Quite big interview, provided kindly by infiniteupdates.
Really, really interesting read.
KBS2 <Dream High> left the popular expression ‘pesticide-like girl’. Go Hyemi (Suzy) kept on complaining since she couldn’t get rid of the country bumpkin Song Samdong (Kim Soohyun) no matter how hard she tried. By chance or by necessity, during the casting meeting of <Dream High>’s staff, Seo Ingook suggested that it would be fun if they had a country boy character using a Korean dialect. Even though the <Dream High> casting he was hoping for fell through, instead he got the role of the Busan dialect-speaking hero, Yoon Yoonjae, in the ‘pesticide-like drama’ <Reply 1997>, joining the line-up of stars both in name and in reality. Even if he was the first winner of <Superstar K> which led the audition craze, he still couldn’t be called a star. It’s exactly this Seo Ingook who captivated the whole country with his Korean dialect. That’s why expressions like ‘life is full of ups and downs’ and ‘it’s not over till it’s over’ exist.
That’s right. This couldn’t fit the expression ‘pesticide-like’ more. How common is it to have a drama that can make people laugh, cry, and go crazy within an hour? In this world full of dramas, how can a drama with no villains, conspiracies nor traps, no CEO that we see all the time or director of headquarters, be so funny? Furthermore, even when watching the rerun after the first broadcast and even when rewatching it from the first episode, you don’t get tired of it. You don’t get tired of it and you slowly spot all the set-ups that you couldn’t see at first. The drama ended but when will this addiction stop?
As soon as the drama gained momentum, not a day went by when it didn’t go on various medias and the phone didn’t ring, asking ‘what’s the secret of their popularity?’, ‘what are their strong points?’ If I had to say all the reasons why I like this drama we would stay up all night though? But since we’ve already started talking about it, let’s select a few points. First, since I’m the mother of two children, I liked seeing the mother-daughter relationship between Siwon (Jung Eunji) and Siwon’s mother (Lee Ilhwa) more than anything. No, strictly speaking, I was envious of how Siwon’s mother treated her child. Because she was a mother who didn’t expect anything back from her child, a mother who was satisfied with just having her child by her side. It might be because she had the painful experience of outliving her precious child but I never saw her ask something from her daughter nor criticize her. I don’t know why mothers, myself included, live forgetting this precious truth. The very existence of your child is already filial piety. And she wasn’t only embracing her own child, she also could cherish someone else’s child as much as her own child; isn’t she a mother with a truly warm heart? The natural result was that Siwon was more positive than anyone else. A child who is raised by such a mom has nothing to worry about.
Secondly, I was happy that they cast light upon the ‘brotherly love’, of course in the drama but in real life as well. In the past, the American series <Rich man, Poor man> led the many other movies and dramas talking about brotherly love. Now we are well aware that everyday, brothers fight to the blood over wealth, but I think that in Korea, even on TV, just like Choi Soojong and Bae Yongjun who were brothers on <First Love>, I think that the strong bond between brothers was important. Ah, right. Now that I think about it, wasn’t <First Love> made in 1997? Anyway, as a woman I can’t understand this feeling, but when the big brother Taewoong (Song Jongho) ran hurriedly while wearing his shirt inside out after he was cut off on the phone from his little brother Yoonjae, and when he let out a relieved sigh after seeing that his little brother was safe, I thought immediately ‘So that’s brotherly love’. He waited a long time for Siwon but when he learnt about Yoonjae’s feelings for Siwon, Taewoong sent a short text message saying ‘Hyung is sorry’. From there, we learnt more about the untold stories concerning Siwon’s parents and the story got deeper.
And third is the sexual identity problem of a man liking another man. Truthfully, it was a great contribution for TV to become an enlightening place for this. From the American series like <Sex and the city> or <Friends>, to <Life is beautiful> where Song Changhee and Lee Sangwoo appear as a couple, our thoughts changed a lot. So while watching <Life is beautiful> we thought ‘we should stop being narrow-minded’, ‘we can’t have prejudices’, we settled down but there’s still residue left of ignorance. I’m saying that it’s difficult to say that we’ve made efforts to understand it or that we totally understand it. But that’s a really weird thing. When I was watching Junhee (Hoya) reveal his feelings to Yoonjae, I didn’t feel this sense of distance at all. I just candidly accepted it as the feelings of a person simply liking another person. Was it because the production made the characters well? Or was it because of the special charms that the actors had? Because I was still curious about it, I personally went to see Hoya who had the role of Junhee. It was on the day where the typhoon Sanba was approaching and the rain was pouring down.
