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Actor CHO Seung-woo of FENGSHUI

Oct 10, 2018
  • Writerby SONG Soon-jin
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“I’d like to play a character that conveys a message”

Actor CHO Seung-woo, who has been busy between musical stages, the silver screen and TV, is now returning in a Korean traditional costume ‘hanbok’ for the first time in a while. After his debut film Chunhyang (2000) directed by IM Kwon-taek, The Sword With No Name (2009) in which he starred as a royal bodyguard of Empress Myeongseong, and his latest epic TV costume drama The King’s Doctor, FENGSHUI marks his first appearance in a period piece in 6 years. The actor, who has displayed the most realistic interpretation of Koreans living in a modern world through TV dramas Stranger and Life and film Inside Men (2015), is playing this time as a royal geomancer, Park Jae-sang, who reads people’s fates and the energy of the land to convey a deeply meaningful message to those living in this current day and age. Moreover, it seems like his philosophy on acting has become more solid through FENGSHUI

This is your second collaboration with director PARK Hee-gon since Perfect Game (2011), which was based on a true baseball game that took place during the heydays of Korean professional baseball in 1980. 

We had already developed a friendship through a community baseball club of which we were both members, but I realized after watching his earlier film Insadong Scandal (2009) that he is a director with a sophisticated eye for narrative structure and film style. And that’s how I ended up starring in Perfect Game. This experience filming with him convinced me that he’s a person who bases his film work on detailed analysis and investigation. Furthermore, he’s someone you know will always gather significant knowledge about the background of his films. So, this director who’s known for his fast-pace style of direction one day gave me the screenplay for a period piece. (laughs) I’m the kind of person who gets easily tired by long hours of shooting and would usually think initially something like: ‘a period piece is too demanding for me to do’, ‘I won’t do it’. But since it was this director, I decided to read the script before making any decisions. The fact that the screenplay started out quite static and then became dynamic as it reached the second half intrigued me. And since PARK Hee-gon was directing it, I jumped at the opportunity with no further ado. 

A geomancer who reads the energy of the land is a new kind of character that has not been dealt with in films or TV dramas. Were you required to do some research to play this role? 

FENGSHUI depicts the politicians of the late Joseon Dynasty, but the geomancer Park Jae-sang I play is a fictional character. (The film dramatically recreated the relationships between historical figures.) Park Jae-sang has the ability to read the energy of the land that can change the fate of humans and uses this ideally to make the world a better place. But when he speaks his mind regarding the issue of deciding where to lay the gravesite of the late king, he goes through horrendous hardship but returns once again as a geomancer 13 years later with the help of commoners. Before the film went into production, the director passed on to me a number of historical material on related historical figures and the role of a geomancer at the time, and also told me that actually the role of geomancers during the late Joseon Dynasty had nothing to do with the peoples’ lives and were limited to determining the location of a royal gravesite or supervising the landscaping of said gravesite. Based on these historical facts, it occurred to me that Park Jae-sang would have had some other desires regarding his job. He is also the only character in the film that is centered and never wavers, and is always right-minded. These factors made it hard for his character to stand out, but at the same time, it’s what made him the central axis of this film. 

In other words, it is a role that is quite challenging for an actor to accept easily. 

Even if it lacks a certain charm, I felt that my character was the kind of person we needed in this day and age, and someone who can convey the message of this film. Because Park Jae-sang is in fact a character that totally represents the message of FENGSHUI. When an actor becomes too addicted to trends, he or she ends up 10 or 20 years later with a filmography full of outdated, old-fashioned titles. I hope to work on films that don’t rely on trends and are not old-fashioned. That’s why I like films that give meaning. I wanted to give to those watching my works something to think about, something that would remain with them for a long time. That is my goal and purpose of acting. I hope my performance and the messages in my films are like that. 

You debuted through Chunhyang and continued to work on period pieces, but lately, you’ve been receiving rave reviews for playing an office worker in contemporary Korean society. Does it feel a bit strange to return to a period piece after such a long time? 

I’m not that modern-looking, am I? (laughs) In fact, I think I have a look that suits period pieces quite well. Period pieces require a different style of moustaches and beards based on the film, and you need to put your hair up in a topknot, wear a traditional hat made of bamboo and horse hair and a traditional Korean costume, which are interesting in that they create a different look for each film. And there are quite a few dramatic subject matters you can find in history. Depicting historical figures and incidents without making them too conventional and running with your reasoning, imagination and performance is something that really inspires me. 

Lately, a number of Korean actors have been attempting to work overseas. Do you also have any plans to do so? 

No, I have no plans to work overseas. It’s hard enough delivering my lines in Korean. (laughs) But if there is one thing I’d like to do, it is making quality films that foreign buyers want to buy. Like the TV dramas from the U.S. or other foreign countries that are divided in seasons, I hope Korean TV dramas can also be produced seasonally so that an entire season could be bought by an overseas buyer or have more remake rights sold outside of Korea. This wish recently came true as Stranger has been sold to more than 10 countries. I’m so grateful and happy for Stranger. This is my position on the overseas market. I’ll just stay here and focus on my work, so buy as much as you can! (laughs)

Middle-aged male actors in Korean films have constantly been putting out outstanding performances lately. As one of them, which direction are you planning to take?

I believe it has become possible for middle-aged male actors to put out outstanding performances through a number of works thanks to veterans like HAN Suk-kyu, SONG Kang-ho and CHOI Min-shik. They paved the way to create an environment where you can work on great films regardless of your age. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of their contributions, but I’m still thirsty for something new. Recently, I watched the film Searching and was amazed by how it manages to keep us on edge through such a long running time with a format that is beyond one’s imagination. Film and TV drama subject matters are slowly drying out, but then there are projects that overcome this with brilliant ideas like Searching. I’d like to meet a project that refuses to take the safe road like most others, and introduce something new and amazing to the audience through an experimental approach. And what would be better than adding a great message to this?
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