Actors Cha Tae-hyun, left, and Ha Ji-won appear in a press event to promote their upcoming film ``Miracle of a Giving Fool,'' Monday, at a Seoul hotel. This heartwarming drama will open in theaters Feb. 28. / Courtesy of Doughnuts Media
By Lee Hyo-won
As Spring draws near, star actors Cha Tae-hyun and Ha Ji-won will warm up the season with director's Kim Jung-kwon's (``Ditto,'' ``A Letter From Mars'') latest movie ``Miracle of a Giving Fool'' (aka. ``BA:BO''), a heart drenching drama slated for release Feb. 28.
``Fool'' is a film adaptation of the explosively popular online cartoon ``Babo'' (which means ``fool'' or ``oaf'' in Korean) by Kang Full. It had millions of Netizens in tears, and the director, also a big fan, describes the movie version as being faithful to the original.
``I cried my eyes out when I read the cartoon,'' Cha told reporters during a promotional event at a Seoul hotel Monday. ``After I was cast for the movie, I thought long and hard about how I would act out the role,'' said the face of romantic comedies like ``My Sassy Girl'' and ``My Crazy First Love.''
Cha takes his goofy guy-next-door image to play the town's jester, Seung-ryong. Once a bright young boy, he suffers a fatal accident, and at age 27 he has the intelligence of a six-year-old.
``I've filmed about three or four films that were based on other work, but I felt that for `Fool' I had to give life to the book as it is,'' he said. The actor did not look to other ``babo'' or mentally challenged movie characters. For example, unlike most ``babo'' personas, he would speak intelligibly but stutter slightly.
His character is pitifully forgetful and has zero sense of hygiene, but is much loved, particularly by his childhood sweetheart Ji-ho (Ha Ji-won).
Ha comes back to the big screen after the hit TV series ``Hwang Jin Yi.'' The actress had pulled off a wide spectrum of roles ranging from a sexy college girl (``Sex Is Zero'') to a tough boxer (``Miracle on 1st Street''), and returns as a talented but stage fright-struck pianist. In the film, she plays the piano herself.
``I stopped playing the piano at Czerny's etude no. 30 back in grade school, and I had forgotten everything, and just started from the songs Ji-ho plays,'' she said. ``Although I'm not a great performer, I wanted to transfer my character's emotions through the piano.''
Ha received piano lessons from veteran singer/songwriter No Young-shim, who also taught her subtle gestures and postures. She tuned into learning the right amount of pressure in pressing the piano keys and the slight facial grimaces. ``I also learned how difficult it is to be in a slump as a musician,'' she said.
Ha's character Ji-ho returns home after a long hiatus and finds comfort in looking after Seung-ryong. Regarding the emotional tension between the two childhood friends, Ha said it was more a familial type of love.
``The Seung-ryong character Cha played was more like an adorable younger brother than a fool,'' said Ha. ``Ji-ho cares for Seung-ryong wholeheartedly rather than with romantic feelings _ I tried hard to be faithful to the cartoon character.''
Despite his disabilities, Seung-ryong manages to make a living for himself and his younger sister by selling ``the world's tastiest toast'' on the roadside. Now having practically mastered the art of making toast, Cha provided the breakfast for the cast and crew.
But gastronomic concerns were not limited to the set. The actor put on eight kilograms for his pudgy character. ``It was great. I went to shoot without showering in the morning, and washed at night so I could wake up with a messy hair-do,'' he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
``Our director was happy every time I binged. I ate ramyeon (instant noodles) with cheese in the middle of the night. He loved it when I showed up puffy-faced from drinking heavily the night before.
``I couldn't take off all of the weight for the wedding, so I look a lot like Seung-ryong in my wedding picture,'' said the actor, who tied the knot last year and recently became a father.
``My wife cries every time she sees Seung-ryong, not so much because it's moving but because of how much we suffered,'' he said, referring to the film's much prolonged delay.
Meanwhile, Park Heui-soon, a late bloomer who made a name for himself through ``Seven Days'' opposite Kim Yun-jin, also stars in the movie as Seung-ryong's one and only friend. Currently appearing in a string of films including ``Hansel and Gretel,'' Park said the frequent appearance was a treat.
But because his films were released out of chronological order, he expressed a bit of regret in not being able to show his progress, though it's nice for him to see himself two to three years younger.