Oh Ji Ho has enjoyed the spotlight with his involvement in recently ended historical drama, “Chuno”. Here’s the interview done by 10asiae with “Song Taeha” Oh Ji Ho.
[INTERVIEW] ACTOR OH JI HO
Oh Ji-ho says “I learned how to really use my eyes” on ‘The Slave Hunters’
The time has come finally to bid farewell to KBS TV series “The Slave Hunters”. What kind of ending will come for this extraordinary drama — which showed off fantastic imagery from the start, breaking records in viewership rating with terrifying speed and at the same time carried a fairly weighty political discussion? One does not know but one thing is for sure; that the key belongs to character Song Tae-ha (played by Oh Ji-ho), who had lived his life being loyal to his master but now dreams of making a better world. Now that even one of his enemies Dae-gil (played by Jang Hyuk) has decided to help him, what kind of dream does he have and how will he achieve them? And what has Oh Ji-do dreamed and achieved during the eight months that he spent portraying Song Tae-ha and unveiled his new possibilities? In a joint press interview held on March 24 — the day before the final episode of “The Slave Hunters” — the actor talked about the past eight months he spent working on the show.
Q: The show will be ending at last. How do you feel?
Oh Ji-ho (Oh): I shot my last scene yesterday and it was the scene where Tae-ha and Hye-won (played by Lee Da-hae) are leaving and asking Dae-gil (played by Jang Hyuk) to come with them. Dae-gil and my character raised their hands up in the air and hugged each other, and I was moved when we filmed that scene. A couple of staff members even cried because it was the end, even though it felt like there would be more. I feel relieved now, not like how I felt when I finished other dramas. I am relieved because the show did much better than I expected and I did what I wanted to do, like playing a character I wanted to play.
Q: There were some concerns about you doing a historical drama. Why did you choose to shoot a historical drama at this point in your career?
Oh: Actually, I chose to play the character Song Tae-ha rather than choosing to do a historical drama and I had no fear about doing it. When people told me I wasn’t the right fit for a historical drama, I was like “Whatever, I’ll just do it.” And I studied for the part by watching historical dramas, which I don’t usually watch. What was hard was adjusting to the tone of a historical drama, rather than trying to decide whether I should take on the drama. If I was going to do it, I didn’t want to be told I was awful.
Q: How do you feel now about your choice?
Oh: I have discovered the joy of shooting a historical drama. When you shoot a drama in new surroundings, go to many places with beautiful scenery, you start to feel new about yourself too. And I think growing a beard for my character in a historical drama helped my acting transformation. I have shaved off the beard now and feel a bit embarrassed, as if I have taken my clothes off. Like how an introverted person can start to talk when he puts on a mask to do a mask dance, I think I too was able to change my character by growing a beard.
Q: Speaking of characters, you played comical characters in your previous dramas — MBC’s “Couple or Trouble” and MBC’s “Queen of Housewives”. Why did you decide to play a different kind of character this time?
Oh: When I was doing romantic comedies, I played a man whom women would find adorable and would want to take care of. But just once I wanted to play a character that men would find truly loyal and cool and that is why I decided to play Song Tae-ha. Looking cool like [Korean actor] Choi Min-soo, who we admired when we were young.
Q: Then was there anything hard about acting the part?
Oh: I didn’t worry about the action scenes or visual stuff because that is something the director would take care of. What was hard was that I myself found Song Tae-ha very stifling. I felt like Tae-ha should do something at certain points but he didn’t. He was a character who lived with a certain cause but he didn’t do anything and there was no space for movement. The articles about me speaking my lines as if I was reading a textbook may have come from such stuffy character of Tae-ha.
Q: Tae-ha is someone who created the specifications of a hero, but it must have been all the more stifling for you to play him because he didn’t vent that out openly.
Oh: In the beginning, I played Tae-ha thinking that he was literally a hero who would make a revolution but it turned out that he wasn’t. So then I reached the conclusion that he was just a military officer who just carries out orders. He had the strength to rescue the young royal king (played by Kim Jin-woo) to carry out the order of Prince So-hyun, whom he used to serve, but that was it for him. So whatever he tried to do more, it wouldn’t work out. He visits Lord Bong-lim (played by Lee Joon) and asks him to spare the life of the young royal, which doesn’t work out. He is close to a Chinese general (played by Yoon Dong-hwan) so he tries to entrust himself over to the Qing Dynasty, but still he wouldn’t go to Qing. When the loyal solider meets Hye-won, he changes a bit. He starts small by protecting the woman close to him, then eventually dreams of making a better world which doesn’t have boundaries of the nobles and commoners. I think that is why he began to feel that he wants to stay in the countries somehow and change the world little by little.
