A warm wind blows. Shaking the green leaves of the trees. In front of these, warmer than the spring sunlight and more beautiful than flowers, stands the man Ji Chang Wook. This man, who likes acting the most and becomes happier through acting, is walking pleasantly among the green leaves.
During his spare moments, Ji Chang Wook walks back and forth among the green trees, stretching his legs and whistling at the same time. It’s also the same when he walks pass vines with names that are hard to remember or scarlet Grevillea flowers. He shines more brightly than those pretty plants. Looking at Ji Chang Wook as such, images of Tran Anh Hung’s “The Scent of Green Papaya” and Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” come to mind. One is reminded of Khuyen who casually fiddles with his jewel box while the female lead Mui looks at him shyly with her back against the plants in “The Scent of Green Papaya”, or an image like the young Brad Pitt as Paul, the protagonist in “A River Runs Through It” who gives a charming smile as he grabs a salmon in his hand. During the photo shoot, Ji Chang Wook takes a selca and uploads it to Instagram. His fans who saw the photo left comments such as “A little prince who has become an adult?” He really seemed like one while standing beneath the baobab tree. His greenness is not simply because we met in a garden. He only makes small jokes because he is very shy, but just like the botanical garden filled with sunlight in the morning, he steadily becomes livelier in his gestures and body movements and his footsteps are cheerful.
Although it is now March, it was still winter at the botanical garden. After Ji Chang Wook arrived at the garden, he let out a white breath of air as he got out of the car, “Ah, it’s cold,” he said in a low voice. He also seemed to say the same thing when we parted ways after everything was done. The Ji Chang Wook whom we observed from morning till evening was a frank man. When asked if he’s more of a vegetarian or meat lover, he shook his head and said that he’s definitely not a vegetarian. But even then, he couldn’t be a meat-lover. Because like a magnolia, his looks colour his surroundings brightly.
His personality is more easy-going instead of difficult. He also nodded in response to this. “Actually, I am very shy. But despite that, I joke a lot with the people close to me and I’m talkative too. Of course, I enjoy being alone too, and I also like meeting people. Well, it differs by the day. I’m a warm and cold man. Everyone has two different sides of themselves. One can be kind and very warm, but one can also be cold at certain moments. But I’m not fussy. I’m not sensitive too when I wear clothes. It’s difficult if an actor is overly sensitive. It can be distressing for the people around me, and even more difficult for myself. I dislike that, so I do consciously try to think of myself as easy-going.”
Unlike others, he is the kind who avoids looking at his fortune. Likewise for tarot card readings or horoscopes. This is not because he has a religion or due to a strong resistance towards fortune-telling. The reason is both cute and scary. His sharp eyes and firm body that was capable of explosive action in SBS drama “Warrior Baek Dong Soo” and KBS drama “Healer” were filled with *embarrassment (The Korean word used here is 무색하다, which literally means “colourless”, but it connotes embarrassment). “If I look at my fortune and it’s not good, I will keep thinking about it and I won’t be able to sleep. I’ve already heard it and I can’t return it back. If the result says that I shouldn’t act or if I really like soccer a lot but I am advised to quit playing soccer because my constitution is not suitable, I think it will be very difficult for myself. I don’t like my future to be confined by my fortune. Won’t I be able to live more freely if I face the future without knowing or expecting anything?” Although his shyness can be seen, his personal conviction is clearly evident in his words.
There is yet another surprising side to him. His *analogue side. Ji Chang Wook does not have a computer at home. The word “*early adopter” is just like a person who is standing on the opposite end of the globe. His personality is not one that is particularly fond of gadgets either. “It has been about 5-6 years since I’ve lived without a computer. I can’t check my email with a handphone either. When I look at other actors, they read their scripts using tablet PCs, handphones or computers, but I don’t do that. I definitely have to read a printed copy. If the script is not available on the spot, I will print it out to read. I will also print out and look at the draft concepts of photo shoots or advertisements. I can focus well if I do that. Since young, I will jot down the things that I need to do or remember on paper and memorise them.”
(*In Korean context, “analogue” is the opposite of “digital” and is used to describe someone who doesn’t use new technology.)
(*In communication studies, specifically the Diffusion of Innovations theory, people who embrace new technology before most other people do are described as “early adopters”. Hence, the writer is saying that he is not an “early adopter” of technology.)
