In new career peak, Choi Min-sik sweeps box offices in Korea and U.S.

August 4, 2014

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Choi Min-sik, center, in "Lucy."

Choi Min-sik, center, in “Lucy.”

Choi Min-sik, 52, is enjoying a new peak in his career as his movies “Roaring Currents” and “Lucy” are making box office records at home and in the United States, respectively.

His latest work, “Roaring Currents,” hit Korean theaters last Wednesday. The Korean Film Council said it drew 680,000 viewers on the first day of screening and renewed the opening day box office record of 551,000 that was set only a week ago by “Kundo: Age of the Rampant.”

On the next day, “Roaring Currents” broke the Korean box office record on a weekday by attracting 700,000 spectators. “Roaring Currents” earned about $25.8 million as of Sunday.

In the epic blockbuster, Choi plays Joseon admiral Yi Sun-shin (1545-1598), one of the most heroic figures in Korean history. The film revolves around Battle of Myeongnyang, the legendary admiral’s naval battle against Japan in 1597.

Choi said he knew he would “face a thorny path” in performing the nation’s hero, as every Korean knows him. Critics have lauded Choi’s intimate portrayal of the great admiral. Director Kim Han-min praised Choi for realizing various aspects of the naval commander, ranging from a keen war strategist to a passionate leader.

Choi’s success goes beyond Korea. His Hollywood debut “Lucy,” co-starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, topped the box office for its opening week, earning $44 million at the U.S. box office. Though it made way for “Guardians of the Galaxy” in the box office for its second week, “Lucy” is still strong in sales, already having recouped its $40 million budget.

Choi steals the spotlight in the Luc Besson-directed action movie, assuming the role of a gangster who forces Lucy, played by Johansson, to become a drug mule. The New York Times referred to Choi as “the excellent Korean actor” in its review of “Lucy.”

The rare double success for Choi is expected to raise his status. He already commands respect as one of the finest of his generation in Korea. Choi is known for his dramatic acting and has left a deep impression as Oh Dae-su in “Oldboy,” playing a man seeking vengeance after 15 years of confinement.

The 2003 film is one of the most popular Korean films across the globe and the first Korean movie to win the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Choi is an actor of many faces — he was a romantic gangster in “Failan” (2001) and janus-faced Mr. Baek in “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” (2004).

However, he strongly protested against the government’s move to reduce screen quota system, which compels movie theaters to screen Korean films for certain number of days, in 2006 and returned his Ok-gwan Medal decoration badge to demonstrate his objection.

Along with his opposition to the government, Choi went into a five-year hiatus in mainstream movies before making a return as a malicious serial killer in “I Saw the Devil” in 2010. The hiatus gave his acting more depth. He has been on the fast track since then, appearing in hit movies such as “Nameless Gangster” (2012) and “New World” (2013).