Actor Kim Myung-min in a scene from his new film "Closer to Heaven"
Constantly transforming, from a callous doctor to a feisty conductor, Kim Myung-min is an actor with many faces, but he was unrecognizably thin in the movie trailer for "Closer to Heaven" (working title), revealed to the press Monday in Seoul.
The 36-year-old star shed 20 kilograms to play a terminally ill man in the film and still carried a considerably thin frame and deeply sunken cheeks ― a striking contrast from past appearances as a tough detective ("Open City") or valiant general (TV soap "Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin").
"I had to become more absorbed in the emotions and heighten the drama toward the end of the film. But I couldn't become fully immersed in my role due to exhaustion, and that was the most difficult part," he said.
But Kim said that starving was necessary for his role as a man suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and that it was nothing to brag about. A Lou Gehrig's patient loses muscle control while still retaining mental and sensory capacities, he said, but his perception and senses started "becoming numb" as he shed more kilograms.
The melodrama, slated for release Sept. 24, depicts the love between Kim's character Jong-wu and his wife Ji-su, played by top actress Ha Ji-won. Director Park Jin-pyo, known for the hit tearjerker "You Are My Sunshine," starring Jeon Do-yeon as an AIDS patient opposite Hwang Jung-min, helms the project.
Behind-the-scenes footage revealed a shockingly emaciated Kim, whose spine and rib cage were fully visible.
"At first the director and Ha Ji-won fasted and lost weight with me, so I felt bad. But later on the two would go eat 'tteokbokki' (rice cake) together. I'd ask if I could have a small bite and they'd say, 'not you,' so I was a little sad," said Kim jokingly.
"But I realized that the candy the director would eat on the set was actually something he had prepared for me in case my blood sugar level became too low, and he had skipped meals because of me," he said. "Each day was excruciating but I had no hard feelings toward the director and I felt alive on the set."
Director Park said that Ha had a very tough time watching Kim waste away. He explained that "tteokbokki'' is Ha Ji-won's comfort food for when she feels blue, and even though he didn't want to eat it, he had to because she'd refuse to eat alone.
Ha said that it was painful to watch her co-star lose weight and become sick, and she was able to easily immerse herself into her role. "(Kim) was so absorbed in his character that it was so natural for me to feel heartbroken and take care of him," she said.
"I'm still immature so I've been waiting for fateful love, and my yearning has become worse now that I have shot the movie. Wouldn't fateful love come to me one day," said the 31-year-old heroine of "Haeundae."
Yikes, I hope he didn't get osteoporosis.