Ji Chang Wook’s Intermission
Ji Chang Wook is still very busy these days even though he isn’t working on any show. Lined up for him are schedules going back and forth between Korea and Hong Kong, interviews and magazine photo shoots etc. Although he is always busy for a while after a show ends, it is especially so this time after “Healer” ended. Recently, Ji Chang Wook’s name is never left out in online entertainment articles about Hallyu star rankings in China, Japan, Hong Kong and the popularity of Hallyu stars overseas. Also, modifiers like “New Hallyu Star” or “The Center of Hallyu” are now beginning to appear in front of his name. Listening to what the locals are saying in Hong Kong, even those who normally have no interest in dramas or celebrities are aware of “Healer” and Ji Chang Wook’s name. Before this magazine photo shoot, he even attended the global event of Alfred Dunhill as the representative of Asia. His sudden increase in fame overseas is a surprise to not only his agency, but also to Ji Chang Wook himself. “Certainly, I’ve become more flustered after ‘Healer’ ended. Although I continue to have schedules, but even then, I don’t have an overwhelming amount of work to do. But I’m just flustered somehow. My life pattern during the time when I’m filming is very different from my rest period. When I’m filming a show, I will really focus on just the show alone. The manners of Ji Chang Wook as a man, or the sincerity of Ji Chang Wook as a citizen of South Korea are lacking. Just a few days ago, I was looking at a stack of bills and my maintenance fees were overdue by several months. Looking at this somehow, I don’t even give a thought about the essential matters in life.”
For Ji Chang Wook, reality means to live for several months as a character in a show, or being immersed in another character after the show ends and the public takes interest in the human Ji Chang Wook again. To put it shortly, it is adjustment to the time difference. “After a project ends, I will know what kind of person I am myself. I start to look at my room that I hadn’t seen all this while and the matters that I have yet to settle. It has really become such a mess. As others would say, I went menboong (*slang for mental breakdown) at that moment. From where should I begin to return to reality, and whom should I meet first to manage my interpersonal relationships; I was confused. After a project ends, I will be in a state of chaos for a month or so. I’m like this these days. I do about two shows in a year, so I’ll also go menboong twice a year.”
He who seldom reveals his face on variety programmes, appeared in SBS’ “Running Man” during his break last year. During the preliminary meeting for this magazine shoot, his manager Bang Chi Gu said this, “If I were to exaggerate, he came back without getting to say a single word during filming.” He is not the kind that is suitable for variety shows. He also dislikes embellishing or exaggerating himself. He wants to show the honest side of himself almost to the point of being strait-laced. But his manager said there is just one kind of variety programme that he is confident of him doing well in. That is none other than a food programme. “Eating, and he likes rice the most. Korean food. Although he hardly watches TV and has no variety sense, I think he will be able to do well if he appears in a food programme. Because he has confidence in eating deliciously.”
The Four Seasons of Ji Chang Wook’s acting
Ji Chang Wook first began acting when he became a university student. “Back then, I thought acting was really easy. Haha. It seemed really interesting. It looked glamourous and it looked easy also. It seemed like I will be only having fun all the time if I became an actor. I only thought that I will succeed once I started and I will be able to enjoy luxury and fame. So I changed my course of study and chose film and theatre. I passed after one try but problems cropped up once I enrolled. University life was different from what I had in mind and less interesting than what I had expected. So I wandered around a lot. After going about aimlessly for quite some time, I fell in love with acting once I started to do acting as a real job.”
Although his debut work was the 2008 movie “Sleeping Beauty” filmed during his schooling days, he only properly revealed his face to the public in the 2009 drama “Sons of Sol Pharmacy”. After signing on with an entertainment agency, he passed his first audition and participated in the show. It was the role of Song Mi Poong, a repeat student and the youngest son in the Sol Pharmacy. This character, who was always happy and unable to make decisions in the face of a pressing situation, was unfamiliar to him. “This was originally very different from my personality so it was very hard to understand. While looking at the script, I thought, ‘Why does he get hurt by such trivial matters or words? Such words wouldn’t even cross my mind.’ I thought that way because it was my first time doing proper acting. But even then, the cast were all hyungs and noonas like Son Hyun Joo, Lee Pil Mo, Han Sang Jin, Jo Jin Woong, Yoo Sun and Park Son Yung who could act very well. I thought, ‘So this is how they do this part, so this is how you do it…’ and they became a big benchmark for my acting.”
After playing a supporting role in the MBC drama “Hero”, he was cast as the lead character “Donghae” in the KBS daily drama “Smile Donghae”. It was a popular drama that got viewership ratings of 38.6%. “Actually, the viewership rating for the first episode was very low. It was so shockingly low such that people around me were worried and even said ‘Isn’t it going to fail?’ The ratings increased a little as the show went on and eventually found great popularity.”