Q: Do you think such change means that Tae-ha is growing up?
Oh: I think so. Tae-ha is someone who refuses to accept that Hye-won is the slave Eon-nyeon, and so when you tell him that Dae-gil is the same as any other nobleman, I think he must have thought about that himself. Tae-ha believes that he is carrying out his duty to save the people but he realizes that people actually hate aristocrats. And I think that is when he decides to be someone who mediates that gap and matures.
Q: I can understand that meeting Hye-won was what motivated him to change. But the much talked-about kissing scene on Jeju island seemed a bit out of context.
Oh: It must have seemed somewhat like that since people are saying so, but I think it also signifies that Tae-ha changed. If he was just a loyal solider, he would have just taken the young royal king with him in that situation. But as someone who lost his wife and child and feeling how could someone who couldn’t save his family save a country, he had just been doing his best in protecting Hye-won. And I think his feeling evolved into love during their journey down to Jeju island. He had already started loving her and when he turned around to look for Hye-won, he had actually gone out to greet his future wife. The kissing scenes might have looked out of context because the previous scene, where Tae-ha was fighting Chul-woong (played by Lee Jong-hyuk), left such a strong impression. But for Tae-ha personally, I think it was right to do that in that situation.
Q: The time has come for you to part with Tae-ha. Are you satisfied with the transformation of your image?
Oh: I portrayed a manly, serious character through Song Tae-ha for the first time after doing romantic comedies for almost eight years. I am honored that my first attempt worked out really well. Being able to play two different types of characters means that I will be able to play various characters in the future and that is the most important thing for me. I am satisfied with my acting too. I can’t say that I’m 100 percent satisfied, but I believe I have shown as much as I could.
Q: You are really into showing your new character these days, so it is more disconcerting that you shot a commercial for Chinese-style squid noodles.
Oh: I’m sorry. (laugh) When I got the offer to do the commercial, I worried a lot over whether I should do it or not. I was worried if the commercial might cause trouble for the drama since I am playing a serious character. But it’s about my own future too. If I was only going to play characters like Song Tae-ha in the future, I shouldn’t have done that commercial. But I am a person who will play comic characters too, so I wanted to show my silly side through the commercial. Director Kwak Jung-hwan had said, “They wouldn’t play the commercial right before ‘The Slave Hunters’ comes on, would they?” but they did. (laugh) I felt a little bad about that.
Q: Tae-ha’s masculine side was maximized under the direction of director Kwan Jung-hwan. What was it like working with him?
Oh: He is very meticulous and really great at editing. And he has a great sense of color. The most important thing is that he knows the good points and bad points of the actors he is working with. So he doesn’t make the actor do the kind of acting he has done in previous dramas, thus you can always show a new side to youself. For example, in scenes where you talk to someone else and the other person leaves, you look away for a moment and then look back. That is how the scene usually ends in many other dramas. But director Kwak never tells you to do things like that. He says that when the conversation ends, you follow the other person with your eyes and your emotions should come out from your eyes. I really loved that and if I may dare say so, I think I have learned how to really use my eyes while working on this drama.
Q: There were many beautiful scenes in the drama under such direction. Which one was your favorite?
Oh: We shot the drama over the course of eight months so many scenes come to mind — such as the breakdown scene, the fight scene with Dae-gil on the reed field, the battle scene with the Qing Dynasty army which was similar to the film “300″. But the most memorable scene is when Tae-ha and Dae-gil are running side by side on the battlefield, and they look at each other and smile. I think that is the moment when the tension between them, which made it hard for them to accept each other, ends.
Q: I think you met a really great drama this time, like when you did “Queen of Housewives”.
Oh: I had actually predicted that the show would do well because I knew I would be able to fully show what I have. But I didn’t know that it would be so popular from the start. Something like that could almost never happen again. Not only because there wouldn’t be another drama like this one but it was a real blessing for me to get a role like Tae-ha. I don’t think this kind of drama could ever come out again. There was actually a period where we were a bit hesitant but that was the virtue of our drama. It could have been more fun if Tae-ha had really caused a revolution, but we were just military officers, noblemen and slaves. It was just a story about people living their lives and that is why I liked it.
Q: If they were to make the second season of “The Slave Hunters”, would you do it?
Oh: I would sign the contract first. But I want to be the one chasing because it is too exhausting being chased. (laugh)
Reporter : Wee Geun-woo firstname.lastname@example.org
Photographer : Lee Jin-hyuk email@example.com
Editor : Lynn Kim firstname.lastname@example.org, Lee Ji-Hye email@example.com
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