Take a sweeping glance of the Korean entertainment scene in recent years and a growing trend might reveal itself to you: the increase in drama adaptations of webtoons, also recognised as manhwas. Simply think of the nail-biting All Of Us Are Dead, the gruelling Sweet Home or the romantic’s favourite, Business Proposal from earlier this year. Simply put, these webtoons find their roots in comic-style narratives with a strong focus on colourful visuals and dialogue-led plots. Oftentimes when these manhwas are adapted for the live-action screen instead of simply being animated—fans of the source material might see their fantastical plots merged with hybrid art styles for playful effect. On the other hand, some creators might instead choose to lean into the true-to-life nature of the medium, bringing hauntingly realistic visuals to the table instead.
Miike Takashi’s Connect presents itself as one such example. Set for release this December, the episodic series based on the webtoon of the same name is the Japanese director’s foray into the Korean entertainment market. Connect revolves around Ha Dong-Soo, screened by Jung Hae-in, who has lost his eye after being kidnapped—only to realise his missing eye is his supernatural link to a psychopathic serial killer (Go Kyung-pyo). Considering the morbid nature of the six-part-series, the psychological thriller is positioned perfectly in the auteur’s work considering Miike’s spectacular work in all things visceral and violent, from Ichi The Killer (2001) to Audition (1999).
When asked after his experiences working with Miike, Jung—who’s famously known for his previous roles in K-drama favourites such as While You Were Sleeping, Snowdrop and D.P.—also seemed to fully trust Miike’s unconventional means of storytelling: “We were looking in the same direction and shared the same vision for what we wanted to create.” Below, we see through the eyes of the director and cast of Connect instead, as they let us in on their experiences on set and how they breathed life into their characters.
Director Miike Takashi, what made you choose Connect out of so many webtoons (manhwa)?
Miike Takashi: To be honest with you, it was not my choice. I believe the decision-makers saw the great potential of the original manhwa and decided that I was the right person to fully capture the spirit of the original story. It’s a new story for me to work on as well. This was my first attempt at creating something based on an original webtoon. I thought to myself, “Isn’t it destiny that I get to work on something like this in an era when we have all these new forms of content?”
For the actors, considering Connect is of the sci-fi genre, did you try a different approach for this series compared to your previous projects?
Jung Hae-in: This was my first sci-fi project, and I had more CGI scenes than I had initially anticipated. Most of us have by now seen a lot of Marvel films, featuring superhero scenes that often involve a lot of CGI. Whilst working on Connect, my respect for those actors deepened throughout this project because I realised how difficult shooting a scene with CGI was. I had to use a lot of imagination as I performed, which was quite strange and awkward for me in many ways. But the energy on set was great, and we had great teamwork amongst the cast, director and crew. I could overcome that initial awkwardness thanks to their support.
Go Kyung-pyo: As for me, I tried to show a different side of myself compared to all the characters I have previously played, so I paid a lot of attention to the way I portrayed my character. I think it will be refreshing for the audience to watch a type of character that they have not seen me perform before. The series itself is also very fresh and original, which will be very intriguing for many viewers.
Director, what was it like working with a whole cast of Korean actors? Especially for Kyung-pyo, whom you’ve spoken fondly of before. And for the cast, please share with us what was special about working with director Miike Takashi.
Miike Takashi: For starters, I would like to say I’m a huge fan of Korean series and films. I love them. Whenever I watch Korean content, I always wondered why Korean actors’s performances were so different from their Japanese counterparts. I wondered what determined that difference. Whilst dealing with a Korean cast this time around, what I could confirm with my own eyes was the amount of passion they each had. I found that all of the actors I was working with are very passionate about what they do. Their ability to act is a given, but they also brought a powerful energy to the set that made me realise there were other crucial elements at play before you could recognise the mark of a good actor—beyond just their acting skills.
Regarding the question about Kyung-pyo, he plays a psychopath in this series. What do you usually associate a psychopath with? We often think of someone who completely lacks facial expressions or someone who seems very cold. This was so different from his adorable real-life personality; as he is someone who is very positive and would joke around on set. But once the camera was on, he managed to instantly slip into his character.
Go Kyung-pyo: I have always been an avid fan of director Takashi and during the entire duration of filming the series, I could sense this tremendous amount of energy. His passion for directing gave me energy on set but he is also very considerate and kind when on set with others. When something needs to be clarified, he makes sure that everyone understands it very clearly. Personally, I found him to be the perfect role model; an example of a great director.
