Before the drama “Pied Piper” went on air, the three leads — Shin Ha Kyun, Yoo Jun Sang and Jo Yoon Hee — had a fashion pictorial and interview done with Vogue Korea as part of promotions for the drama. It is a pity that this magazine feature (just like the drama) was “lost in translation” and went unnoticed by many, likely because the three of them do not seem to have a strong overseas fanbase. Some of these talented but less popular actors do deserve some attention from us too! And if you haven’t watched Pied Piper, I do encourage you to watch it! 😀
Lost In Translation
We do not reach out even when they speak up; we do not hear even when we prick up our ears to listen. Within the painting that Pied Piper’s Shin Ha Kyun, Yoo Jun Sang and Jo Yoon Hee had walked into, a story of change is beginning.
It is the time of the day where the weary reddish glow shines in through the window. Two men and a woman in Edward Hopper’s painting started to move. Two men are seated across a large table facing each other. A woman is clutching documents that hold the key to a case. An evening gathering that will cause even the eye to turn crisp and dry. A man slowly picked up the phone and spoke, “Joon Sang sunbaenim (senior), have you read the script for episode 8?”
Breaking out into chatter about the show once Vogue’s camera stopped rolling, Shin Ha Kyun, Yoo Jun Sang and Jo Yoon Hee are the leads of tvN drama Pied Piper that starts airing in March. Shin Ha Kyun and Jo Yoon Hee star as negotiators in the crisis negotiation team, while Yoo Joon Sang stars as a news anchor with great ambitions. The negotiators and the news anchor are in pursuit of an unidentified ‘Pied Piper’ who was involved in successive cases of terrorism, crimes of passion, and hostage situations. Here, the term ‘negotiator’ catches the eye. Does such a job exist? Are they like those we see in the movie The Negotiator? Are there negotiators in Korea too? The questions that first came to Shin Ha Kyun’s mind when he read the script were similar to these. If negotiators do exist in reality, it would be worth giving this role a shot, because they are absolutely necessary in this age, so there is a need for more people to be aware of them.
After some research, it seems that negotiators do exist. Before commencing filming, Shin Ha Kyun and Jo Yoon Hee attended the lecture of a professor who had formed a crisis negotiation team, and they also watched videos of actual negotiations to learn some skills. The reality was different from American dramas. There were no exceptionally special techniques or eloquent speakers involved. The time spent listening was longer than the time spent talking. The perpetrators had resorted to twisted means to get their message across, and the negotiators gave their utmost effort to listen to them just like how psychologists and counsellors do, absorbing their feelings of rage like a sponge. The two actors clearly saw that ‘conversation’ was necessary in order to save one more person and resolve the situation safely.
“It got me thinking about how well I’ve actually listened to and empathised with what another person is saying. It is not easy to go beyond simple listening to genuinely empathise with someone.” After meeting Pied Piper, Jo Yoon Hee no longer dismissed even the smallest piece of news. Even in the script, there were cases occurring in every episode. The script was really not very different from reality. “There was a scene where I persuade a woman who tries to commit suicide with her boyfriend who had sexually assaulted her repeatedly. I cried while reading the script because I felt so sorry for her. While playing the character Yeo Myeong Ha, I wanted her to appear human. I wanted to show that there will be someone on this earth who will share the pain and engage in a sincere conversation even under extreme situations.”
