CANNES, France (Reuters) - South Korean director Kim Ki-duk was so taken by Taiwanese actor Chang Chen, star of the Academy Award winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, that he created a role that broke down language barriers.
Chang, who speaks no Korean, stars in Kim’s latest film “Breath”, a poetic story of jealousy and redemption in competition at the Cannes film festival, as Jang Jin, a condemned prisoner whose repeated suicide attempts have left him unable to speak.
“I would like to have been able to speak Korean but I can’t,” Chang told reporters through an interpreter. “It’s a role that gave me quite a few challenges at a psychological level. I had to use my body to express emotions.”
His growing love for Yeon, a married woman played by South Korean actor Zia, is conveyed solely through looks and gestures that become steadily more intense as their strange affair develops through her repeated visits to his prison.
“I wanted to cast the image of Chang Chen because I’d seen a lot of pictures and films that he’d made and the only way to cast the image and to get something different, was to do without language,” Kim Ki-duk, a regular at international festivals, told reporters after the film’s press screening.
Chang Chen’s status as one of Asian cinemas leading male stars has developed steadily since he appeared in Chinese director Wong Kar Wai’s “Happy Together” in 1997.
Since then he has starred in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, the film that won director Ang Lee an Oscar for best foreign language film and Wong Kar Wai’s “2046”. But “Breath” was his first outing into the vibrant Korean cinema scene.
“Chang Chen is really a very great actor,” said Kim Ki-duk. “I don’t really like to put actors in an order of first, second and third but I was really very moved by his performance during and after the shooting.”
“Breath” is a spare film shot on a tiny budget mainly in either Jin’s prison or the house Yeon shares with her alienated husband and their young daughter.
But Kim Ki-duk, who himself plays a shadowy prison official who controls the meetings of the two lovers, said he was aiming at a wider psychological and social resonance for the film.
“I think there are always hidden people who control our society, who are invisible, whom we don’t know,” he said.
“What I wanted to show was the impossibility of communication between human beings and the difficulty of human relations and at the same time, the difficult relationship I have with Korean society.”