“I didn’t want to be a professional actor.” The “rebel” who arrived from South Korea on a cargo ship and became a television hit
Chang Sung Kim Smoke sparingly. Take advantage of the cigarette break to elaborate your answers. Repeat that process during the hour and a half interview with LA NACION. He does it like an Argentine, and not like a Korean, because that’s how he is, a argencoreano raised under the most rigorous South Korean school but in love with the Buenos Aires idiosyncrasy. His family did not allow him to be an actor. His father did not allow him to have Argentine girlfriends. His classmates mistakenly described him as “ponja” or as “chinito”. But that never moved him. In fact, in his most recent appearance, back in 2016, in the first season of The fringe, his character was a bad-tempered repeat offender whom the other inmates baptize as “Chino Soja”. And Soja, by means of excellent fighting skills, took charge of all the bullies: “Come one by one”, he provoked them. And he charged them. With the same attitude of the character he played, Kim opened a space for himself in Argentine society. But it was not easy for him: he had to do the impossible for his family to allow him to be himself. As if he had been forced to wear a skin that was not his own.
“Chang”, as his friends call him, arrived in Argentina under the darkest of anonymities: on a cargo ship with dozens of people. He was barely seven years and a handful of months old when war-torn Korea forced his father to emigrate along with hundreds of others. The initial plan was to make a stopover in Buenos Aires and travel to Paraguay. His family had agreed with a local landowner that, after tilling his field for ten years, they would receive the title deeds to the land. But, before going there, they realized that something was wrong: it was a hoax.
However, he never regretted that it turned out that way. “For us, staying in Buenos Aires was an honor. Also, at that time, Argentina was a first world country, and in Korea there was hunger and desolation.” “I was spellbound by the city.”
That family navigation of almost 20 thousand kilometers for escape purposes is already understood as a radical change of life, as a dramatic adventure. But, as if it were a joke in bad taste, the Kims have another characteristic story on their agenda kafkianas.
It was the 1940s when the first North Korean sympathizers of Stalinism formed their first formal party in a Korean peninsula worn out by the Japanese imperialism that had scourged it during the annexation period. Chang’s grandfather was noted for being a tenacious anti-communist militant. He met citizens of all classes and political persuasions in Pyongyang cafes and persuaded them to question and reject these ideas.
That decade went by quickly, and by 1949, the Korean War was already predicted, which would confront not only South Korea with North Korea (with a Soviet influence already installed), but also communism with the ideological currents of the West. . His grandfather – by this time a wanted man by his enemies – could not hide for long, and was captured. But, before losing his freedom, he issued an alert. First, he warned his father and his son (Chang Sung’s father), that the communists would also come after them. So, it was like this that the actor’s great-grandfather took a drastic measure: he defected to the South with his grandson hidden in a garden wheelbarrow.
“In the South, years later, my dad enlisted in the Army. He did it out of obligation, because there the men had to [NdR: y todavía deben] do a mandatory military service time. And in 1950, when the war broke out, he had to go fight. He clashed with many soldiers who were surely known, “adds Chang. Those were difficult times, his family was divided, literally, by a border. His dad never saw those who stayed in the North again. He never saw anyone again.
Leaving Korea, erasing everything and starting over helped the Kims bury the ghosts of poverty. “It was not about coming to Argentina, it was about escaping from Korea”, Explain.
In Buenos Aires, (first living in the Rivadavia neighborhood and, later, in Caballito) her family dedicated herself to providing home textile services, such as button repairs, sewing, changing sizes… “All the memories I have of my parents are of them working. My dad was good at selling, and my mom sewing.. But, in order not to be too dependent on the other, they both decided to learn to sew and sell, respectively”.
Chang Sung grew up among Argentines and incorporated elements of the local culture. That quickly had an effect on him. It also had an impact on his family. “I remember that one day I wanted to bring an Argentine girlfriend to my house… My parents almost kicked me out. I see how unusual and pathetic that “argument” is, I notice it. But I also understand the reason for his actions.”.
His parents lost a lot. “When you leave a country, your country, you lose friends, you lose land, you lose family, you lose smells, places of belonging… What happens to the majority is that they don’t want to lose anything else, and they cling so much to what was left, to the traditions, to the customs, that when their son marries someone who is not from the community, they feel it as another loss.”
That damage, plus several similar actions, consumed the patience of Chang Sung, who went to live in Brazil in search of calm. “I fought too much with my parents, I didn’t even talk to them anymore. It was unbearable to live in the same city as my parents and that our relationship was like that. But that trip was short-lived, and he returned to Buenos Aires earlier than expected. “I didn’t know it, but the Argentine culture had pierced my soul. He was already very Argentine, and he couldn’t be far from Buenos Aires”.
“They had forms, but I did not have to continue with those forms”, keep going.
So he married an Argentine girl and then decided to study theater. “Imagine what it was like to tell my old man that I wanted to be an actor…«Wow, I want to be an actor»…I wanted to get all my teeth down!!! […] I, at that time, was very obedient and very little rebellious. But I went for that dream, I was encouraged to pursue it.”
““I didn’t want to be a professional actor either. I went to study theater because I’m in love with cinema. When I was very little I went to the movies. I liked it. I also enjoyed acting; but not for myself, but as a spectator””
This is how Kim was formed: reading many works and practicing until he ran out of voice or gestures. In that period he had the good fortune to be called for many plays renowned and other television programs, such as Graduados, Los Simuladores and Floricienta. And, years later, he scored his most important bean by participating in The fringe, in which his shy character, “El Chino Soy”, communicated through gestures and insults in a Spanish cut by an Asian accent. His scene with the greatest impact was electric: he fought with Pastor, one of the main characters of the saga. There, “Chino” gave a fleeting beating to the former policeman played by Juan Minujín.
“At one point in my life I said “I have to stop screwing around, I’m Korean, this can’t wait any longer”, and I traveled to Korea with a film crew, documenting every place I went, every restaurant I visited, every person I met. In the end, we put together a nice documentary called 50 Chuseok. It can be found at cine.ar (CineAr)”.
When the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first Korean contingent in Argentina was completed, a very big celebration was held. Chang felt that he had neglected his roots. “Personally, it happened to me that I put aside, I forgot Korea. I never came back.” He then starred in his own production, 50 Chuseok, directed by Tamae Garateguy.
He adds, “I don’t have any direct relatives in Korea, and I didn’t have much reason except to go as a tourist. But saying and feeling is different, and, over the years, I began to feel that there was something pending. I could do the b… but I’m Korean, I’ll never stop being Korean. The documentary is my trip to Korea after 48 years. Very strong, you do not know how much I cried on that trip”.
That trip, perhaps, was the one that helped him find himself. And to settle in your ghetto knowing that, although the Argentine culture had pierced him to the bone, his blood would always have another identity.