Choi Min-sik feels empathy for multifaceted villain character in ‘Big Bet’

March 24, 2023

Veteran actor Choi Min-sik said he felt empathy for the villain character he played in Disney+ series “Big Bet,” as the gambling king is an ordinary guy who ultimately finds himself at the end of a journey for more.

The 16-episode series, written and directed by Kang Yoon-sung, tells the tale of Cha Moo-sik, who became the legendary king of a casino in the Philippines but confronts unfortunate events. After getting tangled in a murder case, he faces the ultimate bet with his life on the line to get back in the game.

“In every work, I feel like I am falling in love with my characters … Regrets still remain when I think about what could have been done better,” Choi said in a group media interview Friday, two days after the series wrapped up the last episode.

Actor Choi Min-sik, the lead of Disney+ series "Big Bet," is seen in this photo provided by Walt Disney Co. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
Actor Choi Min-sik, the lead of Disney+ series “Big Bet,” is seen in this photo provided by Walt Disney Co. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

It marked Choi’s return to the small screen for the first time in 26 years. The 60-year-old, considered one of the most talented actors of his generation, has won global acclaim for his roles in “Oldboy” (2003) and “Lady Vengeance” (2005), two films in Korean auteur Park Chan-wook’s neo-noir revenge trilogy.

Choi said performing in the sprawling gambling crime saga set in the Philippines was challenging but he enjoyed a more flexible work environment than when filming a movie.

“While faithfully portraying the characters, we tried to jazz it up within the plot to better express the characters’ emotions,” he said.

His main focus of acting was on highlighting the banality of Cha to make him look like an ordinary man with endless desire for money and power.

“If Cha Moo-sik was a plain villain, I wouldn’t have taken the role. There is no person who is 100 percent bad, or 100 percent good, because people have many sides,” he said. “When I read the script, I decided to focus on portraying an ordinary guy.”

A scene from Disney+ series "Big Bet" is seen in this photo provided by Walt Disney Co. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
A scene from Disney+ series “Big Bet” is seen in this photo provided by Walt Disney Co. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In the series, he travels between time and place as he plays his younger character in South Korea and a gray-haired casino mogul in the Philippines. The team used “de-aging technology,” a 3D visual effect technique used to make an actor look younger, while two younger actors performed his early years.

“There are so many characters that conflict with Cha. I had to concentrate on each situation depending on my counterparts case by case,” he said.

He said part of the success behind “Big Bet” abroad lies in its unique way of unfolding the crime noir story.

“One thing I am proud of in the series is that it didn’t mimic Western noirs,” he said. “Characters just shoot, without getting into a gun fight. I think foreign audiences were attracted to its realistic style.”

Looking back on his acting career spanning over 30 years, Choi said he is still hungry for new characters in diverse genres, hoping to join a heartwarming family drama or romance in future projects.

“My desire for good works, diverse characters and genres is getting stronger,” he said. “If there are opportunities, I want to play characters in romances, healing stories between families, brothers or friends.”