The historic victory of “Parasite” at last year’s Oscars has put Korean cinema under a brighter spotlight than ever before. Now “The Man Standing Next” director Woo Min-ho is hoping his political thriller will follow in the footsteps of the first non-English Best Picture winner as South Korea’s selection for the 2021 Best International Film category.
Woo and star Lee Byung-hun spoke with TheWrap about their new film based on the presidency of Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated by the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) in 1979. Set during the final weeks of Park’s iron-fisted reign, “The Man Standing Next” follows high-ranking officers inside the KCIA, as they fight for power after discovering that one official has fled to the United States and testified in Congress on the KCIA’s illegal operations.
For Woo Min-ho, watching Bong Joon-ho and “Parasite” win four Oscars last year was akin to watching the Korean national team win the World Cup; never did he think that his film would be the next to follow in those footsteps.
“I did not expect us to be selected…I’m very happy and surprised,” Woo told TheWrap. “With luck, I really hope that we can move on to the next step.”
“Our film is very different from ‘Parasite’ in terms of genre and material, but this is a true case from history,” Lee Byung-hun added. “It deals with the ’70s and the society and culture of Korea at that time. I believe this is a new kind of Korean film that American audiences can see, and I’m very happy with this.”
The biggest mystery surrounding the Park assassination is why KCIA director Kim Jae-gyu assassinated the president, something that “The Man Standing Next” tries to explore. Woo and Lee did extensive research into the assassination and even interviewed KCIA officials when preparing to make the film. But when it came time for Lee to step in front of the camera and play Kim Gyu-pyeong, the fictional KCIA director based on Kim Jae-gyu, he still tried but couldn’t come up with his own theory on what the motive was.
“When acting, I wanted to make sure through my performance that I didn’t come to one answer or one conclusion,” Lee said. “It’s not very clear if the incident was spontaneous or it was for the greater good…so I wanted to make sure there was no clear answer.”
Watch Woo Min-ho and Lee Byung-hun’s interview with TheWrap’s Steve Pond in the clip above.