[INTERVIEW] Producer Jeong Tae-won - Part 1

Producer Jeong Tae-won [Beck Una/10Asia]

Some say he is a ruthless producer. Some evaluate him as an intelligent businessman. Some consider him as a brother who knows what being loyal is about. After fearlessly stepping into Jeongmuro [where the history of Korean film started] in his early twenties as a film importer, he later placed his name on the power list of commercial film producers. He also was the chief of an entertainment company which sees large profits from importing major films such as "The Lord of the Ring" series by utilizing his innate business mindset and close relationship with Hollywood's major film studios.

Then he successfully wrapped up production of blockbuster drama "IRIS" last year and in June is set to start filming "ATHENA", a 20-billion won spin-off of the series starring top Korean actors Cha Seung-won and Jung Woo-sung. He is a hard core workaholic who said that even on the day of his interview with 10Asia, he watched the final edit version of film "71-Into the Fire" which is awaiting release in June after taking care of several lawsuits and contracts regarding "IRIS". People may have mixed feelings about this fast-moving mass of energy, especially in the Korean entertainment business where sensitive artists are held in high esteem and numbers and size are dismissed. But put aside the fact that he is a successful producer, nobody will be able to deny his passion for films based on how he has walked a single career path. He is Jeong Tae-won, the CEO of Taewon Entertainment.

Beck Una: This office is smaller than your previous one but there's a much more stable feeling to it.
Jeong Tae-won: Because it's where you need to concentrate and make decisions. I actually prefer to work from home or be on set -- I don't really come into the office other than when I do interviews. Should I say that my life is somewhat like the life of an actor? (laugh) Since it revolves around the dramas or films that I decide to take on.

Beck: I actually think the level of interest and expectation for "ATHENA", set to air around the end of this year, shot up instantly because of news that Jung Woo-sung and Cha Seung-won were cast for the show.
Jeong: I need to take the international market into consideration so of course Hallyu stars were at the top of my list. But the thing is, they all seemed weak compared to Lee Byung-hun. And I didn't want the show to give off the impression that it has a weak cast when I wasn't sure if having someone stronger [than Lee] would do enough. So after a lot of hard thinking, I decided to give up on casting a Hallyu star and just focus on the Korean viewers. [Thinking] Who wouldn't seem weak compared to Lee Byung-hun in Korea? Ah! Then I should have two [actors]. Ones that are tall. (laugh) Cha Seung-won had been cast first and then Jung Woo-sung but I think the response was good because it was announced at the same time. And I differentiated Jung Woo-sung's character from Lee Byung-hun's so that they would be incomparable. Jung isn't an elite agent but a character who in the beginning, is lax and makes a lot of mistakes.

Beck: And then when the female cast was announced, everyone was quite taken aback.
Jeong: I think I wanted to avoid casting someone who people would be sure of doing a good job. I thought it would be better if Soo Ae, with her obedient and quiet image, could take viewers by surprise by pulling off the role of a spy. You have no idea how people were against casting Kim Tae-hee in the beginning. (laugh) [But] TV doesn't end in a single episode. All you need to do is win after fighting against viewers for two and a half months, no matter how unsatisfied they might be in the beginning. You know how many anti-fans E Ji-ah has, right? (laugh) I'm going to use this as a chance to reveal the truth behind the numerous suspicions about her. I actually like people who are incomplete. I think I feel rewarded when someone becomes popular because of working with me. Plus Soo Ae has a classic look while E Ji-ah has a modern look so I liked that combination too. Anyway, I want this drama to become regarded as a production which overturns the response over the casting.

Beck: There was a time when 'seasonal dramas' were talked about but many people were skeptical they would work in the Korean market. However, in the case of "ATHENA", it's connected to "IRIS" for sure but have different actors. How were you sure you would be able to continue the series with a different cast? Were you just that confident about the plan?
Jeong: There are a lot of people who think "ATHENA" is "IRIS 2" but "ATHENA" is a spin-off and "IRIS 2" will air on KBS next year. With Lee Byung-hun and Kim Tae-hee. I can't say that their casting has been set for sure but no fool would pass on the chance with the advantages my cards can provide. So in the end, it's up to me. I need to prepare a set of cards that will make the show attractive enough for them to take on again. I've already written down how Hyun-joon (played by Lee Byung-hun) resurrects. (laugh) I told the actors and they liked it. There are three versions. The first, that Hyun-joon resurrects and leads a whole new 20 episodes and the second that Hyun-joon will appear in the beginning and a new character will take over midway with a new team. According to the third plan, Hyun-joon dies and a new intelligence team takes over the story. I can't guarantee as of yet that the casting will stay the same but I can definitely make "IRIS 2".

Beck: So we can regard "ATHENA" as a start to a new series?
Jeong: Like there's a New York and Las Vegas, there can be an NSS and NTS so "ATHENA" will be about the NTS. So there will be some crossover characters from "IRIS". For example, Jung Woo-sung in "Athens" could run into Kim Seung-woo from "IRIS" in front of the North Korean embassy in Switzerland and ask how President Cho Myung-ho is doing. And when "IRIS 2" is made next year, Jung Woo-sung could make an appearance in that too. But the thing is, one will be aired on KBS and the other on SBS. (laugh) In American TV series, crossovers usually occur when they are aired by the same broadcaster or made by the same production companies but in our case, the production company remains the same while the broadcaster will be different. I think it'll provide an interesting type of tension -- we're experimenting with different ways.

Beck: "IRIS" took over the Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul for one of its shoots so I think viewers will expect to see even bigger and better in "ATHENA". You must be pressured by this.
Jeong: Yes. But rather than that being a burden, I feel an even greater desire to try new things for "ATHENA". The total budget for "IRIS" and "ATHENA" both stand at 20 billion won but the success of "IRIS" has paved a way for us to invest less money in "ATHENA" but do more because we have many people saying they will support the production of the show this time. Our crew have been trained on the set of films so they have great fighting capabilities. When something needs to be done, nothing is impossible. They may think about what they need to do to make something happen but they will never ask for something else because the original plan can't be carried out. And of course, it's probably also because I go nuts and put on a fit when I don't like something. (laugh) Everyone is always improving because when I go on set, I give each and every team a hard time -- the props team, camera crew, lighting crew, CG team, arts direction team. Even just this morning, I had been watching season eight of "24" but everyone is watching American dramas these days, including myself, so I can't help my level of expectation heightening. Hence, the crew know I will keep demanding for better so they are always very nervous. We need to rework props to create something that has never been seen before but it makes all the difference the next time we do it. I'm the type that doesn't take no for an answer. I'll say, we don't have it? Make it. We have two art teams for "ATHENA" and have reinforced our props team. And I'm in the process of receiving the floor plan for the NTS set which looks amazing.

Editor in Chief : Beck Una one@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@, Jang Kyung-Jin three@, Lee Ji-Hye seven@
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