[Thespian Review] Cha Seung Won – Greatest Love

17 Sep

2011 is really the year of the neurotic. If there was one prominent trait that appears among all our lead male characters, its their craziness. Some like Hyun Bin’s Joo Won are both painfully self-centered and nitpicky with everything. Some like Ji Sung’s Ji Heon are agoraphobic while aware of his lack of attractive qualities. All of them are obsessive by nature and whose personalities range from assholes to deuschbags. But if you thought that both Ji Sung and Joo Won are crazy, they both do not compare to the maniacal nature of Dokko Jin, played by Cha Seung Won in Greatest Love.

Dokko Jin is the top movie star in Korea who had a heart surgery years ago that led to his heart’s inability to go over a certain heart rate. His primary qualities are that of the common leading roles nowadays except they’re more exaggerated: his self-centered personality knows no bounds (seriously, he can beat Tyra Banks in a fight about who’s more self-centered). In his world, everything should and does revolve around him. Which isn’t surprising; Dokko Jin is spoiled by his successful endeavors and he thrives on his celebrity.

With his large celebrity comes an ego the size of Jupiter. He hates admitting his failures and hates it even more when his failures are made public. That’s why he pretends to date Kang Se-ri, a whole year after they broke up for publicity issues. Image comes first to him, and nothing is going to stop him from protecting it.

Cha Seung Won doesn’t seem like he’s tailor-made for this role. His looks are rougher and more masculine than what the role usually requires. His voice is deeper and far more authoritative too. That’s why I think Dokko Jin’s oddness works. Seung Won’s natural masculinity contrasts so much with his maniacal character’s comedy.

That is, of course, until he met and fell in love with Ae-jung, the complete polar oppsoite of Dokko Jin. Ae-jung is a has-been, once the biggest celebrity as leader of “National Treasure Girls” who suffered scandals that led to her current state of infamy. Dokko Jin at first do not know how to respond to how he feels about Ae-Jung. He’s obviously reluctant to love her especially since she’s not on his level.

What Cha Seung Won does with his character is nothing short of comic and dramatic genius. Although Dokko Jin’s personality is twice as cruel and self-centered as Joo Won, he has the benefit of both having the Hong sisters write his great lines, Cha imbues a charm that Hyun Bin doesn’t. Dokko Jin may be an asshole, but he’s so funny for believing everything revolves around him.

The parking lot scene is especially hilarious. When he was talking on the phone, and Ae-jung comes out, he comically tells her to stay away from him twice: one, with the sheer intensity of his judgmental eyes and two, with his two arms making an X-symbol. He has a great sense of physical comedy too. I love the first episode where he rudely pushes Ae-jung off with simple hand gestures. He’s basically acting with his hands only and they’re so expressive of his personality.

One of the more memorable scenes is when he sees Ae-jung wear the same scarf as him and he looks at his with such disdain and embarrassment as if to say, “Oh my God, How can they make another scarf like mine!?” It’s very hammy but it’s very funny.

His rituals while he’s at home is comic genius. The way his eyes roll back as his deep and manly voice chants and both his arms stretched out are so funny because it makes him look more like a cult-figure than a star. Mixed with his over-the-top evil laughs and wild and super-stretched grins, it’s all a perfect brew of what happens when a star becomes too self-centered (although exaggerated).

But apart from his obviously hilarious characteristics, we also get a lot of dramatic weight  from him. The pain he feels obviously from both his heart going above the safe rate matches the pain he feels from not being able to have Ae-jung is so devastating.

But his most arresting moments are the moments of genuine humanity: any time he’s with Ae-jung, sparks of genuine happiness and love appear. In the scene prior to his surgery, he comforts Ae-jung while dazing at her so lovingly that it surprises you that he’s as maniacal as he seems.

And it amazes me that he has so much love and affection. His image suddenly comes after his love for Ae-Jung and it’s heartbreaking when he thinks she doesn’t feel the same way about him. The best scene that truly captured this was the part where he waits outside Ae-Jung’s house. When Ae-Jung knocks on his window, he opens his eyes, tears falling ceaselessly and it’s truly tragic. This scene is probably my favorite of the year and it’s mostly because of Cha’s powerful acting. The rock-solid “Iron Man” that he claims to be becomes undone by his feelings for Ae-Jung.

Cha Seung-won’s Dokko Jin is absolutely one of my favorite characters this year (in the top 3 of course) and it’s no secret that Cha Seung won’s magnetic performance is the cause. His performance is hammy but charismatic and funny but tragic. Everything works with his performance from the minor details of his maniacal nature to his overwhelming outpouring of emotions.




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