South Korean superstar Ji Chang Wook thinks his Filipino fans are “cute,” and he’s truly grateful for the warm welcome they gave him here in the Philippines last November 6.
It was a delight to have interviewed Chang Wook, a down-to-earth, very likeable human being. I finally got to ask him the question I’ve always had for him: Why does he always sing I Will Protect You in his fan meetings? It’s the soundtrack of Healer, the Korean drama that pushed me down the Hallyu rabbit hole.
I took a deep breath coming into the interview room at the Peninsula Manila. When the doors opened, there he was, Ji Chang Wook himself, sitting on the sofa. I no longer had to fight for a spot to have a glimpse of him like I did, four years ago, in freezing Busan when my friend, Trina, and I waited for him to enter and leave the theater after his performance in the military musical Shinheung Military Academy.
His smile makes everyone feel comfortable in his presence. He’s a star yet he doesn’t have the air of celebrity. After I took my seat, I showed him photos of my friends and me when we went to Cheorwon county, right next to the border of North Korea, to join other fans in welcoming him back from the military. Chang Wook moved closer to the little table to take a look at the photos. He flashed that famous boyish smile. I think he said “Oh!” but I am sure that he looked genuinely touched.
I also showed him the handmade bracelet he gave his fans
I also showed him the handmade bracelet he gave his fans who watched his 2019 fan meet in Seoul. Chang Wook, his interpreter, and female staff chuckled and wondered why it was still in its original package. I told them it’s because I didn’t want to lose it.
His answers to our questions were brief, but he gave much thought to them. At times, he’d pause, other times he’d quickly answer. He didn’t bat an eyelash when I asked him what’s the best word to describe Ji Chang Wook. “Actor,” he said. I would’ve added: An extraordinary one.
When Chang Wook said he wouldn’t be doing theater any time soon, I replied that was too bad because he was very good in Shinheung Military Academy. He smiled shyly, gave a little bow, and said, “Kamsahamnida.” Chang Wook’s acting roots are in musical theater.
The recent weekend with Chang Wook was too short for his Filipino fans. Until the next time, our hearts will be filled with memories from his Reach You fan meet, produced by retail giant Bench, and Q&A’s like this where we get to know more about our Ji Chang Wook.
In your fan meets, you often sing I Will Protect You. What is special about the song?
Actually, this is the OST of my past drama, Healer. And also, lots of my fans love this song, as well. I guess that is the reason why I sing this song more often.
How does it feel to be meeting your fans face to face again?
I am very excited, and I am very much looking forward to it.
You’ve done a variety of drama roles. Is there a dream role left for Ji Chang Wook to do?
Actually, I cannot say that I have a dream role. But if there is any fun and exciting role that I could try, I guess that would be the one.
What should your fans all over the world look forward to?
I think one thing would be that they could expect various aspects through different projects I will be doing. And also, you can expect me to grow in terms of acting as time passes.
I like to walk around, and see how people here live, what they like
It is your first time in Manila. What do you want to do here? Where do you want to go and what do you want to try?
I like to walk around, and see how people here live, what they like, and what they eat. I would love to see it.
Thanks to you, Bench’s So in Love and Sure Blue have developed an established loyal market. What do you yourself feel about the brand?
One thing I feel about the brand is that it was fun working with Bench. It was really fun to be able to work as a model for the brand.
You have said that it’s important to balance work and relaxing. What is your favorite form of relaxation and why?
I guess it varies. There are times that I rest by doing nothing at home. But sometimes, I heal myself by meeting friends or exercising. Sometimes, I get healed from that.
What do you want to show your fans in this fan meet tour?
I would like to show the candid side of myself. The raw form of Ji Chang Wook.
After more than 10 years in the industry, what remains your best motivation?
The fact that I have a willingness to try different types of roles, and the fact that I am still very passionate with my work, is already a motivation.
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What can you say about your Filipino fans?
It’s my first time to meet my Filipino fans, and I think they are so cute.
What is your message to your Filipino fans?
