Ji Chang Wook took part in a photo shoot and interview for the new issue of Esquire!
In the interview, the actor spoke about the new experience gained on the set of the drama “The Sound of Magic“, his love of musicals and singing and much more.
— There was a lot of computer graphics in this project. Playing in front of a green screen should be difficult.
— Actually, I thought: “There’s nothing difficult about playing in front of a green screen.” But I was wrong. It’s not difficult to do it once, but it’s very difficult to continue. Shooting is not just editing. During the filming, we had to play all day. Acting alone takes from two to four hours, but maintaining concentration in front of a green screen during these hours is a completely different story.
I’ve never thought of acting as an absolute concentration before. It’s not hard to imagine. For example, in one scene it is easy to imagine that I am flying through the sky on a horse, and behind me the night landscapes of Seoul are unfolding. Of course, it’s not easy, but it’s possible. But if a take doesn’t work right away and you have to shoot the same scene several times, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain imagination and emotions.
— That’s right. Computers consume energy to draw virtual spaces, and the human brain has to use a huge amount of energy to draw imaginary spaces.
— Over time, I started thinking, “Is that right? Am I doing the right thing?” I began to have similar thoughts.
— It’s been a long time since the shooting was completed.
— I think we finished filming sometime in September last year, but now this story has been revealed.
— What do you feel?
— I was in anticipation, but also felt anxious and waited with excitement in my heart. Then, when dorama came out, I felt a little calmer.
— Have you watched the drama yet?
— Not yet. Since it is necessary to give such interviews, Netflix gives officials access to projects so that they can be the first to watch them. But I haven’t been able to watch the drama yet. I hate the nervousness I feel when I look at my work. It’s not easy.
— As a person who has watched the drama before, I can say that your character turned out to be very cute, like a child.
— (Laughs) Lee Eul (Ji Chang Wook) is a very pure person. He is honest and wants to live like a child. He has a boyish beauty and playfulness. His temper becomes harsh when he comes into contact with certain moments, and he looks genuinely scared when he is angry. It was a different experience, and I enjoyed playing because I was portraying a character who very honestly demonstrates familiar emotions.
— There is no end to the songs in this project. You like to watch musicals and sing, don’t you?
— It’s true that I like to watch musicals and sing. It’s not a musical, but singing and singing in a work where songs are often played is a completely different thing for me. It’s not easy (laughs). I love going to karaoke, but going to karaoke with friends and creating content with singing are completely different things.
In addition, there was a feeling of pressure that I had to reach a certain level.
— Exactly. A professional must achieve the necessary quality of performance to pass the audition. But isn’t it a piece of music?
— There are significantly fewer songs in the k-drama than in musicals, where the main focus is on music. I call it a musical game. While musical k-dramas focus on the show and appearance, this k-drama carries a very strong message, and music is also used to convey it.
— If you think about it, it doesn’t seem like there were many k-dramas in which music was used in this way.
— There are none. So we had a lot of worries. Shooting is shooting, lighting is lighting, and directing is directing. Stylists, makeup artists, Sung Eun (Choi Sung Eun), In Youp (Hwang In Youp) and other actors, all the staff and performers thought a lot together. There were no works that could be referenced, both domestically and abroad. This is also the reason that the preparation period was quite long compared to other projects. It was also difficult for producers to meet the established production costs. However, I think it was a job worth the challenge.
— At first I thought it was a story about a tall uncle who helps a poor girl. But that was a completely different story. The unique idea of Ha Il Kwon is noticeable.
— The original webtun is a masterpiece. He has a message that is difficult to fulfill, but at the same time he has received a lot of love. Did I feel pressure to turn such work into a musical project? In fact, I thought that some part of this story was also my story, so I really wanted to try. A story about poverty, money and grades, a story about lost dreams and childhood.
— There are expressive techniques unique to Ha Il Kwon. Suddenly, a vivid action or cartoon character appears among the realistically drawn characters.
— In some moments, an unreal scene suddenly crashes into the real world. These moments were expressed mainly through songs and scenes in which music was played in the k-drama.
— Probably, it allows you to feel closer to the actors with whom you filmed, as well as to the film crew.
— We got along very well. At some point, while working on the project, I started to think that this was something I could never do alone. No matter how hard I try, this does not mean that the project will turn out well, and vice versa. Breathing in unison with team members is really important.
— There is a opinion that projects where the film crew and actors play during breaks are becoming popular.
