E J-yong uses friendship to cast film

'Actress' gets Korean thesps for cheap

Korean helmer E J-yonghas a knack for getting talent to work for free.

The helmer has cast six of South Korea’s top actresses in his next pic, with the working title of simply “Actress.” It’s a semi-improvised feature following the women — who will all be playing themselves — during a daylong photo shoot.

Three have worked with him before: “Thirst” star Kim Ok-vin starred in “Dasepo Naughty Girls,” Lee Mi-sook in “Untold Scandal” and Kim Min-hee in “Asako in Ruby Shoes.” E’s good friends, “Like You Know It All” star Ko Hyun-jung and Yoon Yeo-jeong, have also signed on, even though there’s no script yet. TV star Choi Ji-woo rounds out the gratis cast.

And how did he get these Korean stars for nothing but the promise of some backend payments?

“Friendship and trust,” says E.

Indeed, say the pic’s producers and the actresses, those aspects are a key part of the small Korean film industry, which has no large corporate agency and management system, so sometimes moviemaking depends on mutual affection and trust rather than the cold calculation of business.  

Plus, the local film industry is still struggling financially, and it’s not uncommon to have stars defer their salary on low-budget films.

Helmer Hong Sang-soo, whose films are a staple on the international festival circuit, also capitalizes on the fact that actors want to work with him and will defer their payments so he can keep his budgets down. On his latest, “Like You Know It All,” not only the main actors but also the supporting actors (including “The Chaser’s” Ha Jung-woo) worked without upfront payment.

 Sometimes trust and friendship can get a film greenlit. And that’s an art in itself.