While Shin Ha Kyun and Jo Yoon Hee had to run between crime scenes to negotiate even in the cold weather, Yoo Jun Sang held his fort in one location. The TV station, the solo stage of a news anchor. Pied Piper is a ‘good story’ to him, who firmly believes that an actor is a ‘person who delivers a story’. “There are so many things in our country that do not work out. Issues that exist but are not talked about are being unravelled indirectly in this drama. As an actor, this is really interesting. This is a drama that creates the opportunity to look back at things that we’ve overlooked in our lives.” Moreover, his role in the show is to deliver the news. This setup keeps throwing questions at him to think about. There is an overlap with reality each time he says the line “Reporting the truth, this is TNN News’ Yoon Hee Seong”. Why is the truth always hidden? Why is it that we only know of gossip and entertainment news? Why is it that issues which should be discussed in the media only remain as podcasts? Beyond ignorance, it is frightening that the truth is being controlled, such that we are not even able to think about it. “It really takes courage to deal with these issues through a drama. I could feel the sense of mission of the producers, so as an actor, I’m summoning up my courage and working hard.” Last year, he also starred in the satirical drama Heard It Through the Grapevine that was critical of the materialism of the elite class in Korea. “I enjoyed that a lot too because I was able to tell a story about societal issues.” Through channels such as history books and podcasts, Yoo Jun Sang does not intend to let go of his interest in society. There is only one reason. Because he is not able to do it. “If the world is overwhelmed by such stories, then there is no reason for me to concern myself with that.” From the perspective of acting, Yoo Jun Sang also fell in love with the role of a news anchor. The vocal practices that he does everyday as an actor were no different from that of an anchor. The thing that both actors and news anchors have to do accurately is pronunciation. Yoo Jun Sang found it so interesting to act as Yoon Hee Seong, such that he even looked back at his childhood dream to see if he had originally wanted to become a reporter. His innate talent at news reporting is enough to make one wonder what job he did in his previous life, but he actually has a teacher to thank for. “I listened to the news everyday as I practised, and I even went to seek out senior Baek Ji Yeon (laughs). Back then during Heard It Through the Grapevine, Senior was worried because she was acting for the first time, and I answered her questions with utmost sincerity (laughs).” Seemingly to reciprocate the help he gave her, the ‘goddess of news reporting’ Baek Ji Yeon passed on her ‘trade secrets’ to him. “The key point of the secret method? The key is not to follow anyone. The most important thing is to create something of your own.” Although you will be able to see it for yourself when the drama starts airing, Yoon Hee Seong will definitely not be like Sohn Suk Hee or Anderson Cooper, but ‘anchor Yoo Jun Sang’.
In fact, the combined strength of the three actors create more anticipation for the drama than the unfamiliar topic of ‘negotiation’. If we were to pick out something in common from the names of the three actors, it will probably be ‘actors that you trust and watch’. This phrase actually bears many connotations — it means the actor does not have any doubts towards the project; (the audience) is confident that the actor chose this project because of its meaning and not because of other factors; and the ability of the actor to deliver the story, which in turn guarantees the ‘entertainment value’ of the show. Director Kim Hong Seon and writer Ryu Yong Jae skilfully showed the different faces of humanity in Liar Game previously, so how will they shape the characters of these three veteran actors on this new slate? The three actors also have high expectations for one another. Furthermore, they are highly skilled at creating scenes of confrontations unlike those seen before. Just like how diamonds can only be crafted by a diamond, that stage only belongs to the actors once the camera starts rolling. As Shin Ha Kyun and Yoo Jun Sang have yet to film any scenes where they get to really act together, the scene at the photo shoot now gives a hint of the kind of acting we can expect to see from them. Removing all emotion from themselves and focusing all their strength on their poses, the way the three actors move as instructed is like a scene from a silent film. Jo Yoon Hee and Shin Ha Kyun who finally get to meet in the same show after three misses, are in the process of raising their synergy to the highest level. In fact, Jo Yoon Hee had received a ‘blow’ because of Shin Ha Kyun’s scary ability to immerse in his role. “There was a scene where I had to suppress Ha Kyun oppa. Although we had rehearsed at the action school beforehand, Ha Kyun oppa was so immersed in the scene once filming started till he forgot to reduce the force of his arm, so I got hit on my cheekbone and nose. Ha Kyun oppa loses all his rationality once he starts filming.”
