Premiering last October 31, the Korean drama ‘Curtain Call’ premiered on KBS2 to extremely high ratings (streamed in Asia exclusively through Amazon Prime Video). Boasting of a stellar cast that includes Kang Ha Neul (‘When the Camellia Blooms’ and ‘Insider’), Ha Ji Won (‘Empress Ki,’ ‘Secret Garden’), Go Doo Shim (‘Our Blues,’ ‘My Mister’), Jung Ji-So (‘Parasite,’ ‘Doom at Your Service’), and Noh Sang-hyun (‘Pachinko’), the drama has the sheen of a prestige television show with a grand scale and dramatic scope. Four episodes have aired so far but already it is highlighting the cast’s incredible performances and the sweeping vision of its director and writer, Yoon Sang-ho and Jo Sung-geol, respectively.
‘Curtain Call’ is the story of an aging matriarch, Ja Geum-soon (Go Doo Shim), who fled from North Korea and was separated from her husband and son. In South Korea, she started a new life and built a successful chain of hotels with a new family but now at the twilight of her years and terminally ill, she misses the family she was separated from during the Korean war. Her trusted aide, Jeong Sang-cheol (played by Sung Dong Il, of ‘Reply 1988’) tracks down her family in North Korea only to discover her last living relative in that side of the world is her grandson, Ri Moon-sung (Noh Sang-hyun), who may be a gangster.
To give Ja Geum-soon one last moment of happiness before she passes, he hires an unknown, struggling theater actor played by Kang Ha Neul to impersonate her grandson. It’s a story about a family torn apart by circumstance and how the presence of a lie can bring so much joy to Ja Geum-soon and her granddaughter Park Se-yeon (Ha Ji Won) but also may cause as much pain if discovered.
From the first episode alone, the drama takes a grand approach to the story, beginning with a flashback of the Korean War, when Ja Geum-soon is separated from her husband and baby. It’s a massive scene, an exodus of an entire town that feels reminiscent of ‘Dunkirk’ or even ‘Miss Saigon.’ And then, in the present day, everything about Hotel Nakwon, the hotel chain she built from scratch, is luxurious and elegant. Her grandchildren, though, feel very differently about the hotel and war between the siblings is brewing.
The show is character-driven as much as it is centered around the deception of Ja Geum-soon’s aide. Will they discover that Ri Moon-sung who visits them is really an actor? What about the real grandson? How will the grandchildren react at the discovery of the lie? The story is Shakespearean in its complexity and there’s even a melodramatic aspect to it that can lean towards the excessive and campy, if the show isn’t too careful. But the performances are great and the show is so well-executed that it is hitting all its marks.
To promote the show, four of their cast – Kang Ha Neul, Ha Ji Won, Noh Sang-hyun, and Jung Ji-so, who plays another actress pretending to be Kang Ha Neul’s wife – gathered together to answer questions online from the press from all over Southeast Asia. The four actors were comfortable with each other, laughing and throwing jokes back and forth.
Here is an excerpt of their interview with the press:
Question: After reading the script, what impressed you the most and made you decide to join this drama?
Kang Ha-neul: I think a lot of people will feel the same way. The theme was really unique, and the script was something you don’t come across often. How will things pan out? I thought, reading, but as I followed the script, I was able to understand its flow and was naturally drawn to the story.
Ha Ji-won: Myself as well, when I read the script I felt it was very refreshing, as well as how the story is structured. It also got me wondering about what I would do if the same thing happened to me. I felt like it would be very fun.
Is there any message that you would like to convey to the audiences from this series?
Ha Ji-won: So my character believes Jae-heon is the real Mun-seong, so she is happy to welcome her little brother into the family. They grow close together as if they were an actual family. At one point, however, she realizes that Jae-heon is not her real brother, and she meets her real brother. And that got me thinking about what is real and what is not real. What constitutes real love? Do you have to be related by blood to be called a family and offer familial love? I came to think that anyone can be family. In life, we are stuck with the binary mindset of real and fake, so this was a food for thought for me. It was really strange actually, we (pointing to Sang-hyun) shot the scene together recently, and even though he actually is Se-yeon’s real brother, I was intimidated.
Noh Sang-hyun: Really? You laughed a lot.
Ha Ji-won: Me? No way! I was intimidated. He was staring straight at me as I entered the room. I called his name out, “Ri Mun-seong!” and he gave me an intimidating look, so I said nevermind.
Kang Ha-neul: That’s a good message. So, what is real and what is fake. Is that even a concept that exists?
One of the most interesting elements of Yoo Jae-heon’s character is the use of a North Korean accent. However, there is another layer of Jae-heon being a South Korean actor that pretends to be a North Korean person too. How does this affect the way you design and interpret the character’s accent and can you tell us more about the process?
Kang Ha-neul: I’ve never actually learned how to speak with a North Korean accent before. I had an instructor teach me who provided me with recordings of the lines. Sticking too strictly to an authentic North Korean accent in a way washed out the original meaning and intention of the script. So I talked with the director and the instructor to polish and finetune the accents to melt with the show and include words that are more familiar.
Noh Sang-hyun: I also got recordings of my lines read out with a North Korean accent. The instructor was on the set with us as well when we were shooting. It was the same process Ha-neul explained. Speaking with a very traditional North Korean accent interfered with expressing the emotions, so we did some editing and adjusting.
For Ha Ji Won, what is the biggest challenge in this role compared to your previous work?
Ha Ji-won: I wanted to show a more mature side. I wanted to portray my character as a person with a wise perspective to the viewers of this show. There are a lot of well-off and affluent TV show characters that we have seen already, so I wanted to show a different side to the generic “rich” character with added wisdom and maturity, so I talked about that with our writer and director as well to emphasize those points. My acting used to be centered around characters, but this time I’ve taken on a rather plain role, with a focus on maturity.
For Jung Ji-so, I’ve seen your work in Parasite and Doom at Your Service and you did wonderfully well in both performances. How do you manage to play two very different kinds of roles so effectively? What approach did you take for your character in Curtain Call?
Jung Ji-so: Every time I read different scripts, I feel different things, meaning that I put on a unique lens through which I want to portray my character. My interpretation, as I’m reading the script, allows me to discover a new character, so I want to portray that uniqueness in my performance too. I want to make sure that shows in my acting, which I think gives me my uniqueness.
Curtain Call is a star-studded series, so we as a viewer expect a lot from this show. What do you think viewers should focus more on in this series?
Jung Ji-so: One thing that strikes my mind is, the viewers will have fun if they pay attention to the momentary thoughts that cross their mind as they are watching our show. There should be a lot of random thoughts that pop up in their head.
‘Curtain Call’ is available on streaming via Amazon Prime Video and airs every Monday and Tuesday.