Interview: Koh Ah-sung is no longer a child in NYKFF opener ‘Office’

November 5, 2015
Koh Ah-sung in Director Hong Won-chan's "Office," 2015

Koh Ah-sung in Director Hong Won-chan’s “Office,” 2015

By Tae Hong

Koh Ah-sung, 23, was a child actor when she shot to fame a little less than a decade ago as the kidnapped-by-a-sea-monster schoolgirl daughter of a tenacious family in the South Korean box office hit “The Host.”

Critics and moviegoers, riveted by her performance, gave her the thumbs up. So did industry insiders, who awarded Koh the trophy for Best New Actress at the 27th Blue Dragon Film Awards, making her its youngest-ever recipient.

Through the years, Koh’s filmography expanded to include a second Bong Joon-ho feature, the post-apocalyptic international effort “Snowpiercer,” as well as “Thread of Lies” and television dramas “Master of Study” and, earlier this year, “Heard It Through the Grapevine” (for which she won a Best New Actress in TV honor, this time at the Baeksang Arts Awards.)

Koh is now expected in New York at the annual Korean Film Festival (a program of The Korea Society) – which kicks off Friday and runs through next Wednesday inside the Museum of the Moving Image — to greet audiences following the first “adult” role of her career in Director Hong Wan-chan’s “Office,” which will open the festival.

The film is the story of an unassuming salaryman who murders his entire family with a hammer before going on the run — unknown to the police — back to the office.

In her role as Mi-rae, a doe-eyed intern whose perspective leads the film through a reflective, social commentary-rich look at South Korea’s hierarchical company culture, Koh takes on the psychothriller genre with a deftness uncommon in her peers.

She also briefly appears in “The Beauty Inside,” the whimsical body-changing romance included in the festival’s lineup.

Her next project, a human drama painting a picture of the Korean War in which she stars opposite Im Si-wan, “Thinking of Elder Brother,” is slated for a 2016 release.

Koh spoke to the Korea Times via an email interview about her thoughts on “Office” and where she’s set her sights.

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Korea Times: How does it feel to participate in the festival?

Koh: This is my first time, so I’m nervous but happy for the chance to meet with New York audiences.

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KT: It felt like we were watching the “adult” Koh Ah-sung for the first through through “Office.” It’s a definite departure from your previous roles as daughter or teenage student — how are you approaching that transition in your career?

K: I didn’t choose the project to create a more mature image. If it means a good film will be made, I’m willing to act as a high school student again. But there was an inherent pleasure in acting in a role that fits my current age. I could really sympathize with the character.

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KT: What drew you to play this character, Mi-rae?

K: It wasn’t an easy task to portray her. But as an actress who welcomes three-dimensional characters, this was an opportunity for me to jump into complicated emotions.

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KT: You acted alongside veterans like Park Sung-woong and Kim Eui-sung. Was there anything in particular you remember?

K: I was touched that they created an inviting relationship with me without formalities. I want to become actors like them one day.

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KT: Through films with Director Bong Joon-ho, and through dramas, you have an image as a young actress with great acting talent. Is that a source of pressure for you?

K: Rather than pressure, to me it’s more of an anticipation for a new project, always. I’m filled with the responsibility to put out good work.

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KT: We’re curious about what you want to accomplish in terms of acting.

K: I want to experience a diverse set of projects. I never want to limit myself to any one role. I want to act freely.

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KT: You’ve expressed your wish to star in American projects in the past. Why is Hollywood an important goal for you?

K: It’s always exciting to participate in an international project. I’ve been lucky to have had that opportunity since I was young. I’ve since come to the realization that films are truly an artistic field with no country borders.

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Koh will attend the New York premiere of “Office,” followed by a reception alongside Director Hong, on Friday. Festival selections this year include “Assassination,” “Veteran,” “Madonna,” “Wonderful Nightmare,” “Confession,” “Trap” and “The Shameless.”

Visit the museum page for more information about the New York Korean Film Festival.

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