Many have called The K2 a career-defining project for its star, Ji Chang-wook, but the 29-year-old would beg to differ. Indeed, he ran his body ragged for the role of a war mercenary turned into a bodyguard-for-hire, learning Korean, Russian, Japanese and Brazilian martial arts techniques and performing his own stunts, but Ji refuses to consider the moderately successful tvN drama a lifetime achievement.
The role of Kim Je-ha demanded a lot from him, and not just physically: He was in a constant battle of wills with veteran actress Song Yoon-ah, who played Choi Yoo-jin, the presidential candidate’s wife he was hired to protect, and had a melodramatic loveline with Yoon-ah, who took on the role of Go Anna, a lonely, abandoned young woman who grew up isolated from society.
“I really enjoyed working with the two Yoon-ahs. Both characters were so different and that made it even more enjoyable. With Yoo-jin, I always had to stay on my toes and we had a battle of wills. It was fun because we were playing mind games, whereas my scenes with Anna were looser. They felt like scenes from a rom-com. We had a lot of fun developing the scenes on set.”
Ji’s fight sequences and display of physicality for The K2 were much buzzed about, with the action scenes flying so fast and furious that many critics described them as being of a different caliber than previously seen in domestic dramas. Understandably, he’s sworn off action for the time being.
“Men have this romantic idea and fantasize about the action genre. It was really fun, but also really challenging. You could say I have a love/hate relationship with action. I don’t want to do it because it’s so hard, but I also feel like I’ve become a man, and it looks cool. I won’t do action for the time being, but I’ll probably consider it more carefully in the future.”
He described the now infamous bathhouse scene as the most memorable.
“It was a scene I filmed wearing just one nude-colored layer, and I was so embarrassed. It was the sequence I was most concerned about because I worried viewers might be repulsed by the scene, and I also worried about exposure. However, the director did a great job of capturing the sequence and I realized my fears were unfounded. Throughout the 16 episodes, I often had to reveal my body for the character so I constantly worked out. In terms of physical requirements, it wasn’t an easy project.”
There were aspects of the ending that were both happy and sad, and he thought The K2‘s ending, although a surprise to him—he and many viewers thought it would conclude differently, and he had to change his approach after receiving the script for the final episode—was portrayed beautifully.
“Outside of this project, I personally favor sad endings. They leave lingering imagery in the heart and I gain a sense of catharsis from the sadness you feel when things don’t work out perfectly at the end.”
“Every time a project ends I have mixed feelings of refreshment and sadness. I wondered what it would have been like if The K2 had been 20 episodes instead of 16. In episodes 15 and 16 I painted on blood and ran around sweating. I’m grateful now that my body is able to relax but there are many things I’ll miss.”
He also expressed mixed feelings about enlisting next year for mandatory military service, admitting that he is simultaneously looking forward to it and worried.
“On the plus side, I’ll meet a lot of creative-minded same-aged friends, but my concern is that I’ll be assigned a superior officer who is younger than me.” Ji reassured the press, “I think I’ll be calmer than one would think and that I’ll be able to turn [my service] into an enjoyable experience.”
Ji’s been in sageuk dramas (Empress Ki, Warrior Baek Dong-soo) and has had some iconic roles in Healer and Smile, Dong-hae. We haven’t seen as much of him in film, but he was optimistic.
“The fact that I haven’t taken on that many characters in the past means that I have many characters to show viewers in the future. I want to try rom-com, and I want to take a role in a thriller. I have a feeling I can do well in various genres. At a certain point [in my career], I began to think positively. I have to think that way in order for work to go well.
“There are some reviews that [The K2] was the project of a lifetime, but I don’t think that way. I haven’t shown you everything. The future is more enticing and exciting and new.” Ji went on, “I haven’t finished living my life, so my career as an actor and my lifetime achievement are still works-in-progress.”
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