This time too, Shin Ha Kyun does not find excuses and talks about acting. “Be it last time or now, I’m the kind who believes in doing a good portrayal of what is written in the script. Pied Piper is not a drama that delves deeply into one character, but a show that is put together by various characters. The scriptwriter already did a good job at writing the script, so I just have to give a good portrayal of the character. It really lessened the burden a little.” When he chose the job of an actor, his body seemed to gain a small switch; a switch that when pressed, enables him to change into the clothes of his character and immerse into his role faster than a time machine. From the time he carried with a smile a mool pa seu (a brand of medication for body pain) as a secret weapon for exterminating aliens in Save the Green Planet, or the recent movie Big Match where he uses humans for games, or in Mister Baek where he transforms from an old man in his 70s to a young man in his 30s after a freak accident, or even in Empire of Lust where he wages a war over power, Shin Ha Kyun’s roles are really diverse. Shin Ha Kyun is the only actor that is able to switch naturally between insanity and innocence. But unable to say anything more about his own acting, he chose to explain by using the words of his senior, “An actor needs to play the role that shows the face of the time period.” “Among the words that I heard when I was younger, this remained in my memory for the longest time. Even for actors, your perspective of the world changes as you age. I want to share with viewers the stories that I wish to tell about society, the pain and problems that we have, and the direction that we should head towards to improve.” Shin Ha Kyun has always received offers for different kinds of roles, but he has also been receiving offers to act as a father recently. Shin Ha Kyun’s next project is Olle (the official English title is ‘Detour’), a story about college friends who became losers. Now, this is a story that is closest to his heart and one that he is able to do best. But like always, melodramas have always avoided Shin Ha Kyun.
For Jo Yoon Hee, acting is an interest that she found with slightly more difficulty than that. When she was scouted in the streets in 1999 and starred in Lee Soo Young’s “I Believe” music video, we guessed this was the birth of yet another teen star. On her face was everything that we hoped for in a 19-year-old girl. But it took her 10 years for her to ascertain if the path of an actress was meant for her. And that interest came rolling in unexpectedly. “Playing the role of Bang Yi Sook in You Who Rolled In Unexpectedly was the first time that I found acting interesting. I developed confidence and there were also roles that I wanted to challenge myself with. I know myself best. Before that, I didn’t know what kind of charms I had and what I was good at. I was always scared.” Her rational personality also became more flexible. From a genre like Nine: Nine Time Travels to historical genre such as The King’s Face and Joseon Magician, Jo Yoon Hee now has a face that can portray any character. She even started an Instagram account in the hope of showing her image in her daily life. In her Instagram, she is usually seen at cafes, supermarkets or parks. Except for one post, she appears without make up in all her posts. “Hmm, but there are often comments about how I look tired and depressed. I was feeling happy so I took the pictures and uploaded them. Did I do something wrong?”
Yoo Jun Sang is always busy with drawing, composing songs and lyrics, singing, writing, and performing in musicals, but if there is one thing that he doesn’t do, that would be social media. While filming Pied Piper, he also performs Frankenstein on stage three times a week. It is not just any musical, but Frankenstein (he chose this as his toughest project in his 20 years of acting). He feels happiest when he stands on stage so he has been constantly maintaining his fitness, but he ended up hurting his waist not too long ago. It simply happened when he was trying to pick up his bag. He now has to wear a waist support when he goes on stage. From representative works of directors Kang Woo Suk and Hong Sang Soo, to a drama that shifts back and forth between a family drama and satires. In any kind of situation, Yoo Jun Sang uses his 100 grams of seriousness and earnestness to display amazingly natural acting that accurately puts the message across. Although there has been renewed interest in him about his multiple talents after appearing in various variety shows that revealed his passion for singing, Yoo Jun Sang interests are connected in a perfect circle. “Because I perform in musicals, I can’t separate myself from music even if I want to; I travel because I like travelling; I draw because I find it interesting to draw during my travels; I’ve been writing my journal for more than 20 years. I seem to have interest in this and that as I learn. It’s the same for politics, society, and history. I try to use all that to create good feelings and acting. If I lose interest, then it will get difficult for me in the future.” Even if Energizer swarms towards him like a herd of Texas cattle, defeating Yoo Jun Sang still looks like a tough job. Remembering that he turns 50 in two years’ time, he has such a thought. “Many people will view me in a better light right? I’m still so active at this age! He he he.” Yoo Jun Sang’s next projects are the musical The Days and the movie Gosanja: The Great Map of the East. The two men and woman in Edward Hopper’s painting remain in the moment as a photo, and the photo shoot comes to an end. Just like the moral told in the fairytale Pied Piper, that promises must be kept, the trio got up from their seats to prepare for their next filming. The sunlight of the city became the light in an empty room, and silence became darkness. At this moment where no one communicates, what kind of message will the Pied Piper say? For those of us who stand in front of him, all we have to do is prick up our ears to listen.
Translated from Korean to English by Gabby.
Credit: Vogue Korea