Everything was fabricated. In a flash, PC-cafe-regular Kwon Yoo (Ji Chang Wook) was turned into a notorious murderer. Although he screamed “I am innocent” at the top of his voice, what he got in return were only fingers that pointed him as a murderer. Even if he was an ordinary young jobless man, was there a need for him to go through such a thing? “Fabricated City” is a movie that begins with the blood-boiling injustice of ordinary folks who step forth to overturn the world. He is not even Superman or Batman, but Kwon Yoo and his friends have the strength and resourcefulness honed from staying up overnight at the PC cafe. We met up with actor Ji Chang Wook who issues a head-on challenge to a world that reveals its bare face the more you get to know it.
“It has to be interesting. I wouldn’t be able to do it if it weren’t interesting.” Ji Chang Wook kept mentioning the word “interest” throughout the interview. That he wouldn’t be able to persist (acting) if it wasn’t enjoyable. That seems to be the force that has driven this actor to run breathlessly for close to 10 years. Ji Chang Wook debuted in 2008 and has filmed as many as 13 television dramas, even performing in musicals in between without resting. If we think about it, Ji Chang Wook was a friend of the small screen. He was the youth Donghae (“Smile Donghae”, 2010-2011 KBS1) who was an icon of hope and dreams, then he became the crazed emperor Ta Hwan (“Empress Ki”, 2013-2014 MBC), and transformed into the muscular bodyguard Jae Ha (“The K2”, 2016 tvN) and swayed the hearts of women. Considering the success he has achieved on TV and his widespread popularity in China, Ji Chang Wook’s leading role in this movie seems belated. What could it be that led him to “Fabricated City” after 10 years?
“Actor Ji Chang Wook” is already famous, but “movie actor Ji Chang Wook” is very unfamiliar.
That’s right. But oddly, I made my debut in an indie movie. My debut work was “Sleeping Beauty” (2008, directed by Lee Hana) which I filmed during my university days. I had no luck after that and had no opportunities to act in movies. But looking at it, I needed a lot of determination before starring in “Fabricated City”. I was scared but it was a challenge.
Why were you afraid?
It was a project with a production budget of close to 10 billion won. I felt a heavy sense of responsibility. I was also afraid of the thought that movies were different from dramas. But I felt more at ease once I went to the film set. There’s no difference to acting in movies or dramas. All the staff and actors gave their best and I gained confidence through the process of collaboration. I think I got scared beforehand.
But your decision to star in the movie, was probably to expand the scope of “actor Ji Chang Wook”.
I’m not sure, I never think of anything in a calculative way. Although I pick each and every project carefully, the really important things are “Am I interesting?” and “Am I able to do it?” I was uncertain when I first saw the scenario of “Fabricated City”. I had doubts such as “Do I have any leadership like Kwon Yoo?” and “There are comic touches everywhere in the film, will I be able to convince the audience well?” My determination was stronger after meeting director Park Gwang Hyun. Director Park had an extraordinary aura. He persuaded me in a calm manner, but I had this belief that he will make a refreshing movie.
Kwon Yoo is a war hero in the game, but in reality he is a jobless man who eats and sleeps in the PC cafe wearing his tracksuit. Given that you worked hard after debuting in your early twenties, you are probably not very familiar with this world.
That’s not the case. The places that I often went to when I was little were the PC cafe, comic book cafe and the karaoke joint (laughs). The ramen cooked by the ahjusshi who owns the comic book cafe wasn’t delicious at all. I experienced the life of a jobless man while in my early twenties and I played games quite well. Although I do not go to the PC cafe these days, I do play a lot of games on my handphone. I even do Real Money Trading (using cash to buy items in online games). The people around me see me in a really strange light. You are not even a kid, why do you spend your money at such places (laughs). Maybe that’s why Kwon Yoo’s life in the virtual world that differs from reality came naturally to me.
He’s the total opposite of the manly bodyguard Jae Ha in “The K2”.
That’s right. Jae Ha was a strong character who came from a military background. On the contrary, Kwon Yoo is very ordinary. He is someone we can often see around us, and a character who likes playing games and lives in the virtual world. How frustrating and scary it must be for him when such a character gets caught up in a fabricated incident. While filming, I kept thinking “How will it be like if I was Kwon Yoo?” The feeling of being wronged and his fear are probably the driving forces of Kwon Yoo.
Why were you so drawn to such an ordinary character?
The image of a lacking and extremely ordinary lead joining forces with his ordinary friends to fight against the powerful was an attractive one. I wanted to cheer on these people who were working hard to get closer to the truth. I hope that viewers can watch the movie enjoyably and think over the question marks in their minds one by one as they step out of the cinema. “How am I living now?”, “Is the city that I’m living in now doing fine?”
Director Park Gwang Hyun spoke highly of Ji Chang Wook’s action and said you were “born with it”. You mentioned that you spent about a month at the action school, and you’ve been continuously receiving attention for your action from “Healer” till “The K2”.
That’s a praise that I feel proud and happy about, but I don’t wish to hear it anymore (laughs). I’ve never chosen to star in an action show on purpose. If I chose a show because I found the character or story interesting, it always turned out to be of the action genre. I also wonder if that is my taste. Although it was a very fruitful piece of work, the preparation process was really difficult. There were especially a lot of scenes of me getting hit in this movie. I would feel uncomfortable when hitting others so I wished I was the one being hit instead, but after getting hit, I got angry unknowingly and feelings of being wronged overwhelmed me. It was an interesting experience but I don’t wish to do it again (laughs).
Let’s look back on your debut work “Sleeping Beauty”. From drugs to murder, it was a movie that was extremely powerful on all levels.
During my first year of university (Dankook University Film Studies), I followed my seniors in the film department around the set of the indie movie that they were filming. While doing that, director Lee Hana saw a video of me through the viewfinder and liked what she saw, so she casted me. Everything was really new to me. It was my first time going to a set with so many staff so it was amazing and interesting. I really couldn’t act, and I didn’t even know that I was bad (laughs). I saw that movie with my mum at the Seoul Myeongdong Central Cinema which no longer exists. It was amazing to see my face appear on the big screen, but my mum got a shock when she saw the cruel scenes. In any case, “Sleeping Beauty” was the defining piece of work that shaped me as an actor.
You even ventured into Chinese dramas in 2016, you must have achieved everything that could be accomplished through dramas in the past 10 years. You are about to enlist in the army this year, so it feels like an end to the first stage in the life of Ji Chang Wook as an actor.
My twenties were really intense when I look back at it. Although there were difficulties in every show, diverse experiences helped to make me stronger. Actually I used to be nervous in front of the camera. Although I’ve since gotten over it. Last time, I would be envious when I looked at my seniors who acted as the lead and think “Ah, one must feel like you own the world if one sits there”. But once I got to that position, I wondered “Is this really the peak?” and “Is there such a thing as the peak?” The peak may be different for every person, but I think the peak is the moment when you feel satisfied. I feel satisfied when I look back on my past 10 years, but I still have a long way to go. I felt strange the day before I was suppose to go to China for filming. I’ve starred in many shows in Korea but it felt like I was going back to being a rookie. The world is big and there are no limits.
You may have turned 30, but the image of the youth we saw in “Sleeping Beauty” still remains.
Even though I get old, I do not wish to grow up. I think I’ll be happy if I look at the world innocently like a child. Isn’t everyone living too fiercely? Can I show good acting as an actor if I live fiercely? Acting is not a competition and cannot be graded. It’s just that each individual has his/her own style. I just want to be myself.
Translated from Korean to English by Gabby.
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