I would say it was March of 2012 that actor Cho Jung-Seok started gaining popularity in Korea. Many was wondering “who is Cho Jung-Seok?” when he was found to be cast as the chief of the royal guard in TV series <The King 2 Hearts>, where high-profile actress Ha Ji-won and actor Lee Seung-gi were decided to star. Musical maniacs, however, were anxious about losing Cho to the screen. Cho was already attracting attention on stage through musicals <Hedwig and the Angry Inch> and many others. He was even being called ‘new Cho Seung-woo’, one of Korea’s top musical stars.
Back then, Cho was dubbed ‘ppo-dwig (combination of ‘ppo-‘ meaning ‘milky skin’ in Korean and the latter part of ‘Hedwig’)’ by his fans. It was to differentiate him from Cho Seung-woo who was the most wanted actor on musical stage and being called ‘Cho-dwig’ with the same family name Cho. Ten years from then, Cho Jung-Seok has become one of the few versatile actors performing actively in TV shows, films and even musicals.
March of 2012 marks a breakout in Cho Jung-Seok’s career. <The King 2 Hearts> started airing on March 21st, 2012, and the box office hit <Architecture 101> premiered the very next day. It was his debut in films. Cho, a rookie on the screen he had been recognized as a leading actor on stage. Still he was good enough to leave a strong impression in the film.
Cho’s role in <Architecture 101> was a friend of leading character Seung-min’s. He was just called ‘Nabdeuki,’ a kind of nickname, without a decent name in the film, but he made a unique attractive character with the role. Cho had gained weight on purpose for the role to look more like someone who pretended to know everything about love, and his line “that is not understandable” even became a fad phrase. (The line is accepted funny because his name ‘nabdeuk’ means understanding or persuading in Korean.) The scene where he enthusiastically taught Seung-min how to kiss a girl triggered a big laughter from the audience.
After the impressive film debut through Nabdeuki, Cho once again presented people with a pleasant surprise in TV show <The King 2 Hearts>. The slim restrained soldier that he played in the show was far from comic Nabdeuki. Thus he showcased two totally different characters at the same time, and that earned him a good reputation for his acting.
Cho has been on the royal road since then. <The Face Reader> where he performed an important supporting role, accrued 9.1 million admissions, and his latest film <Exit> sold 9.4 million admissions. The box office success of <The Face Reader> might be attributed to Korea’s top film stars, Song Kang-ho, Lee Jung-jae and Kim Hyesoo, but the success of <Exit> where Cho played the leading role, is a showcase of Cho's appeal as a screen actor.
Cho Jung-Seok has been achieving uninterrupted successes in TV shows as well. He was skillful in playing the newscaster who was diagnosed breast cancer in <Don’t Dare to Dream>, and boasted unflappable performance in period show <Nokdu Flower>.
His onscreen success, however, has been a kind of disappointment to his musical fans since their initial worries has become a reality. Cho's stageappearances were interrupted after <Hedwig and the Angry Inch> in 2016 and <Amadeus> in 2018. Considering that the markets of films and TV shows are much bigger, attracting great amount of money than that of stage performances, Cho has now become a big shot that cannot be easily cast.
And now, we see Cho Jung-Seok in another attention-getting TV show that premiered in 2020: <Hospital Playlist>. It is the latest show created by the team of show producer Shin Won-ho and drama writer Lee Woo-jung, who has made a great success with their previous series like <Reply> and <Prison Playbook>. The series, following 5 medical doctors who have been close friends since medical school, tells stories about friendship, love and heartwarming relationships among everyone in a general hospital.
Cho, once again, sparkles bright in this show. He plays doctor Lee Ik-jun who carries a big weight on his shoulders. Ik-jun is a recognized top-class doctor who is generous and caring to his patients. Even if he has to take care of his young son as a single father after getting divorced, he is always cheerful and confidently honest to himself when asking his close friend/colleague Song-hwa out. Fans of the show could complain that Ik-jun’s story takes up too much part of the show, but his stable performance only attracts more support from the fans.
Cho Jung-Seok adds excitement to the show with another specialty of his. In the show, he is the lead vocalist of the band ‘Mido and Farasol,‘ composed of the five doctors. Based on his long career in musicals, Cho boasts his outstanding vocal skills, presenting precious moments to the fans who miss his musical stage.
The stage of the band has been successfully received by the viewers. It has put ‘Aloha’ that Cho Jung-Seok sang in the first season of the show on top of all sorts of music charts in Korea. In the production presentation of season 2 that went online in June this year, Cho Jung-Seok mentioned on this, “I am so thankful for people’s love for the song. Winning an award for an original soundtrack is truly special to me and it amounts to a glory to my family. I know getting awards for a soundtrack as an actor is a very rare case, so I don’t think I can do that again in season 2.”
Still people have a high expectation on the soundtrack of the second season, and Cho seems to be aware of it. “I am the vocalist and the first guitarist of ‘Mido and Farasol.’ There were no easy songs in season 1, but the songs of season 2 are much harder. So, I have been doing steady vocal exercises for them.” He also said, “all of us have improved a lot from season 1 in music-wise, including playing the instruments. I assume we would be able to see good reception if we do our best,” revealing a cautious expectation of charting again.
An Jin Yong (Journalist from Munhwa Ilbo) / Translated by Ok Eurom