Firstly, happy debut anniversary Changwook-sshi!
And now here comes my “review” of my favourite Ji Chang Wook character. Who might that be?
It’s none other than Ta Hwan! No surprises here. (I’m assuming that most people reading this would have already seen “Empress Ki”, so you will expect some spoilers in this post).
Character: Ta Hwan
Drama: Empress Ki
Length: 51 episodes
Network: MBC; Monday and Tuesday evenings at 10PM
Dates Aired: 28 October 2013 – 29 April 2014
The very first time I saw Ji Chang Wook on TV was in the drama “Hero”, where he had a minor role but he stood out enough to catch my attention. I then subsequently saw him again in “Warrior Baek Dong Soo” and “Smile Donghae”, but it was only after watching “Empress Ki” did I really become a fan of him. His wonderful performance in the drama made me sit up and take a special interest in him. I especially liked how Ta Hwan changed so much over the course of the 51 episodes, and of course, Ji Chang Wook’s excellent portrayal of the changes in Ta Hwan’s character.
Ta Hwan in the beginning was like a whimpy kid — a spoilt, immature and cowardly prince who would try and get things done his way by throwing tantrums in the bath tub. He tries to assert his authority by using his status as royalty, but all he has is a title with no authority, so he ends up cowering in fear at the sight of his enemies…and snakes too. Ji Chang Wook brought out the playfulness and insecurities of Ta Hwan by speaking at a higher pitch, using informal language and making his voice quiver. Through his various interviews after the drama, we can see that he had given a lot of thought into analysing how it was best to portray his character, from intentionally opting for a more modern style of speaking to sitting at the edge of the throne seat. Honestly, Ta Hwan can come across as cute to some and annoying to others. I found him funny and endearing but also borderline irritating at times because of the whining. However, the fact that Ta Hwan was such a weakling meant that there is great promise that he will change for the better later in the series, and this aspect won my vote.
Despite his shortcomings, Ta Hwan already showed some signs of brilliance early in the series. One such memorable scene was in episode 3 where the soldiers had cornered him and Seungnyang at the beach, but he managed to convince Baek Ahn and Tal Tal to pledge allegiance to him. Here, his voice suddenly took on a more serious, deeper and authoritative tone. Coupled with the dramatic background music, I was deeply moved by Ji Chang Wook’s acting in that scene.
Several episodes later, Ta Hwan started to gather strength and stand up against his enemies with the help of Seungnyang. His tears and cries of desperation about being a powerless emperor were heart-rending and I couldn’t help but sympathise with him. At the same time, he showed some wit by pretending to be his old whimpy cowardly self in front of the baddies so that they will let their guard down against him. Although much of his courage and sudden motivation to fight back stemmed from his desire to become a better man for Seungnyang, I still liked Ta Hwan’s character development thus far.
However, by the time we got to the second half of the series, I was devastated when the writers decided to take Ta Hwan’s character on a downward spiral instead of letting him grow further to become a wise sage. His love for Seungnyang made him obsessive, jealous and insecure, and he started making all kinds of wrong decisions that would eventually lead the country to ruin. No no no no no! This wasn’t the kind of character development I was hoping for (*pulls hair)! As I saw my favourite character getting destroyed by the writers, I got to see Ji Chang Wook’s brilliant acting in return. Not sure if that’s a good trade-off though.
Some of my favourite scenes of the drama actually feature a half-crazed Ta Hwan. High on my list is this scene from episodes 42 and 43, where we see a bloodied Ta Hwan hallucinating and brandishing his sword in front of his soldiers who returned from the battlefield after suffering a crushing defeat. From his hunched posture to his unsteady gait, messy hair, unfocused eyes and crazy laughter, he looked mentally disturbed indeed. The scene was difficult to watch, but I admit I did enjoy seeing Ji Chang Wook with those long messy hair and bloodied face. Smexy. Did I ever say that I have a taste for the macabre? But only in moderate amounts though.
Another memorable scene would be the controversial scene in episode 45. I shan’t dwell on the moral aspect of this scene because that’s not the purpose of this post. I liked Ji Chang Wook’s voice acting in this scene. There was shouting, whispers, and huffing and puffing, but amid all these, you can feel Ta Hwan’s desperation, obsessiveness and…craziness (sigh, why writers, why). I especially liked the intonation of his voice when he was shouting “짐을 사모하거라! (love me!)” and the next line after that at 1:06 in the video. I thought the tone he used when yelling those lines were unique, but I can’t quite explain it.
Ji Chang Wook’s powerful acting performance continued right up to the last episode, where we have this heartbreaking scene of Ta Hwan crying and screaming after having to kill the people dear to him. Nuff said.
Anyway, I think the video at the very top of this post pretty much summarises my love for Ta Hwan. He inspired me enough to make that video even though I didn’t have much experience in making fanvids. As much as I didn’t like how Ta Hwan became such a misguided and tragic character by the end of the series, and I didn’t like the fact that all his actions were solely driven by his desire for Seungnyang (it would’ve been good if he was at least spurred by patriotism or a desire to become a better person for his own sake rather than for a woman), I chose Ta Hwan as my favourite character for its depth, the twist and turns in his story, and the challenge it posed to Ji Chang Wook that allowed him to display his full range of acting. Rather than staying put in your own safety zone with tried-and-tested roles, I like it when an actor challenges himself with roles that can take his acting to another level, even if that entails risking your good-guy image. And Ta Hwan was one-such role that will remain a bright speck in his resume.
Ji Chang Wook has come a long way in the past seven years and is now at what could probably be considered the peak of his career. I won’t discount the fact that he might rise even higher of course. My wish for him is that he will never lose sight of the goal he first had when he embarked on this journey, which is to become a good actor. Continue making the right choices, hone your craft, and your future will be a bright one!