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Oh Ji-ho dreams big

‘The Grand Heist’ actor reveals his ambitions, street-smart nature

Known for his looks and nice-guy charm, actor Oh Ji-ho is known by many for his roles in TV romantic comedies.

Some of the most memorable roles of his acting career, including that of a smart-but-awkward office worker in KBS’ 2006 drama “My Wife is a Superwoman,” and as a young handyman who takes care of his orphaned nephews in 2006’s romantic comedy “Couple or Trouble,” had that “nice guy” appeal and personality.

But behind his benign smile is a street-smart person eager to succeed in the competitive local entertainment industry. The 36-year-old actor recently made a silver-screen comeback with director Kim Joo-ho’s period comedy “The Grand Heist.”

Once again, he plays the good guy in the film, which takes place in the late Joseon Dynasty. He’s a warrior with a great sense of justice ― which says enough. But Oh says he tried to make the “good” character as entertaining as possible, in spite of the series of arguments with the director during the shoot. Clad in blue jeans and sneakers, the actor looks laid back and comfortable in a cafe in Samcheong-dong, Seoul.

“Oh, the last thing I want to do is to bore the audience,” the actor tells The Korea Herald. “The director’s idea was to make this guy a true warrior. You know, someone who is very masculine, tough, good-hearted, serious and so on. But from my experience ‘nice’ characters can easily bore most viewers. People these days don’t have the patience to endure good guys just doing good deeds throughout the running time.”
Actor Oh Ji-ho poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Actor Oh Ji-ho poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Thanks to Oh’s own interpretation of the character, the warrior turned out to be an inflexible individual with a number of weak spots. This humanizes the character, and his rigid attitude creates humor and entertainment, he says.

The plot of the movie develops as the warrior, named Baek Dong-su, gets involved with a plan to rob Seobingo, the royal ice box of Joseon, with nine other people including Lee Duk-mu (played by Cha Tae-hyun).

Both Baek and scholar Lee were actual figures of the Joseon Dynasty, and the two, along with a few others, shared a close friendship. Both Baek and Lee were born to an aristocrat father and a concubine mother, and therefore belonged to the class of “jungin,” who were regarded to be in between the aristocrats and commoners. The movie, however, only focuses on its original narrative, which pivots around the ice robbery.

“Ice is the key in this film,” Oh says.

He seems to have formed his own philosophy on what makes a good commercial flick.

“A good commercial film has to entertain people. It has to be funny, it has to be engaging, and it has to be visually stimulating. But it can’t be cheap. Most of the action scenes, drama, as well as the computer graphics have to do with the ice in this film. You know, the actors slide on ice like pros and it looks epic. My hair flies in the air. I think the movie has a bit of everything to be a good commercial film.”

But starring in good commercial films is only a process to reach his ultimate goal, which is to star in a great human drama. His role model is Denzel Washington, and his dream director to work with is “The Unjust” and “I Saw the Devil” director Kim Ji-woon.

“You have to succeed in commercial films to finally star in films that have the real substance,” he says. “That’s the rule here in this business.”

Although he hardly gets asked to play the baddies, mostly “because of his good looks,” he jokes, he is very much interested in playing a villain or even a psychopath.

“I always ask whenever I run into directors,” he says, “I ask if he or she has a villain character in their upcoming script. I’m very much interested in playing different roles, and playing a solid villain character would definitely be a stepping stone in my career. I no longer want to hear ‘You’ve got everything, but you are just too good looking’ as a reason for rejection.”

Originally from Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, Oh moved to Seoul at the age of 17 on his own. Aside from his acting career, he says he hopes his future children can enjoy more things than he did during his own childhood. He also wants to open his own movie theater in the future.

“The theater will play two commercial films, one indie film, and one film that I’d like to play all-year-long,” he says. “I don’t know when it’ll happen. Maybe when I’m over 60.”

By Claire Lee (