Director of 'Dr. Cha', Kim Dae-jin. ©Kang Entertainment
Uhm Jung-hwa, Kim Byung-chul, Myung Se-bin, and Min Woo-hyuk's collaboration shone in the JTBC weekend drama 'Dr. Cha.' Since its premiere on April 15th, 'Dr. Cha' has gained immense popularity until its conclusion. The final episode of 'Dr. Cha,' now renamed as 'Dr. Cha,' achieved nationwide ratings of 18.5% and 19.4% in the Seoul metropolitan area, securing the top spot in its time slot. The drama depicted the dynamic life story of Cha Jeong-suk, a full-time homemaker with 20 years of experience, and brought laughter and empathy. Avec G had a written interview with director Kim Dae-jin, the director of 'Dr. Cha,' where various behind-the-scenes stories about the work were shared.
After completing filming in December last year, 'Dr. Cha' kept everyone involved in suspense as its broadcast schedule was not confirmed. Director Kim Dae-jin faced challenges during the later stages of production since, unlike live broadcasts, he couldn't know the real-time reactions of the viewers. Not being able to make adjustments based on the viewers' responses or future circumstances is one of the biggest disadvantages of pre-produced works, but it is also an advantage as it allows the work to stay true to its original intentions.
"The most memorable response was, 'There are no acting flaws.' In my mind, I thought, 'Obviously,' because we had gathered talented actors. On the other hand, it made me proud. We cast young unknown rookie actors and constantly adjusted to find the perfect balance, and the actors worked extremely hard to portray their roles. Seeing the viewers recognize and show interest in them, and witnessing all the actors receiving attention, made me truly proud."
Director Kim had directed several soap operas during his time at MBC. As he always had difficulty with casting, he decided to use aspiring actors as the main characters, thinking of using the potential rookies. Han Groo, Ryu Hyo-young (aka Jung Woo-yeon), and others were cast in this way, and rookie actors cast by him in "Less Than Evil" such as Lee Seol, Cho Yi-hyun, Bae Da-bin, and Bae Yoon-kyung have grown impressively.
"I don't place a big emphasis on popularity when it comes to casting. Song Ji-ho, Jo Ah-ram, Lee Seo-yeon, So A-rin, and others may not be well-known to viewers, but when I see them auditioning, they perfectly fit the character image I envision. I don't pay much attention to how well they read the script during auditions. Instead, I talk a lot and get to know the actors as people."
Behind Scene of 'Dr. Cha'. ©JTBC
During casting, he points out areas for improvement, continuously checks through rehearsals, gives a lot of praise during script reading and filming to boost their confidence and keeps believing in them. Through this process, he sees them frequently, they become familiar, and when actors arrive on set, they can comfortably and confidently immerse themselves in their roles. If the cast actors are like family members, he also pays attention to whether they have a familial vibe when they gather.
"Song Ji-ho somehow had a feeling similar to actor Kim Byung-chul, and in the case of Lee Seo-yeon, there was a mix of the sternness of actress Uhm Jung-hwa and the warmth of actor Kim Byung-chul. I considered So A-rin as 'Yi-rang,' but when I thought about scenes with the whole family together, it didn't blend well, and it felt more natural to have her with Myung Se-bin."
Director Kim shared the behind-the-scenes story of casting Lee Seo-yeon, who portrayed the character 'Yi-rang.' Lee Seo-yeon began her acting career as a child actor but took a two-year break to pursue regular high school studies and gain admission to the Department of Art and Science at Ewha Womans University. During her first year at university, she also worked as a tutor. As Director Kim had conversations with Lee Seo-yeon, he recognized her exceptional personal growth, which occurred even before she embarked on her acting journey.
On the day of the audition, there was no actor as close to 'Yi-rang' as Lee Seo-yeon. However, Director Kim called her as she was heading home and spent three hours trying to convince her not to take on the drama.
"I really wish you would trust me. You resemble the 'Yi-rang' character I envisioned so closely, and there is no doubt about your acting skills. Through our conversations, I have come to know that you are a remarkable person even before being an actress. That's why I hope you won't do this drama. Now that you're a university student, it's time for you to take on adult roles. Child actors purposely take breaks to transform their image, but Seo-yeon, you already had a gap period for college entrance. You can naturally transition into adult roles while focusing on your university life. It would be a disadvantage for your acting career if you portray a role in a school uniform again. I don't want to delay your acting journey for my own desires. I promise to contact you for the next drama with an adult role."
During those three hours, despite Director Kim's attempts to persuade Lee Seo-yeon, her determination was incredibly strong. Ultimately, when she said, "If the director doesn't cast me for this project, I'll still be auditioning elsewhere," his attempts to persuade her failed. So, he said, "Alright, then let's do this together. And no matter what drama comes next, make sure to take on adult roles," and confirmed the casting decision.
Behind Scene of 'Dr. Cha'. (with Min Woo-hyuk) ©JTBC
"In the ending of the third episode, there's a moment where 'Jeong-suk' reveals, 'My husband passed away.' Immediately after that, comments started appearing with phrases like 'it's a catastrophe' and 'a photo of the deceased Seo In-ho.' I was amazed by how clever the viewers were. From then on, whenever 'Seo In-ho' faced a crisis, that photo and the phrase 'it's a catastrophe' would appear, sparking lively real-time chats. More viewers joined the chat room, and word naturally spread that the drama was enjoyable."
