Bae Han Sung EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The Voice of Hollywood in Korea

Korean Voice Actor Bae Han Sung talks about his career as the voice of Hollywood in Korea

Known as the voice of trust, Bae Han Sung has voiced many of Hollywood’s greats, from Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman to Robin Williams and Homer Simpson, noting that dubbing makes content inclusive

Appearing in current Korean cinema release, Noryang: Deadly Sea, at 77, Bae makes his second debut as an actor. Although, in market, he’s known everywhere as the Korean voice of Al Pacino in The Godfather, Mark Hamill in Star Wars and MacGyver, to name a few.

Having done the Korean audio for Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Ben Kingsley, Bae explains why it’s so important for foreign movies, including cartoons. “The population is about 50 million, but 10-15 percent is either elderly people or children who may not be able to follow subtitles. I’m happy I can help them enjoy movies from Hollywood and around the world, making it relatable and easy for them to understand.”

Inclusive + relatable is the key. It’s not just like-for-like translation. In recreating the voice, Bae and team figure out the meaning of a scene – and a character’s Korean-style persona – interpreting in a way viewers can appreciate.

“In order to meet the original flow of a film’s dialog, I may try more than 100, even 1000 times to discover the best fit for the character. For example, in a film with Al Pacino, I’ll create many versions until I find the appropriate voice and way of expressing his lines.” He demonstrates a few and it’s utterly charming.

So, does this mean he has an ‘Al Pacino voice’ that’s used for each Pacino film? “There would be modifications to suit the character, just like an actor would create a persona to get under the skin in preparing for a film.” Ah, that makes sense. He’s not playing Pacino but Pacino’s character. 

IT’S GOOD TO BE KING

Active since 1966, from the start his dream was to be on screen but he didn’t think he was handsome enough. So, he landed voice work as a way to take residence in the industry, finding his purpose. His most recent role as King Seonjo in Noryang: Deadly Sea (2023), only his second ever ‘face’ job, gave him a chance to live that aspiration. 

“It was a new experience. Since there’s no reference for what the King’s voice would have sounded like, I could make my recommendation based on the character. As everyone recognizes my typical ‘voice acting color,’ I had to eliminate that and used my normal speaking voice so as not to interrupt the flow of the story.”

Noryang: Deadly Sea is a South Korean historical war/action film directed by Kim Han-min, the third in a trilogy touting the battles of the infamous Admiral Yi Sun-sin. The first two are on Amazon Prime and other streaming providers starting with The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014) followed by Hansan: Rising Dragon (2022).

Growing up with his mother, his father having defected to North Korea when he was a toddler, Bae worked from a young age, putting himself through school. In such circumstances, having reliable work was vital. So, how did he build a career? “I developed many voices. Did you see Amadeus?” Oh yeah, that crazy laugh.

MANY VOICES

He names a few iconic leads from the last 50 years. Think the primary characters in Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, Rain Man, Ghostbusters, Gandhi, ET (yes, he played the extraterrestrial). How does he get so many memorable roles? “I don’t get everything, but a specific type. I’m typically selected to play noble characters and somehow that’s been preserved over the years.” When I mention his name to Koreans, every single time, the word ‘trust’ is uttered.

His ability to alter his voice keeps the work coming. With some cajoling we hear a few favorites in addition to Amadeus, like Morgan Freeman’s role in Driving Miss Daisy, Dustin Hoffman’s character in Papillon. Gandhi and MacGyver elicit a smile as well.

He clearly enjoys his job. The only regret is sometimes not having enough time to really absorb a role because of production time constraints. While the best bit seems to be collaborating with a full team of voice actors, where they can react to and build energy from each other. “I like recording in any genre or area. The recording itself is fun. That’s how I’ve survived up to now.”

AS SEEN ON SCREEN

Having lived many lives through his career, what sticks with him? “Generally, a lead character will have had a tough life overwhelmed by difficulties. What I’ve learned is that we have to do our best for our own lives. And have passion – that’s what drives me. My advice to anyone is ‘do your best and focus on your passion.’”

Among his many activities, he also guest-lectures at a University in Seoul. So, what’s the learning he tries to instill? “Students seem to lack the fundamental attitude of wanting to learn more – such as technique. But there’s a saying, ‘less experience equals less wisdom.’ I hope to inspire students to be multi-functional. To study and experience many things, especially for voice-actors. You can even become an on-screen actor if you work hard enough.”

A few days after the interview, we run into each other on the subway. It’s another cold Korean winter’s day so he checks in to ensure my coat is warm enough and offers to guide as I switch lines. A super-humble guy, this is actually the second time we’ve met on public transport as he shuttles from home to the recording studio and back again. Spry at nearly 80, he takes the stairs instead of queuing for the escalator. Is retirement even on the horizon? “People ask me this all the time and I like to quote Placido Domingo. ‘If I rest, I rust.’ Just like Domingo, I’ll go on as long as my voice is good.”


What’s your favorite dubbed/subbed foreign film? Share it in the comments below. Click to read a review of Noryang: Deadly Sea or it’s Ending Explained story.

 

 READ MORE: Korean content reviews or interviews 

 

4 thoughts on “Bae Han Sung EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The Voice of Hollywood in Korea”

  1. Hi Telnik,
    I’m so glad you asked that question. Please read the interview where he explains exactly that.
    As always, thank you for reading and for commenting!

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