Seasoned actor Cho Jae-hyun
is up for a new challenge these days – reviving theater. Arduously staged productions hardly attract any audience members nowadays. But a silver lining is the play "Theater series 2" produced by Jo. It's the talk of the town and is drawing numerous spectators. It's a project to stage eleven plays from December, 2007 to January, 2008 and Jo is involved in all stages of the process from planning, casting, PR to marketing. The series of 11 productions that started with "Clumsy people" directed by filmmaker Jang Jin
--known for his unique sense of humor--and including "Old thief story", "Taming Rita", "Black bird", "Life in the theater" and "Return of Chairman Eom" have all been big hits. Even weekday shows put out additional seats and people are complaining that "it's hard to get tickets".
The series project first came about in 2004 and Jo put together all the 11 productions, personally asking fellow actors for casting requests. "Theater series 2" includes past premieres, old hits and newly adapted foreign plays for a display of the present and future of Korean theater. Whether it be laughter or tears or any new attempt, Jo says the series is made to appeal to viewers.
Ceaseless passion for acting
Jo brilliantly plays characters who are marginalized in society and in some kind of need. He says it's from his own experience. When he lived in a hilly slum neighborhood in Daehakno, he shared one room with his grandparents. Looking out the window, he saw dense rows of rickety homes like his but far beyond them, he saw fancy two-story houses. Children there dressed in yellow uniforms and would get off the school buses. After sunset, little Jo climbed over the kindergarten wall and played on the seesaw, slide and swing. Accompanied by friends, he would also climb over the wall of Changgyeongwon Zoo and the planetarium to collect empty bottles and sell them for pocket money. Once, when the boys met older men there also collecting bottles, they were beat up and the bottles stolen. From then on Jo already knew life was not fair. Still, his house was one of the better ones in the slum. His father gradually expanded his business by renting briquettes and selling gas and cement. By the time he attended middle school and high school, Jo was being driven to school in a foreign car. But he remembers that he hated school at the time and indulged in booze, cigarettes and visits to dance clubs. He even once ran away from home.
What realigned Jo's aimless life was theater. From early on, Jo was known to draw well. Teachers would have Jo draw pictures that were to go on the school bulletin. Jo wanted to be a painter until he saw a play for the first time during middle school. He could straighten out his life thanks to his passion for acting. To play a character in the play "Island" during his university junior year, he completely shaved his head. He decided to end his roaming life. He also married around this time. He didn't leave the stage even when he passed a TV actor exam for KBS in 1989. He once ran a drama troupe but gave it up, as he couldn't concentrate on acting because of production costs and other monetary concerns. Whether stage, film or TV, he believes acting is all the same, an expression of one's heart.
Jo has always been on guard against basking in the familiar. He feels liberated and energized when facing new challenges. He has been cast from the very first movie of director Kim Ki-duk
and is known to best demonstrate Kim's cinematic style. It was from this time that he was hailed as a brilliant actor. But he realized from some point that his acting was becoming monotonous and that leaving Kim would be better for himself and the director. He has appeared in romance, comedy and a variety of other genres, including films such as "Mokpo, Gangster's Paradise
", "Father and Son: The Story of Mencius" and "Romance - Movie".
The power of theater
Jo's number one interest these days is the stage. He is testing the belief that a good script, cast and producers can attract an audience. He believes dramas should also change to suit the taste of the less patient current generation. His ideas are controversial in the theater circle, but it's undeniable that he is injecting new energy into Korean theater, which was facing a dead end. As theater changed his own life since he first encountered plays in middle school, he believes it has the power to change other people as well.