thinking that I wouldn't connect with Kore-eda as much because of our different nationalities would be mistaken because I really do enjoy working with both of their unique styles of direction.

'I actually hate doing stuff with my hands'

Your character seems to get a lot of joy out of sewing and working with his hands. Do you yourself enjoy sewing or any other crafts like that?

I actually hate doing stuff with my hands. I'm not a very crafty person.

Me too. I understand that you've also worked with Gang Dong-won before on the film "Secret Reunion," which came out in 2010. So, you had known him for years, but at the same time, he had matured a lot as an actor and as a person since the last time you two worked together. How do you think that this history between you two affected the dynamic between your two characters in "Broker?"

Of course, Gang Dong-won is a handsome actor, but I think that he also has a very warm sentimentality about him that not a lot of people know about. And I mean that not just as an actor, but as a person, and I can really feel that when I'm acting alongside him. I'm very proud that kind of warmth shows in the two films that we've made together. I think he's had great performances in other films that we haven't specifically worked on together as well, but I think that it really shows especially in "Broker," and I'm very proud of that.

"Broker" is now in limited release in New York and Los Angeles.