A: Thinking back, I think most of the idols that know how to speak Korean dialects auditioned. I wasn’t the only one in my group that auditioned, actually. Since I didn’t have the intention to act, I obviously didn’t have any expectations about it. Instead, I did think before debut that it’d be fun if I acted but after starting our group’s promotions, the company and even myself didn’t think about it. I really went to the auditions only because I knew how to speak in Korean dialect. But something unbelievable happened, as you know. I directly got the role. I don’t really know either why the production chose me. But a week after telling me we were going to work together, before they called me, I didn’t know what role I had. I only heard about it later. Since I originally didn’t have any bias nor prejudices about it, I wasn’t really burdened. However our representatives must’ve been a bit worried about it. They were worried about whether my image was going to be alright in the future. I said I wanted to do it and asked to absolutely do it. I asked so many times, saying I wanted to do it. This role.
Q: Even if the perceptions changed a lot, we can only say that the sexual identity problems are still an uneasy point. But oddly enough, Junhee wasn’t uncomfortable. What was the reason to it?
A: Yes, I’ve heard this a lot. Firstly, it’s thanks to the production team who made Kang Junhee into an innocent character you want to hug and who is easily likeable. And our representatives told me that I had to protect Junhee. During the drama’s filming we talked about it a lot. So I think that the character was made with the help of many people. Originally, I’m in charge of the manliness (?) in the team right? Or the charismatic member. Since Junhee’s character is delicate and thoughtful, wouldn’t the combination of them work well? So I think that the middle point that the director wanted appeared.
Q: By chance, Mnet’s <Ranking King> and <Reply 1997> were broadcasted at similar time slots. Hoya went from a bad boy concept at the start of <Ranking King> to a slowly softer image. You even unexpectedly made a love line with Woohyun. If you were the old Hoya, wouldn’t it be something unimaginable?
A: Ah, you felt that. I was also surprised when the director replied to me jokingly when I said ‘Director, I found my sexual identity’ with something like ‘What, wasn’t it that?’. Even if it was a joke, since he kept on saying it I slowly started to worry a bit. But since it was my first time acting, I could only practice a lot. I kept on practicing, reading the script again and again, and since I was always living as Junhee on the filming set, it must’ve become a second nature before I knew it. Even my manager hyung said that he thought my personality changed these days. Should I say that I got more crafty? I heard that I talked more.
Q: It feels like Infinite’s Hoya and the drama’s Junhee are total opposites, right? It could even surprise the people who knew Junhee first, and then saw Hoya on stage.
A: It was also worrying at the company for me. Since the people who don’t know Infinite would just think about me as the kind hearted and delicate Junhee. They could be confused when seeing me on stage with a dark image. But I can’t be laughing like Junhee. The other members are in charge of the loveliness so it’s a bit worrying. (laughs)
Q: Since it was your first time acting, you might have had a role model?
A: I didn’t think that I especially wanted to act like someone. I just did my best to express Junhee as it was written on the script. Now that I think about it, showing charisma on stage was also acting. Dancing is also acting.
Q: The unexpected hype, the fans like it right? But at first, I think they watched it uneasily.
A: It is no exaggeration to say that Infinite came until here with the fans’ strength. It might be like that for all the idol groups but if we compare our fans, our group’s fans are exceptionally close. Even at the start, the fans promoted even more than our company, may it be on influential internet cafes or boards; they really worked hard to launch the videos privately and publicly. Before our debut, we got known with the reality program <Infinite! You are my oppa>. Since we gave off the feeling that we were the neighbourhood’s little brothers who aren’t like idols, I think they liked this easygoing side. That’s why at our first debut stage’s prerecording, a lot of fans came. Even when I think about it again, I’m touched. My fans said they were waiting eagerly for the day I’ll release a solo album. I think they were also confused that a kid who had no interest in acting suddenly started acting. It’s normal to be worried when a kid who has no experience in acting says that he’s going to act. I’d like to tell them to relax since I’m always working hard.
Q: Without comparing you to PSY who suddenly got involved overseas, when you think about the time when you came from Busan 2 years ago, it’s an amazing result right?
