“There will never be such an emperor ever again.” An emperor has everything one can ask for on earth, but will there ever be another emperor like Ta Hwan? His life was a question mark during his time as a prince. In front of El Temur, he fell on his knees begging for mercy; he even demanded for persimmons while being sent to exile. Neither could he shoot arrows properly, such that he had to start learning from the soldier Seung Nyang the right way to handle the bow. The new image of an emperor shown by Ta Hwan received instant reactions from the public after the show went on air. Despite receiving applause and praises, Ji Chang Wook found the drama “Empress Ki” to be a burden. In “Empress Ki”, Ji Chang Wook was a question mark.
“My casting in ‘Empress Ki’ was late. The other actors were very curious about Ta Hwan’s casting. The production team was also very concerned. Amidst all this, my casting was decided and it became a burden. Internally, there were concerns such as ‘will Ji Chang Wook be able to do a good job?’ I think many people felt uneasy. Ta Hwan was a character that was very emotionally-demanding and one that will undergo great changes. I took a look at the script to read more about Ta Hwan. Although I was filled with uncertainty right till the day of broadcast, the production team trusted me a lot. I was able to do everything that I wanted to do. Even on the set, the PD was very willing to listen to what I said”.
Emerging from all the feelings of burden, doubts and uneasiness was a successful portrayal of Ta Hwan by Ji Chang Wook. Ta Hwan was weak and immature, but Ji Chang Wook explains that Ta Hwan is a cute, ridiculous and charming person.
“Although he had a high status, he was sent to exile and had no one beside him. These, on the contrary, made him attractive. Furthermore, he was also very exposed even while under the danger of being assassinated. Although he ignored it, his desire to survive was very interesting. Ta Hwan who grew up without being loved then met Seung Nyang and experienced friendship and love. Ta Hwan was created by thinking of how he lived, his likes, dislikes and his fears. I got to try out many things while playing Ta Hwan. Sitting on the throne with my legs crossed was actually a deviation from the script. Taking Bus #7 everyday instead of Bus #8 is also like a new endeavour. In such a long production, continuously changing myself becomes a driving force.”
Sitting on the throne was also not an ordinary thing for Ji Chang Wook. He picks the scene where Ta Hwan returns to Yuan after escaping from the clutches of death and sits on the dragon throne for the first time as the scene that best depicts the character Ta Hwan.
“There was a scene where Ta Hwan returns to the palace and sits on the throne for the first time. In that scene, he sat on the edge of the throne seat. That really defined Ta Hwan very well. Returning to Yuan after his exile, he met the Empress Dowager and El Temur then sat on the throne. The way he sat down while looking at their expressions was interesting and truly the face of Ta Hwan. Although the script did not indicate how he should sit on the throne, I thought of it and suggested it to the director.”
From start till finish, Ta Hwan was always about Seung Nyang. Although their first meeting was marked by bad feelings similar to ‘horse manure’, those feelings became friendship and eventually love. Even in his final moment, Ta Hwan was in the arms of Seung Nyang and confessed his love for her.
“The ending was decided upon after lots of discussion. When I saw the script for episode 51 and learnt of the ending, I found it sad and bitter. Everyone was greedy for power and fought for it, but in the end, everyone ended up dead. Although Seung Nyang managed to gain power for herself, she was left all alone. Before the ending was revealed, there were lots of rumours on the set. Although there were talks of a happy ending, it turned out this way eventually. It’s a pity.”
He looked for Seung Nyang and called out her name like he was dying, but their paths kept missing each other. Although there was love, it was a love not meant to be. Did Seung Nyang really love Ta Hwan?
“I did ask Ha Ji Won noona if she loved me. Noona said ‘yes, she does love you, just that it’s not expressed and Ta Hwan didn’t realise it.’ I didn’t get to feel much of Seung Nyang’s love either. This aspect of the character Ta Hwan was rather difficult. I monitored and made a lot of considerations for this show.”
“Empress Ki” was enjoyable for Ji Chang Wook. Among the male actors in the show, Ji Chang Wook was the youngest. Even among the whole cast, only Baek Jin Hee who starred as Tanashili was younger than him. The acting of Jeon Guk Hwan, Lee Won Jong, Ha Ji Won and Jo Jae Yun gave him support and strength. Among the actors, the one whom Ji Chang Wook trusts the most is Jo Jae Yun who starred as Golta.
“In reality, Ta Hwan also trusted Golta. Golta was his friend, mother and father. Although he was the emperor, he could comfortably behave like a child, throw tantrums and get irritated in front of Golta. He was honest in all his emotions towards Golta, but Golta turned his back on him. I was greatly shocked. After the leader of the Eagle House appeared, the next scene was Golta appearing with his hat askew. I thought, ‘surely it can’t be him?’ When the PD said that Golta is the Eagle House leader, I was surprised and my heart started pounding, I had to give senior Jo Jae Yun a phone call. The scene where Golta gets killed was filmed at the very last. We had a lot of rehearsals and discussions, so the emotions came out naturally. Those were emotions built up from 8 months of filming. The feelings came naturally and we also worked great together. Me killing Golta is a tragedy in itself. As of now, I have yet to experience being betrayed by someone I treasure and trust. As this was an emotion that cannot be expressed, I worried and pondered a lot about it.”
At the end of episode 51, although both Ta Hwan and Wang Yoo had passed away, we were brought back to the time at Daechong Island where Seung Nyang stood in between both men and had to choose which horse to ride on. Which horse would Seung Nyang choose to ride on?
“In episode 4, she rode on Ta Hwan’s horse, so I think she will still choose to ride on my horse again. Am I too greedy? (laughs)”
Translated from Korean to English by Gabby.
Article first published on 23-05-2014