The first week of July. It’s time for the healthy youth Donghae to meet the evening television audiences. The curtains have drawn on the KBS 1TV daily drama “Smile Donghae” that drew a viewership of more than 40% that one can only dream of. We met up with actor Ji Chang Wook (age 24) who says that he is “sad to part with Donghae”.
“Actually I feel relieved too. Because it was tiring and I suffered a lot. But now that it has ended, I feel strange. I feel sad thinking that I won’t be able to meet Donghae anymore. I don’t feel as relieved as I thought and I feel sad.”
It’s not just farewell to Donghae. Having to part with the actors and staff whom he shared tears and joy with is also a big pity to Ji Chang Wook. It was especially harder for him to part with his on-screen mother Do Ji Won whom he spent the most time with.
“Senior Do Ji Won is also quite shy so we were both awkward at first, but I felt most comfortable with her later on. She really took great care of me. She felt more like a friend, sister or mother than a senior, she was really just like family. I also got close to Oh Ji Eun (Bong Yi), Park Jung Ah (Sae Wa) noona, Jang Woo (Do Jin), senior Kim Yoo Seok (Pil Jae) and others, so it was a pity to part with them.”
Ji Chang Wook hit the jackpot with his first leading role in a drama four years after debuting. He even earned the nickname “Nation’s grandson”.
“The viewership ratings exceeded 40%, and I could sense how real that was because many people could recognise me when I was filming. The older folks would call me ‘Donghae’ and greet me while holding my hands. When I went to restaurants, I was also given a lot of rice and side dishes. I was bewildered and wondered if it was okay for me to receive so much love.”
“Smile Donghae” is a family drama about a single mom Anna (played by Do Ji Won) who was adopted in the USA and has the mental age of a nine-year-old, and her son Donghae; both of them overcome all kinds of adversities and go in search of a new family and happiness. Although the drama was highly popular, it received many criticisms and was labelled as a “makjang” because of the birth secrets and far-fetched story line.
“I’ve heard plenty of talk about how makjang the drama is, but I wasn’t bothered by that. I think such a story is possible since this is a drama and the conflicts make the show more interesting. The drama itself was also a long one (159 episodes). I was also frustrated by how Donghae was so kind-hearted and how he tolerated everything. I tried hard to act by understanding the character while staying faithful to the script.”
There were many things that Ji Chang Wook was enlightened to while living as Donghae. He also matured.
“There was a line that went ‘I’m a persistent guy. I’m a guy who will keep my word. I’ve been a tough and persistent guy ever since I lived with my mother in the USA’. Donghae was kind-hearted, but he became and tough and strong in order to protect his loved one. Because he was strong, he also knew how to lose. Donghae was someone you can’t help but love. His existence was like ‘hope’. Donghae was also ‘hope’ for me.”
Ji Chang Wook is on a roll this year. His first show as a lead had viewership ratings that exceeded 40%, and he also rose swiftly to first place with multiple offers for CF endorsements. He is also the lead in the SBS drama “Warrior Baek Dong Soo” that will air this coming July.
“I was lucky. There were also many people who helped me. My mother was also a big source of strength. She woke up at dawn everyday to pray for me. She would go to a temple on the mountain in the morning to pray for me. She did this everyday even if it rained or snowed. I feel sorry and very grateful.”
Ji Chang Wook’s mother was his strongest supporter and fan. His mother was a hot topic online recently because of an article saying that she disliked Park Jung Ah (who starred as Yoon Sae Wa in the drama). It was so widely discussed that it even appeared on the related search keywords on portal sites.
“Jung Ah noona was joking during a drinking session so I jokingly said ‘My mother totally dislikes noona’ and it became a hot topic. I informed my mother that this was reported in the news and she said she liked her. In fact, my mother said she disliked her because ‘Sae Wa tormented Donghae’. She did not watch this thinking this was her son’s drama, but she saw the drama because she was so engrossed in it like any ordinary viewer. She was fine later on because Sae Wa became nicer (laughs).”
Ji Chang Wook who said “I was very ashamed when I was acting as Donghae”, revealed his deep love for his mother.
“I thought to myself many times that I need to be filial. My mother is always worried. She worries that I will find work too tough, and she will ask me if I’m okay when there are unfavourable news articles. My mother should be enjoying her life by now…I need to do better from now on.”
Ji Chang Wook is now taking on the challenge of a new character. He will be transforming into the righteous warrior Baek Dong Soo through the fusion martial arts sageuk “Warrior Baek Dong Soo”. Baek Dong Soo is an actual historical figure who created the “Muyedobotongji” that covered the martial arts of Korea, China and Japan during the reign of King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo of Joseon.