A: I was born in Busan but I moved to Changwon and lived there until I was 17. I started to like dancing so much but I couldn’t dance while following the lessons for the high school certificate. I’m the type of person who can’t do many things well at the same time. So I thought about dropping out of school. My father really opposed to it a lot but I was stubborn. He could only be angry at a kid who said he wanted drop out of school after going to the reading room and receiving private lessons at dawn until middle school and said that he was going to go to police academy. I also got hit by my father a lot, my mother was protecting me so she cried a lot. When I think about it now I’m really sorry. I call my mom once every two days but you know Busan men right? I’m the one calling first but I coldly say a few words and hang up quickly. Oddly, my voice gets lower? Why is it so. From now on I have to do well. Actually, I first came to Seoul to learn dancing but I went back to Busan again as it didn’t go as I wanted. At Seoul it feels like getting lessons at an institute while at Busan it’s more of an underground feeling, it doesn’t feel like learning from a teacher but more like we were enjoying together so I liked it.
Q: While this is your first time acting, it’s also your first solo activity, it seems like it was difficult.
A: I’m the type to be shy with strangers and it’s the first time I’m doing something without the members so I was cautious, of course. Luckily there was Ingook hyung whom I already knew so he introduced me and had the role of the middleman. Moreover, the other people weren’t shy with strangers so they approached me first. Since we were all playing the roles of friends, we had to get close quickly so it could help the drama. So I overcame my personality and made a lot of effort to approach them. In Jiwon hyung’s situation, he’s a big senior right? We were a bit unfamiliar only during the first day and after 2 days, we immediately got close. That’s why I ended up opening my heart to hyungnim. Like Jiwon hyung’s nickname, meaning that he is elementary-schooler like, he’s also very innocent in real life.
Q: It also feels like you’ve changed your goal a bit?
A: Since I’m the type who has a lot of ambition, I also want to do a lot of things. Mithra hyungnim wrote the raps for our 1st [mini] album but after that I wrote it all personally. After rapping I have ambitions in singing too so I worked hard receiving vocal lessons, since I’m not someone who is naturally talented. I think that I’ve only practiced in my life. Actually, my dancing was clumsy too. I worked hard so I could get here. I kept on dancing like I was exercising. I didn’t think about acting but after doing it, I got ambitious about it. I want to try studying acting for real. But it’s still not in the script yet. (laughs)
Q: Did you think about the time you were going to school while appearing on <Reply 1997>? Didn’t you regret the friendship with your friends and such?
A: I dropped out of school but while spending all my time in the practice room after that, the teammates who were practicing with me became my friends as if they were my school friends. So I don’t regret dropping out of school. Because this period is a precious memory other people couldn’t experience. But the thing that I was thankful of while filming <Reply 1997> is that even if it was all acting, I got to find back the school days’ feeling that I lost as I wore a school uniform again and was living with friends. Even if I say I don’t regret it, I must have a bit of sadness left. This kind of indirect experience was nice. It kind of felt like receiving a compensation.
Q: Lastly, let’s make an imitation of ‘Radio Star’. What’s <Reply 1997> to Hoya?
A: In a word, a gift? It’s difficult to describe but it was something like a miracle. Because I gained really, really a lot of things. I met a lot of good people. Even if I didn’t sleep for few days, it was so much fun everyday, I wasn’t even tired. I never had any hobbies. Because the members call our work our hobby. When we had some free time, we just went to the practice room and only practiced, we lived like this. But after getting to know acting, I have to experience various things to act right? And I think it will be good thing since I can experience indirectly many things with acting. Moreover I gained popularity. (laughs)
[T/N: Spoiler of the last episode under the read more cut]
<Reply 1997> started at the alumni meeting of the 33 years old men and women in 2012, it ended with Junhee’s back finding a new love. I wondered if the title of the last episode ‘The reason why the first love wouldn’t come true’ was made by the production in consideration of Junhee. I wasn’t curious about whether the owner of the red car who came to fetch Junhee was a man or a woman. I was just satisfied because Junhee wasn’t lonely anymore. I was happy as much for Junhee being happy, and also the leap for Hoya. It’s because a bit over a month after their debut? I met Infinite who looked anxious and shaky. He came in the region by himself, dropped out of school, danced well but was in a company that never had any experience in raising idols before, right? That child I was looking at with worried eyes has now accomplished what’s called success. On the one hand I’m getting moved to tears. Because I can guess how hard he worked by himself during these two years. You’re great Hoya!