Kim Hye-jun: Like the other two actors, I could feel a great amount of energy from director Takashi when I was on set. I had quite a bit of action scenes throughout the series and when I mentioned that I was struggling with it, he would personally demonstrate to me how to act out certain movements, considering he’s also an expert in action scenes himself. He was so nimble and fast. My only regret is that I could only show the audiences half of what he had showed to me.
Jung Hae-in: I think I connected effortlessly with director Takashi on set. In the series, my character has his eye stolen from him, and that is how he gets connected to Jin-seop, the serial killer. But while filming the series, I felt like I was very much aligned with director Takashi on a lot of fronts for the show. I felt that we were looking in the same direction and shared the same vision for what we want to create. So, working with him on set was truly fascinating to me.
Ha Dong-soo is closely connected with a serial killer through his eyes. How did you try to understand and sympathise with your character?
Jung Hae-in: The first characteristics that came to my mind when approaching this character, Dong-soo, were that of loneliness and solitude. He essentially has a good heart and he slowly figures out his abilities before deciding to use his power for the right cause. I thought a lot about how he would move and what he would be thinking about at every second. When portraying Dong-soo, I didn’t see him as a hero, but more as someone who aspires to be a hero. His journey felt very much like the struggle of a man who is simply preventing bad incidents from happening.
Director Miike Takashi, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Blade of the Immortal, and As the Gods Will are just some of the examples where you used CGI in your work. For this particular project, what did you focus on: the speed, action, or the overall mood of the narrative?
Miike Takashi: Yes, we did rely on quite a lot of CGI. But to me, it was about conveying the theme of this series which was the inherent human “personality” and how vulnerable the human mind can be. There was the question of: “What sets me apart from others and what kind of internal complexes does that bring?” A large part of this story revolves around the theme of humans fighting against this inherent loneliness and finding their will to live. On the surface, we may have many thrilling scenes, but at the same time, I hope that audiences can also see it as a very human drama—which is something I personally focused on.
For the actors, what were the challenges or difficulties you experienced on set?
Jung Hae-in: I had to keep an eye patch on throughout during filming which felt uncomfortable, especially when I needed to film an action scene. It warped my sense of distance and I occasionally felt a little dizzy, but I gradually got used to it. So much so that towards the end, it even felt a little awkward finally taking it off.
Go Kyung-pyo: I was simply so happy to be on set the whole time, and I would say it was not physically demanding for me. For the action scenes, I didn’t actually have to move much because most of the time, my character was the one harming the other characters rather than vice versa. During the rehearsal, I felt bad about the characters that were harmed by my character….because ultimately I’m not Jin-seop (laughs). It was definitely a strange feeling.
Kim Hye-jun: Watching Hae-in performing with CGI in mind, I could tell that he felt like it was a little absurd. I would make fun of Hae-in trying to get through a CGI scene, but when it came to my turn to do the same, I quickly regretted making fun of him. Speaking of CGI…when it was my turn to perform for a CGI scene, I could hear people giggling behind the camera (looks over at Jung and Go).
Hae-in, you apparently wanted to work closely with Kyung-pyo for this series. How was it like working with one another?
Jung Hae-in: I actually got to work with him on another project before. And although I had only worked with him briefly, I gained a lot of positive energy from him. So Kyung-pyo became someone that I wanted to perform next to one day for a longer project. Even though our characters for Connect are antagonistic towards one other in the series, in reality, we get along very well on set, just exchanging ideas and having fun working together.
Go Kyung-pyo: As Hae-in mentioned, we had great fun working together on a previous project briefly, and one of the biggest reasons why I decided to participate in this project was out of respect for Hae-in and my desire to work with him again. Throughout the process of filming, I felt that we clicked so easily. Whilst working together on our scenes, we understood each other very well. Of course, this series is very different from the project we worked on previously, but we could always comfortably discuss how to bring out this new character dynamic. I think I would always welcome an opportunity to work with Hae-in in the future, regardless of the type of the project or the role.
A lot of characters in director Miike Takashi’s works are very intense and powerful. Would you want to continue working with him?
Jung Hae-in: I’m always open to working with him. But maybe we might have become disconnected from each other because we are done shooting Connect (Director Takashi and Hae-in both laugh).
Connect will air on Disney+ on 7 December 2022.