— That’s why I would like to go to MT before shooting my next project. Of course, if the situation with the Covid-19 allows. If we start filming with a more comfortable relationship, we will be able to smooth differences that are difficult to resolve on the spot. It’s about creating an atmosphere where you can say what you want to say. Of course, there are people who don’t like MT (laughs). But won’t there be more people who like it?
— Please tell us a little about your next project “If You Say Your Wish”. Yoon Gyeo Ree, Ji Chang Wook’s character, seems very interesting. Is it a role that makes you think about how you’re going to die, not how you’re living?
— He is a friend who has many wounds on his heart and who has lived a difficult life. He grew up in an orphanage and suffered serious mental injuries. Of course, he has a very pessimistic outlook on life, and the wall he is building between himself and people is too high. This friend gets into an accident and is forced to go to a hospice. And it makes him think about death again.
— He is also described as “a man trying to escape from death.” Based on the description, it seems that playing Yoon Gyeo Ree could be a bit difficult.
— No. It was very exciting. I am very grateful for meeting this character, and it was very overwhelming. Every moment. All the emotions that were inside me were released.
In the k-drama, Yoon Gyeo Ree is going through a loss. While I was playing, I felt the emotions that had accumulated in me being washed away. I think that each actor has his own philosophy and his own method of expressing emotions during the game. However, in my case, the emotions that gnawed at me during the game were partially released.
— How was your relationship with Sooyoung?
— Very good. I am always very grateful to Sooyoung . We haven’t met before, but everyone around us often praised her. I thought she was a nice person to some extent, but when I met her, I think I was very lucky to work with such an amazing person. Not only is she good at acting, her attitude to the set as an actress and the way she treated the staff and other actors—it was all wonderful.
— Ji Chang Wook, whom I know, looks bohemian on his YouTube channel, but he hasn’t had a break from work for 10 years.
— I had free time, but I continued to work. If you think about it, after twenty years I have never celebrated my birthday. I always shot on my birthday. There are times when I don’t like it, and there are times when I like it. Aren’t all people like that? When I have a lot of work, I want to rest, and when I rest, I want to work. I’ve become greedy and I’m tired.
— Meanwhile, how did you continue to take care of your body during your constant work? At today’s photo shoot, your muscles looked great.
— Now I am diligently preparing for my next project.
— What is your next project?
— I can’t reveal anything yet, except that this is an action.
— I heard that in the past, shooting in an action k-drama was difficult, so you began to avoid this genre.
— Oh, it’s not like that. In the past, for filming in “K2”, I had to work very hard to do battle scenes. After I completed this project, I wanted to refrain from action for a while. But since I wasn’t working in this genre anymore, I thought: ‘If I do it again, I can enjoy filming.’
— If an actor somehow gets hurt on the set of action scenes, then the costs will increase exponentially.
— Considering the time and money lost when an actor gets injured, it makes sense. The loss is much greater than the gain. I tend to think of scenes that were spectacular when I performed the stunts myself, and scenes that were spectacular when I used a stand-in. No matter how hard I train, I can’t do better than a martial arts team. No matter how well I perform certain actions, the feeling of dynamism decreases. On the other hand, even if I’m not very good at it, there are scenes where the feeling of reality comes to life when I perform tricks myself.
— Can you give an example?
— For example, a full-length image of my body is shown, or scenes in which my face is shown before it. In fact, you can even replace a face these days.
— Is face replacement used so often?
— It was also used in my drama. There was a scene in “Lovestruck in the City” where I had to surf like a pro. Since my character is a really good surfer, I’ve learned a lot. But after two months of training, I wasn’t at the level I wanted to be. Depending on the weather conditions, there are certain things that only people who have been surfing for a long time can do. I tried to do it, but nothing worked. In the end, a professional surfer became my understudy, and the film crew used the face replacement technique. It turned out quite well.
— This is already happening, but I think that soon it will be possible to make a film by attaching a sensor to the human body to detect muscle movement, recording only voice acting and superimposing it on a virtual character.
— It is quite possible. Sometimes I imagine that in the future there will be another market with competitions between fictional characters for the main role. Of course, the technology doesn’t seem to have developed to that extent yet.
— But, on the other hand, will virtual actors be able to keep up with the original actor’s game.
— In fact, as you just noticed, since I am a person and an actor, I believe that “a real thing can give more emotions and pleasure than a mechanically created image.” What I am doing now is real, with faith in sincerity or hope.
— It is important to believe.
— But again, sometimes I watch anime and notice myself crying, also sometimes I get goosebumps. Animation is really done very efficiently. I even thought: “What if my job disappears?” (laughs).
The full interview is available in the June issue and on the official Esquire website.