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[HanCinema's Actor Spotlight] Jo Jung-suk

2014/07/05 | 1643 views | Permalink

Stage and musical actors who become television and film actors generally fall into one of three categories. Either they act on screen as they do on stage, altogether too loudly and flamboyantly for the screen, or, they have a natural screen presence. There are also those who gradually transition from the first to the second with practice and experience.

Actor Jo Jung-suk is a stage and musical actor who has not only naturally transitioned onto the screen with ease, but has earned himself the title of "scene stealer". Before transitioning onto the small and big screens, Jo was a theater and musical actor for nearly ten years. Then in 2011 he was cast in a role that allowed him to show off his musical talents as Kim Byeong-geon in "What's Up". Musical roles are often used to transition idol actors and musical theater actors, but the role of Kim Byeong-geon also allowed Jo to show television audiences that he is capable as an actor with his subtle and nuanced portrayal of the awkward, shy student. His work as a singer and stage actor has given him amazing diction and agility of his voice. He delivers foreign dialogue as well as he does in his native Korean. It also makes him a pleasure to listen to and to watch in a musical drama like "What's Up".

It was the year 2012 that shot Jo into his current stardom with his supporting role in the film "Architecture 101" and the drama "The King 2 Hearts". He played very different roles and excelled in both of them, proving himself to be a veritable acting chameleon. In "Architecture 101" Jo had very few scenes, but when he appeared he was magnetic. His character was the goofy, overly confident, full-of-terrible-advice best friend of the male lead, Nab-ddeuk. What made this character so winning was the absolute freedom with which Jo played him and his impeccable comedic timing. It earned him critical acclaim and an influx of movie, drama, and CF offers along with his role as Eun Shi-kyung in "The King 2 Hearts". The role was completely different than that of Nab-ddeuk. Shi-kyung was a stoic soldier who abided by all rules and had difficulty relating to people because of his unwavering morals and dedication to his career. Jo infused life into a character who could have been very stale with his ability to give a physically stiff character a lot of expression using only his eyes and small muscle movements. It is these small movements that make such a contrast with his Nab-ddeuk character who was all flamboyance, loose postures, and flailing limbs.

This contrast between the roles is something that Jo seems to seek. He always plays a variety of characters that challenge him and expand his repertoire, a habit he may have retained from his theater experience where he also played a wide range of characters. The year 2013 saw Jo in the film "The Face Reader" and the weekend family drama "Lee Soon-shin is the Best". He was Paeng-heon in "The Face Reader", the brother-in-law of the main character. The role was one of the staple roles found in movies: a slightly dull, good-hearted, silly sidekick who is changed by horrible experiences. Again, what makes the role stand out from the stereotypical way in which it is written is the "life" that Jo infuses into it. Each awkward character Jo plays has his own quirky movements that aren't confined to Jo's natural movements.

The year 2013 is when Jo landed his first leading role in a drama opposite IU as Shin Joon-ho in "Lee Soon-shin is the Best". Although the writing of his character was messy in the latter half of the drama, Jo managed to tie the loose ends of the writing together with his consistent portrayal of the arrogant, albeit clumsy, chaebol. He brought out the best in the other actors he worked with, especially the younger, less experienced IU. His comfort on screen made their age gap negligible.

This year Jo played an assassin in "The Fatal Encounter" opposite Hyun Bin. Compared to his other work, including his role as a soldier in "The King 2 Hearts", "The Fatal Encounter" required incredible physical efforts on Jo's part. There was a constant tension that riddled his character, Sal-soo, who lived a brutal life and saw very little good. Jo made his voice as soft spoken as his characters fighting was bold. It showcased another side of Jo's immense talent, again due to his keen ability to choose diverse, interesting roles.

Jo Jung-suk is deserving of his sudden Hallyu stardom. His defining characteristic as an actor is that he has none. He molds himself to whatever role he takes on whether it be on stage, in film or on television. He is an actor on whom others can depend. He is also just plain old entertaining to watch in everything that he is in. That is a quality that can't be taught.


Written by: Raine from 'Raine's Dichotomy'

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