By Sunny Um WIRED Korea
Song Seung-hwan, a multitalented entertainer, began to feel uneasy with his eyesight, with objects appearing out of focus, in late March 2018. The blurry vision was found to be not a passing, one-off event. To his chagrin, it was getting worse. Still worse, the eye doctors he sought for advice had no idea what was causing the loss of the sharpness of his eyesight.
When he found his eyesight was being impaired, Song was in his prime of life. The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which he helped organize as its executive creative director, ended with a mesmerizing ceremony a month before. It was nothing short of a crowning moment for Song, who started his career as an actor in 1965.
But the worsening eyesight posed what appeared to be an insurmountable challenge for Song, who played main and supporting roles in numerous TV dramas and movies and created and produced Nanta, a long-lasting, non-verbal, percussionist comedy, which premiered in 1997.
He visited so many ophthalmologists for the treatment of his disorder. When he realized his efforts were being made in vain, he decided to embrace his fate and start a new life as a handicapped man with the visibility down to less than 30 centimeters.
Now technology came to his rescue, enabling him to talk to other people while looking into their eyes like a person with no visual impairment. Among the devices he uses are a smartphone, a VR goggle and others developed with highly advanced technologies.
“Smartphones are great,” Song says. “I can have my smartphone read text messages aloud, including chats on messenger apps and emails.”
Song also built a wearable magnifier with a VR goggle and a convex lens, which enlarges its reflection. An optical character recognition device, or optical character reader, that he bought in Germany comes in handy, too. The machine can scan images of handwritten or typed texts and read them aloud.
Those appliances were found to be immensely helpful in pursuing his career as an actor. Last year, Song starred as “Lee Tae-hak" in a drama series “One Spring Night,” where he could put his appliances to test. The result was more than a success.
“I received the script via email, listened to it, and memorized every word. It does not take more time than reading and memorizing once you get used to the process. It sometimes takes even less time than before,” he says.
But for a skillful acting performance, an actor needs to have smooth interactions with the other actors. In the absence of such interactions, the audience could find an actor’s performance unnatural. Asked what he does to make his performance look natural despite the visual impairment, he says: “It’s not that hard.”
"There are rehearsals before the filming, in which I remember my co-star's face. I see what his facial expressions are like or how he reacts to my lines (in a close-up). And then, I can perform based on my memory without seeing his face clearly,” Song says.
Song believes that an actor's realistic performance depends on what he hears, too. “My acting is from the lines I hear. I can feel what emotion the other actor wants to deliver through those lines,” he says. “That way I can continue my acting career.”
There are limits to what technologies can do, however. For example, Song cannot immerse himself in any non-Korean movies since he has hazy eyesight. No technology can read him the subtitles aloud yet.
Now he is working on an experimental performance in a pitch-black auditorium – a performance not to be watched by people but to be heard with a pair of earphones in their seats.
“An auditory performance that does not require the sense of sight is what I would like to create in the future,” Song says.
저작권자 © WIRED Korea 무단전재 및 재배포 금지
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