The most memorable scene during filming was when 'Seung-hee' (portrayed by Myung Se-bin) and 'Roy' (played by Min Woo-hyuk) first met. It took place in a restaurant where 'Seung-hee' and 'Roy' accidentally collided, causing a tray to overturn. 'Roy' managed to catch it and also prevented 'Seung-hee' from falling. Since there were only a few scenes where 'Seung-hee' and 'Roy' appeared together in 'Dr. Cha,' the decision was made to parody a scene similar to the one from Tobey Maguire's starring role in 'Spider-Man' while reading the script.
"For the film, we made the decision to shoot scenes in one take without CG, just like we did in over 270 attempts. After several takes, we were fortunate to succeed, and we used music that resembled that of superhero films. I felt proud when the comparison video between the original and our film was uploaded on Netflix's official Instagram."
Director Kim spoke about Uhm Jung-hwa, expressing, "I now understand why she has captivated the public for 30 years with her acting and music. She is genuine and possesses a clear and broad heart. She embraces and cares for every supporting actor and staff member." Uhm Jung-hwa embodies the idea of "let's go together" through her eyes, intensifying the emotions of the actors she works with. Often, the direction given to her was simply, "Look into Jeong-suk's eyes, and everything will be fine."
"While I had high expectations for actor Kim Byung-chul, he turned out to be an even more outstanding actor when we worked together. He demonstrated a wide spectrum of skills, from comedy to seriousness. As a director, I felt reassured by his self-assured acting. He laid the foundation for the entire production. Being meticulous by nature, he always comes prepared with a lot of work, and he easily adjusts and aligns with the other actors. Thanks to him, many scenes and moments unexpectedly became enjoyable, adding unique elements to the overall work."
Behind Scene of 'Dr. Cha'. (with Myung Se-bin) ©JTBC
"For the character of 'Seung-hee,' it was a new and unfamiliar role for Myung Se-bin, which initially raised concerns for both the actor and the director. However, she skillfully portrayed 'Seung-hee' with the expertise of a seasoned actor. Behind the scenes, she had separate meetings with Uhm Jung-hwa, Kim Byung-chul, and Park Joon-geum to read and discuss the script, all in an effort to fully embody the character. This process demanded tremendous effort. Being an actress with a long-standing career, she approached the role with great seriousness, resulting in the creation of 'Seung-hee' and Myung Se-bin's successful transformation into the character."
'Doctor Cha' achieved the highest viewership ratings, but Director Kim expressed his thoughts on ratings and artistic merit, saying, "High ratings don't necessarily guarantee a good production. A drama should combine both artistic quality and viewership for it to be considered good."
"I would rather disregard high ratings if they come with a lot of criticism. The reason I dreamed of becoming a drama director since I was young was because I wanted to have an impact on the world and people through dramas, even if it's just a small influence. I myself have been greatly influenced by dramas when I was young. I want to create dramas that provide viewers with something to ponder, but not in a didactic or direct manner. I want it to seep into their thoughts."
Director Kim Dae-jin, who has presented works in various genres such as crime, investigation, noir, thriller, horror, comedy, action, family, medical, coming-of-age, and human dramas, expressed his willingness to challenge any genre as long as the characters are well portrayed and the relationships between people are interesting. He believes that it's even better if a work conveys a clear message throughout and leaves a lasting impression.
"I prefer storytelling that focuses on characters placed in backgrounds and settings that can be intuitively understood by viewers, rather than works that require viewers to 'understand' the trendy worldviews. As both a creator and a viewer, it's more comfortable to explore relationships within such stories. Just like 'Doctor Cha'."
Director Kim Dae-jin. ©Kang Entertainment
"In a world where dozens of dramas are broadcasted each year, some become the center of attention while others fade away unnoticed, with people unaware of their existence," he remarks. The availability of numerous dramas on OTT platforms and the abundance of non-drama 'content' have created a surplus of viewing options, surpassing what one can possibly consume in this era.
In such a world, he occasionally ponders, 'What more can I create?' Nevertheless, he is grateful for the opportunity to bring 'Dr. Cha' to fruition, a project he diligently worked on. The drama has garnered immense love, achieving the top spot in ten countries worldwide and ranking fifth globally, thanks to OTT platforms. The director feels genuinely grateful and often questions, 'Is this even possible?' It is an encounter that holds deep significance.
"As a director, I perceive more shortcomings and regrets with each viewing, yet despite it all, I deeply appreciate the love not only from the viewers in South Korea but also from viewers worldwide, or should I say, from all the 'Jeong-suk's. Even amidst the various hardships we face in life, I hope that we can steadfastly walk our own paths like 'Jeong-suk' and ultimately find ourselves smiling under the radiant sunshine."
Interview by Glenda Park, Editor-in-Chief at Avec G.
*This article is simultaneously published in Seoul Wire's 'Glenda Park's Blue Ocean'.
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