Jang Dong Gun has starred in two of the highest-grossing box office hits in the history of South Korea – Friend and Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War. His new movie The Warrior’s Way marks his first American film. In it he portrays Yang, the world’s greatest swordsman who abandons his clan, after eliminating all but one of his clan’s enemies – an infant whose smile instantly melts his heart. Unwilling to kill her, he takes her to start a new life in the American West.
Yang ends up in Lode, a frontier town in which an old friend lives, where he makes friends with Lynne (Kate Bosworth), a spirited knife-thrower-in-training, and Ron (Geoffrey Rush), a worn-out drunk. When the Colonel (Danny Huston) and his renegade gang threaten to destroy the town, Yang reluctantly unsheathes his sword, realizing that this act will reveal his location to his own murderous clan.
This is your first American movie, what was about it that interested you?
I really wanted to be a part of this film. I liked the script because it was fresh and challenging. This movie is a Western nostalgia and Eastern mystique put together in a way that will satisfy both cultures. I’m very satisfied with what we achieved.
I’ve been a fan of western movies since I was very young because my father was a huge fan. I grew up watching Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. And when I read this script I thought, ‘Hey, I could be Clint Eastwood.’ The story was just fascinating how this hero sets off to this faraway place, stays in this town and saves it in the end. I thought there’s no need even to think about this, I was on board.
I feel very lucky to have had a chance to work with such wonderful actors. Even though we had cultural differences, I think the actors understood each other from the heart.
Was shooting it different than working in Asia?
Obviously the scale is very different, it’s much larger so the crew was much larger, but on the set while we were shooting I think there were more similarities than differences, because we had the common goal of working on this one film. So the passion that we felt on the set is pretty much the same whether it’s an American film or a Korean film.
Tell us about your character?
My character Yang was the greatest swordsman in the East who betrays his organization and then hides out in the West in a small town. Though his daily life experiences he goes from being a warrior to a human being.
More than a few people have called you the next Jackie Chan or the next Jet Li. Both, like you, are huge stars in Asia before doing their Hollywood debuts. How do you feel about those comparisons?
It feels great to hear that, like you said it’s just the beginning so I’ll just continue to work hard.
In this film you had to practice your English and deal with a baby. In your personal life you became a father, did that help dealing with the baby?
We had a lot of time to prepare. The film came first before I became a father and I think if I were to shoot the film now I would do a much better job of taking care of the baby. The baby was great, it was almost as if she knew the script and she acted accordingly, she had the right expression. I didn’t have any problems because of the baby.
You’re used to fighting with professionals, what was it like doing the sword fight with Kate Bosworth in this movie?
There’s a lot of action in the film but I think the one scene that I really had to work for and was difficult to do was the scene with Kate. The scene that I was doing with Kate was very intricate and as adept as we are doing martial arts, this was almost like dancing the tango and so there was a lot of choreography that we had to memorize and we both tried not to get hurt. I think Kate doesn’t have that much experience doing martial arts but she did a great job.
You and Kate had great chemistry in this, was that there from the beginning?
We didn’t have to work on it that hard. Acting is communicating with each other and yes our languages and cultures were different, but we had the common goal of making this film, and we were able to communicate under that common goal.
Although language is the most important thing in acting, I was able to relate to all of my co-workers and actors, and I learned we can communicate even with all of these differences.
How has becoming a new father affected your life and your career?
My baby is only two months old and I still remember very clearly the first second that I set eyes on him and I think that even my fans will feel I’m a different actor, and a different person, before he was born and after he was born.
I hear that they had Korean food on the set for you.
The production staff had Korean food ready all the time, so it was a great help, I didn’t have to worry about what to eat. And towards the end I think the other cast members who were non-Korean actually started lining up on the Korean food side.
Danny Huston compared you to Clint Eastwood, did you feel a little bit like him doing this?
A lot of people said after they saw me in the film that I looked like Clint Eastwood frowning. It was very similar and because this wasn’t shot outdoors, it was shot indoors, I had to think about how I would look if there is all this sunlight in the desert when it’s very bright, so I did think of Clint Eastwood. My favorite Clint Eastwood film is A Fist Full of Dollars.