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[Thespian Review] Ji Sung – “Protect the Boss”

30 Sep

Continuing the trend of neurotic lead male characters that Hyun Bin seem to have started late last year with Secret Garden, Protect the Boss introduces us a Hyun Bin-esque character in Cha Ji Heon. Ji Heon shares the same aspects as Hyun Bin’ Kim Joo Won; he’s full of himself and suffers from some mental disorder. But that’s where their similarities rest. Ji Heon is fundamentally different from Hyun Bin and that’s because he’s painfully aware of his issues, unlike Hyun Bin.

In addition, Ji Heon is played so differently by Ji Sung.

Cha Ji Heon suffers from agoraphobia due to an incident as a young as kid where he was left in the park alone. No one in his family apart from the all-knowing grandmother of his condition. When No Eun Sol is hired as his secretary, his world is never the same.

When we’re introduced to Ji Heon, we see a typical chaebol, except he’s far more exaggerated when it comes to his personality quirks. He’s a man-child. He wears a book bag instead of a suitcase when going to work. He refuses to touch things that are dirty, and he’s making his secretary’s life miswerable. It’s all part of the comedy’s brilliance and comedy. Ji Heon has a loud personality that contradicts his agoraphobic tendencies.

I love how showy and bossy he is to No Eun Sol. It’s all clearly an act; he lectures her on what to do and when to do as if trying to impress Eun Sol with how busy he is and how clean he is. It’s a bashful display of arrogance on his part but Eun Sol is unfazed. She follows his orders diligently and he is drawn into her.

He falls quickly in love and then suddenly he’s become more childish. But this time it’s a different kind of impression he’s trying to leave on Eun Sol. Here, he’s trying to be romantic and adorable, like a cuddly teddy bear. Then, he starts working on his issues with agoraphobia.

Part of what makes this drama compelling is how much of it revolves around Ji Heon’s transformation. Ji Sung makes it very interesting by working all of the characteristics that comes along with Ji Heon’s agoraphobia. He’s so aware of his weaknesses and limitations. An example is when he was in the car with No Eun Sol while trying to figure out a way for him to speak in front of the Board members. He simply sighs and gives up, revealing his understanding that he’s not capable of speaking.

But the more he works on his agoraphobia, the more he gains confidence. It’s also this newfound confidence that starts attracting No Eun Sol and it’s no wonder. Ji Sung keeps Ji Heon’s initial charms in tact but expresses his maturity as well. This is most telling whenever he sees No Eun Sol talking affectionately to Moo Won. Instead of taking it the wrong way, like most drama leads, he takes it with a grain of salt and gives a calm if slightly affected response.

It’s a very nuanced performance without any showboating scene. All his dramatic scenes are much quieter which makes the scenes even more convincing and palpable. This is especially true when his father asks him to break up with No Eun Sol in the hospital. You can see his thoughtful reactions, pained but holding it steady, as if all the immaturity he displayed earlier disappeared. That’s why when he asks if he should just break up with Eun Sol, it comes with a painfully forced smile.

Ji Sung builds up a lot of character detail into this character, that we’re fully engrossed in this character’s journey. It’s a nuanced turn and he makes everything look really easy to pull off. Which makes it even better. I’m impressed by huge pyrotechnics in performances but I admire that he chose to mine deeper emotions through tiny shifts in his face rather than explosive tears.

Ji Sung has perhaps given my favorite performance of the year from a male actor with Lee Dong Wook and Cha Seung-won both close. It’s a very funny performance mixed with deeply felt emotions and characterizations. It’s one of the many great things about this drama. Unexpected and so satisfying.

–Clarence

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