Although “Smile Donghae” was a turning point for his popularity, the MBC Monday-Tuesday drama “Empress Ki” was the turning point for his acting. He acted out the process of Ta Hwan, who lowered himself and thought of himself as the foolish eldest son of the Yuan Emperor, changing steadily into a dignified emperor with the help of his beloved woman. “I really received a lot of praise for ‘Empress Ki’. Actually, I did work hard on my acting before that also. Haha. But there must be a reason why the public had a different reaction. I personally wouldn’t know if my acting is good or bad. Somehow, the assessment of the public and my friends around me could be right.”
“Healer”, which ended in February, was a considerably meaningful piece of work to him. Although he also showed his action skills in “Warrior Baek Dong Soo”, it was of a more proper scale in “Healer”, because he did all the difficult stunts himself. He even received praises that said his acting had blossomed. He did a good job conceptualising the cold man Seo Jung Hu who had a critical view of the world, and the reporter Park Bong Su when Seo Jung Hu worked undercover at the news agency. The romance ensemble with Park Min Young was also excellent. When he was interviewed about “Healer”, he often made special mention of Song Ji Na who wrote “Sandglass”.
“Actually when I first received the script, it wasn’t easy to make sense of it. Be it the colour of the character or the environment he faces, they were all very different from me. Although he grew up under deprived conditions, he was a bright and witty kid. He is a character who may be smiling but also has to appear lonely at times, so I was worried whether I could express everything. But writer Song Ji Na had a lot of trust in me and communicated with me. If there was something I was curious about, she would explain everything to me. She even told me to call her any time. There were many things that I was curious about — what were the points that differed from what I thought, why do I think of them differently, what was the intention for writing like that. I think an actor needs to be very clear about these aspects. That’s why I also pondered a lot. As a result, I acted in the direction that I wanted and the director and writer also praised me for making such an interesting character. So I have no regrets at all.” Although one must fight with the cold when filming in winter, filming ended without a hitch and he achieved a satisfying result without compromising himself.
Compared to his drama career, besides his debut movie “Sleeping Beauty”, “Death Bell 2” and his guest appearance in “How to Use Guys With Secret Tips”, he has no movies up till now. “It’s not that I’m persistent on doing dramas only. There’s no specific reason. Things turned out this way while matching schedules and doing one project at a time. Also, just because I say that I wish to film a movie doesn’t mean that I will get to film every project that I want.” He also has an ambition to film a good movie. Actually, from weekend dramas to mini series, from a shy man to a polite capable man with a strong sense of pride, a warrior, a villain, to a weakling who becomes a man to win his love; he has played diverse roles. But his ambition for roles is endless. He doesn’t want a role that is handsome like those in dramas. “Drama characters, especially the leads, are generally handsome. I think it may also be good to deviate from such an image. I wish to play a neighbourhood hyung who is fine with not dressing up handsomely, or a person who is really likely to exist in this world. A kind character. I also wish to become the lead of a melodrama. Though melodramatic like an old classic movie, it is a role that will make the audience cry inevitably. I may have done many more different characters than what people thought, but if you think the opposite way, there are still many roles that I wish to play and roles that I am able to play.” Occasionally, there are times where his upright and handsome looks also become a weakness. This is even more so when he plays a broken man or funny roles. “Being handsome can also be disadvantageous to an actor. But I do not think of looks as a limitation. Actually, it’s just like how the me on normal days isn’t glamourous like the celebrity Ji Chang Wook.”
To him, there is yet another kind of acting. And that is musicals. From “Thrill Me” in which he starred with Kang Ha Neul, he made his proper entry into musicals. He also acted on stage consecutively with “Jack the Ripper” and “The Days”. In particular, he even received praises that the role of Muyeong in “The Days” made his talents blossom. He answered that even in the future, he will not be letting go of musicals, which require a high level of immersive acting. Because acting is what he is best at and likes the most, and it can also make himself happier. “Right now, acting is the most fun and acting makes me happy.”
Winter passes and when spring, summer and autumn come and pass, the tree is growing. It became bare, then wore its green leaves, and then stripped itself of its skin of rotten leaves once again. We may not be able to see with our eyes the instant where the tree is growing in height, but we are able to see its process of growing. When the bud sprouts again, the tree is still growing. The growth of actor Ji Chang Wook is similar to that of a tree. His stage of growth is now around the final stage of spring and the start of summer. Simply calling it spring or smooth-sailing is actually a bit too warm to the point of excessive for Ji Chang Wook recently, but this is not yet his summer. Looking at him relaxed or his brightness and attitude, one can still sense the laid-back feeling. Just like listening to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”.
Scanned and translated from Korean to English by Gabby. Please share with proper credit.
*This magazine feature has been split into two separate posts due to its sheer length. Click here for part 2. This is the full-length version of his interview as published in the hardcopy magzine.
Source: The Celebrity magazine (hardcopy)