Thank you so much for welcoming me and cheering me up every time. I hope that you could expect a lot from me with my different projects and the different aspects that I will be showing. I hope that you could love and cheer for me always. And I wish that all of my fans are always happy.
Before our interview, he held a press conference organized by Bench hosted by the lovely Sam Oh. Excerpts:
What was it like working with Bench?
Actually, Bench was the first company I was able to work with in the Philippines. And Bench was very hospitable and accommodating. They treated me like family and I could work in a very comfortable environment, so I guess I was able to work in a very chill setting which I also enjoyed.
And also, as you can see in the promotional video, I was also very happy and satisfied with the results. It came out pretty nice.
How do you prepare for a role?
For me, the communication or the harmony of the team is the one key factor that I consider in doing a role….the communication with the main director and the writer…. So, whenever I encounter any obstacle doing a role, I actually ask advice from writers and directors to help me get through it.
Is there anything you’d like to try in the Philippines, any place?
For tourist spots, I would like to travel around Boracay which is a very famous tourist spot in the Philippines. And also, I had a walk last night in Greenbelt and you know, having coffee and taking a walk in a different city is something that I could definitely try.
‘I had a walk last night in Greenbelt…having coffee and taking a walk in a different city is something that I could definitely try’
Have you tried any Filipino food?
I had halo-halo and pork sisig. Actually, I went to one of the Bench stores and in the cafe, the friends asked me to try the halo-halo. So, I did and I liked it very much.
You’ve done so many roles. What’s your favorite role so far?
Actually, it is kind of hard for me to choose because all the series I have worked for, I have put my love into it.
If you were to pick, singing or acting, what would you pick and why?
I guess that would be acting because first of all, I am not a professional singer, and I was just fortunate to get an opportunity to sing, but of course if I have to choose, I will be more inclined to acting. So, in my fan meetings, you can see that I am making a lot of mistakes when I am singing.
You are a very busy person. How do you like to spend your free time?
So usually, I hang out with my friends. Or sometimes I just listen to music while biking or taking a walk. Actually, I do various things and sometimes I go out and play golf with friends. So those are the activities I like.
Of all the characters you have played, who do you think you are most similar to?
I guess that it also hard for me to choose because I am not a person who has a certain type of personality, but one who also tries to find a personality for myself. So, it is hard to say that I have this certain role that I have a similar personality with, because when I try to express a certain emotion, it tends to be different from time to time.
As an actor, what is your favorite genre to do?
I have tried lots of genres but looking back, I think those genres I have tackled are not a lot still, so I actually want to try different genres to show different aspects of myself, so that I will be able to show new dimensions to the viewers, as well.
What role/character would you like to portray?
I think my answer would be similar to the answer I had for the previous question because I do not have a certain role that I want to have, but I am open to new opportunities and new genres. So, I am more into fun and new things, so if there are opportunities to do that, maybe that will be the one that I will try.
Ji Chang Wook’s fans descended upon the Bench Café in BGC soon after he said he loved their sisig, halo-halo, and ube brownie (topped with leche flan), so much so that all these were sold out by Monday, November 7, the day after his Reach You fan meet.
The actor is also known to love good food, so there’s an English fan site dedicated to him called Ji Chang Wook’s Kitchen. I went with my mom to have an early dinner there Tuesday, November 8.
In fandom tradition, fans try to sit at the table where their favorite actors or idols did. Mom and I were lucky that the couple who were at Chang Wook’s table left soon after we arrived. We ordered the sisig, halo-halo, and ube flan, and also the Pinoy bento box and Batangas lomi. I wanted to order the maruya a la mode which Filipinos love but whose sweet and salty taste Chang Wook couldn’t quite get, but it wasn’t available.
It was our first time at Bench Café, and we realized how much we have been missing. Everything we tried was delicious. Mom was already making plans to have a family lunch or dinner there. I also told my US-based sister, whose friends are huge Ji Chang Wook fans, that they should include Bench Café in their itinerary on their next visit. It’s a “Ji Chang Wook pilgrimage” not to be missed.