“Dong Soo’s existence is also like hope. He shares some similarities with Donghae. Although he gets into a lot of trouble here and there, he is a kind-hearted character. He is a righteous disciple. He overcomes his complex and becomes Joseon’s greatest swordsman.”
From “Smile Donghae” to “Warrior Baek Dong Soo”, he is playing the lead role consecutively.
“I’m not worried but I feel the pressure. Although it was the same for Donghae, there are many people who are looking at me to see how well I’ll do, but there also many people who are excited for me. The drama is interesting and this was a role that I wanted to try, so I have a good feeling about this. Many distinguished seniors such as Park Geun Hyung, Jeon Gwang Ryul, Choi Min Soo, Seong Ji Roo are also starring in this show. I think there will be a good result if I work on this project enjoyably.”
Ji Chang Wook will be working with the nation’s little brother Yoo Seung Ho for the first time in “Warrior Baek Dong Soo”. Yoo Seung Ho will be playing the role of a teen assassin Yeo Woon who was born under a death star; he will be fronting the show with Ji Chang Wook.
“Seung Ho’s visuals are really good. He looks really pretty. So good to the extent that you will smile from just looking at him. I wanted to get closer to him so I even asked him for his number first.”
Ji Chang Wook has plenty of ambition. While starring in the daily drama “Smile Donghae”, he also starred in the musical “Thrill Me” and “Confession”, which was the opening film of the 2nd Seoul Short Film Festival. He also went to school in between (Dankook University Theatre and Film Studies, third year). With “Warrior Baek Dong Soo”, he has been running non-stop, but he shows no signs of exhaustion.
“My schedule was very tight but I would not have been able to do this if I hated it. As for the movie, it was something I really wanted to do because I liked it. I acted in many indie films when I was a freshman. I wasn’t able to go for class due to filming and there was once where I even scored F for everything except one subject. ‘Confession’ has content that is unconventional. Unlike ‘Donghae’, it was memorable because I appeared as an immoral son.”
“Thrill Me” was a meaningful and unique musical for Ji Chang Wook. “Thrill Me”is a two-character play based on an unprecedented murder case that occurred in Chicago in 1924, and the play also deals with homosexuality. Ji Chang Wook stood on stage as Richard, a murderer who was fascinated with Nietzsche’s “Superman Theory”, and reflected on himself as an actor.
“I gained self-confidence while acting as Mi Poong in ‘Sons of Sol Pharmacy’ (2009). The viewership ratings were good (ratings exceeded 40% then) and I also gained fans, so I thought ‘Dramas are no big deal either. I can get famous like that’. I was confused, but I came back to my senses while acting in the musical. I thought ‘So this is all I am capable of’. I woke up in that instant. I am an actor. I was merely a person who wanted to be an actor.”
Ji Chang Wook loves exercising as much as he loves acting. He has trained his body through swimming, hapkido, taekwondo and other sports since he was young. He’s a well-rounded sportsman who does everything from cycling, to working out at the gym, playing soccer, basketball and more.
“I get to relieve my stress when I exercise. My body also feels refreshed. I worked hard at exercising even when I was busy acting as Donghae. Senior Kim Yoo Seok, who acted as Bongyi’s uncle, is the captain of a soccer team, so there was once where I ran over immediately after filming because I wanted to play soccer too. I rode a horse for the first time in ‘Warrior Baek Dong Soo’ and it was really fun. I also went to action school to practise martial arts, and it was like taking a break to me.”
Ji Chang Wook said, “I want to put Donghae aside and fill myself with Dong Soo as soon as possible.” He plans to concentrate on preparing for “Warrior Baek Dong Soo” which will officially begin filming next month, and also work hard in school at the same time. Ji Chang Wook, who just had a fan meeting on the 14th, plans to do his best to communicate with his fans through Twitter and his fan cafe.
“Fans from Japan and Taiwan have also been leaving comments for me on Twitter recently. ‘Smile Donghae’ is also being aired overseas. I’m curious about the reactions towards the drama. I hope it will be popular overseas too. I wish to act in Japan, China, Taiwan and other parts of Asia besides Korea.”
Article first published in 2011. Translated from Korean to English by Gabby. PLEASE DO NOT REPRINT, REPURPOSE, SCREENCAP, TRANSLATE INTO OTHER LANGUAGES, OR OTHERWISE COPY OUR CONTENT WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION. This interview was translated for the sole purpose of providing English content to international fans. No copyright infringement intended.