Jung Woo-sung: From favorite leading man to daring producer behind The Silent Sea

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Jung Woo-sung: From favorite leading man to daring producer behind The Silent Sea
South Korean star Jung Woo-sung serves as executive producer of the firstever space exploration Kdrama The Silent Sea, now streaming on Netflix.
STAR / File

South Korean star Jung Woo-sung had mixed feelings — happiness, excitement, pressure and a little bit of fear — serving as producer of the first-ever space exploration K-drama The Silent Sea.

Now streaming on Netflix, the series set in a post-apocalyptic Earth follows an elite team sent on a special mission to an abandoned research station on the moon in hopes of finding answers to save mankind from extinction. Leading the team are astrobiologist Song Jian (Bae Doona), captain Han Yunjae (Gong Yoo), chief engineer Ryu Taesuk (Lee Joon) and team doctor Doc Hong (Kim Sun-young).

The series is based on a short film by the director himself, Choi Hang-yong, when he was still in film school. It captured the attention of no less than Jung seven years ago. For the adaptation, Jung and his team tapped Park Eun-kyo, the award-winning screenwriter for the movies Mother and Crush And Blush.

Turning the short film into a full-blown series was a bold and ambitious mission as well that spelled challenge in every step of the way, according to the 48-year-old actor.

“I would like to say that everything was a challenge. Everything was a first shot. So, it was like starting off from level zero, and everything had to be done on a trial and error basis,” he recalled the making of The Silent Sea in a virtual roundtable just before the show’s Christmas Eve global premiere.

The Silent Sea was just the second project he produced after the 2016 film Remember You. Jung, who was feted with the Presidential Commendation last year for his contribution to arts and cinema at the 12th Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards Presidential Commendation, is best-known as a leading man in such films as The Good, the Bad, the Weird, City of the Rising Sun, A Moment To Remember (which is having a Philippine remake this 2022) and Innocent Witness (which won him Best Actor at the Blue Dragon Film Awards and the Daesang Grand Prize for Film at the Baeksang Arts Awards in 2019).

Nevertheless, he considered the producer’s job a fun challenge “or else, I would look more tired by now (laughs),” adding that since his sci-fi series was the first of its kind in Korea, “it actually gave me some space to maneuver and it gave me some freedom so I could take some bold decisions.”

Besides being a daring producer, Jung proved to be a hands-on one, whose involvement covered practically all bases, from selecting the cast down to the “cleaning” of the set.

He said the production had to enlist actors who could take on the challenges and pressure of blue screen filming, not to mention “outer space” training like walking in low to zero gravity to depict high-pressure situations in the storyline.

“The producer also has to try his best to make sure that this is portrayed perfectly. So, there was a lot of excitement and happiness, plus a little bit of fear, too. This is a series that we want a lot of people to love, but I wanted to make sure that the actors — the cast— actually love the project itself.”

Even as he was initially “afraid” to ask his cast to watch the finished drama, he said “the actors were all very satisfied with the product, I was very happy.”

One of the burning questions though was why he was not starring in The Silent Sea. “As an actor, you do want to be a part of something like this on the screen, too. And about seven years ago, I did explore versions of the story where I was the main lead, too. But I think that all of the different thoughts that I had in the process, it was just all necessary steps that you had to take in order to see the completed version that we see today,” he said.

“And if I had to play a role, you might think that I wanted to play Captain Han, but I will tell you now that I would never have been able to play the role of Captain Han the way Gong Yoo captured the character,” he added.

For Jung, looking after the set, cast and crew, and being responsible for what the production needed more or less were “a truly learning experience and it was truly enough.”

The STAR, meanwhile, asked the actor that when he and his team were just starting the production, did they already think about the kind of statement they wanted the series to have on Korean storytelling and filmmaking.

Jung answered, “I didn’t think as far as about the repercussions it will have on the Korean film production. But I thought the first homework that I had to do was to make sure that the degree of perfection was as high as it could be. So, if I do a good job of making a good degree of perfection, then this could send some waves to the Korean production arena.”

By “perfection,” this included achieving the “right texture of the surface of the moon.”

“Seven years ago when I first wanted to work on this — (turning) the short film into a series — I thought it was a very difficult challenge, especially at the time because there was no sci-fi film that focused on the moon so much and that showed the surface of the moon for such a long time. But in a way, I thought it was worth a shot because, you know, just to think of having a Korea station on the moon, it was just so fascinating. I wanted to see that. So, I didn’t want the surface of the moon to be exaggerated. I just want it to be the image that we all think of when we think of the moon. And that is actually really hard to do because creating something natural, I think, that’s the most difficult thing.”

The media also learned he was so hands-on that he always carried a broom around the set. He explained: “The reason I always had a broomstick in my hand was because I had to erase off the footprints of the actors because we only needed the footprints of the astronauts and not the actors. So, sometimes, in between shoots, the staff and crew would step on set to do something, and there would be footprints. What I did was take a broomstick and sweep off that footprint. I did that because we wanted to do it as fast as we could, so the shooting could be efficient. I think I was the one who should do it because I knew all the sequences, so I knew when and where to sweep.”

Jung readily admitted that he felt pressure having to produce a series right after the globally successful K-dramas Squid Game and Hellbound on Netflix. As of writing, The Silent Sea is No. 2 most-watched content on Netflix Philippines.

“I think that it’s almost like we are in a relay, where you are seeing different kinds of K-content being showcased to the world, and there is pressure, definitely. Each piece has their own universe, their different sentiment, and I think it’s not comparable to the success of previous productions that the world has loved so much.”

Jung further stressed that The Silent Sea has a story of its own. “I think it wouldn’t be fair to say that oh, this piece is going to do great because former K-content were so successful. I do not think that it’s the right way to look at it. I think more focus should be put on creating something with our passion and something that we believe in, and hoping that it would resonate with the global audience. And I truly wish that this piece would also resonate with the global audience.”


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