Ten years ago on February 10, “Love Letter” premiered on MBC. Ratings-wise “Love Letter” was not a big hit; it averaged 10% per episode. Yes, in those days a 10% rating is considered a bit low, unlike nowadays when 10% viewership rating can be considered favorable. It wasn’t until towards the latter episodes of “Love Letter” that the ratings picked up a bit. “Love Letter” can be considered a mania drama – a drama that is popular on the internet and during re-broadcasts/re-runs, thus helping its viewer rating to appreciate during its regular run.
“Love Letter” may have also starred Soo Ae and Ji Jin Hee, but it was Jo Hyun Jae‘s portrayal of the conflicted priest Andrea that attracted the most attention from netizens and viewers, not just in Korea but in Japan and other countries where it aired as well.
At this point please allow me to do some backtracking to trace how JHJ ended up taking on the role of Andrea in “Love Letter”. I wasn’t a JHJ fan yet at that time, so I found most of these back stories from long-time JHJ fans.
We all know that JHJ started out as a singer as part of the boy group “Guardian”. However, due to some management problems, the group had to disband after a year. After that JHJ did some CFs and was cast in small roles in some sitcoms and dramas. It was in “Father and Sons” (2001) where he played the youngest son that JHJ started to gain some fans. His fan club Carpe Diem (a.k.a. CAFE) was created during this time.
During this period, as a newbie, JHJ would go to any audition and would accept any offer. One of the auditions he went to was for the movie “Untold Scandal”. He hesitated at first because he felt that his looks are not suited for historical movies. But once he donned the Korean traditional costume, he realized that he looked fine in it. We all know that he eventually got the part, but filming for “Untold Scandal” did not start right away.
At this point JHJ now feels more confident about wearing Korean traditional costumes so he auditioned for the role of Crown Prince in “Great Ambition / Daemang”. This was a highly-anticipated drama because some of the stars attached to the project are big names during that time. In addition, the director-writer duo of “Great Ambition” was also behind such critically-acclaimed Korean dramas as “Sandglass” and “Eyes of Dawn”. We all know that JHJ landed the role of Crown Prince in “Great Ambition.”
JHJ’s role in “Great Ambition“ started small; he is the Crown Prince pretending to be sick (in both mind and body) to save his life from his political enemies. He had almost no plot; his name was not even in the opening credits, in the ending credits his name was even misspelled.
But soon after his first and short appearance around episode 7 or 8, people started asking who he was. It was more than just his looks that caught viewers’ attention. His penetrating gaze and gentle manners attracted the viewers’ notice.
Pretty soon viewers were posting comments hoping that the #1 actress (Lee Yo Won) would end up with the Crown Prince instead of the #1 actor (Jang Hyuk). This did not happen as doing so would have changed the overall story, but JHJ’s role was lengthened. The Crown Prince was originally supposed to die after a few episodes, instead the writers gave his character a plot and at drama’s end he became the King to take possession of his kingdom.
“Great Ambition” ended its run on January 2003, but filming for the drama must have ended December 2002. By January 2003, JHJ was chosen as #1 actor in “Love Letter” as the conflicted priest Andrea.
According to some reports, JHJ got the part of Andrea because the writer of “Love Letter”, who was also the writer for the Bae Young Jun/Choi Ji Woo drama “Winter Sonata”, recommended JHJ to Love Letter‘s director (who was also the director of “Winter Sonata”). Apparently, JHJ auditioned for the Park Yong Ha role in “Winter Sonata”, he didn’t get the role because he obviously looks so much younger than Bae.
JHJ must have made quite an impression on writer Oh Soo Yeon during his audition for “Winter Sonata” because when they were casting for the role of Andrea, writer Oh Soo Yeon remembered JHJ and recommended him to the director of “Love Letter”. There were also reports saying that the producer of “Love Letter” was very impressed by JHJ’s gaze, voice and overall demeanor in “Great Ambition” that is why he decided to cast JHJ as Andrea.
Well, whoever was responsible for casting JHJ as Andrea in “Love Letter” made a very good decision – Andrea is tailor-made for JHJ, it is as if Andrea was written with JHJ in mind. I cannot imagine any other actor, then and now, who can breathe the same kind of gentleness, vulnerability and innocence into Andrea as JHJ did.
I mentioned earlier that “Love Letter” was not a hit in terms of rating, but developed into a mania drama over the internet. This was manifested when JHJ’s management agency at that time, Star J, scheduled an autograph session for JHJ and his fans.
At this point allow me to mention that JHJ was filming the drama “Love Letter” and the movie “Untold Scandal” at the same time. He was so busy during that time, sometimes getting only 40 minutes of sleep in 2 days. But despite the busy schedule, JHJ had to strike while the iron is hot. On March 23, Star J scheduled JHJ’s first fan meeting and autograph session.
Because “Love Letter” was not doing well in the ratings, Star J miscalculated. They estimated that only about 200 fans would show up for the autograph session, so they reserved just a small place for the event. Imagine their surprise when, upon arriving at the venue, they saw around a thousand fans waiting for JHJ! The autograph session was scheduled at 3 p.m. but as early as 7 a.m. fans were already lining up outside the venue. Fans came from different parts of Korea, some even had to take a plane to make it on time, there were also reports saying that there were also fans from Japan.
After surveying the situation, JHJ’s handlers decided to cancel the autograph session, which angered and disappointed his fans. Later, Star J, through a press release, explained that they had no choice but to cancel the meeting – JHJ was scheduled to return to filming after the autograph session; he could sign 200, but there was no way he could sign 1000 and still be able to go back to filming on time. Star J also explained that they got worried about JHJ’s security and the security of the fans. Apparently, while JHJ was getting back into the car after thanking his fans for coming, some of the fans rushed him. Five bodyguards had to protect and drag him into the car. Some fans who were standing nearby reported that JHJ still managed to smile and wave at them as the car drove away.
JHJ’s handlers never expected that a newbie like JHJ from a low-rating drama would draw so many people. Well, that’s the Hyun Jae effect for you.^^
Anyway, that is JHJ’s road to Andrea. It makes my heart bleed just imagining the younger JHJ going from one audition to another just to land a role. But I am also proud of his determination to reach his goals. JHJ knows what he wants, and he knows how to go about getting what he wants. JHJ’s pace may seem slow, quite frustrating sometimes if you are the type who wants to get to your destination as soon as possible, but JHJ is the type of person who marches to the beat of his own drum. I know that no matter how long it may take him, JHJ will achieve his career goals in his own good time.
Back in November last year (2012) I started planning for the 10th anniversary celebration of “Love Letter”. But my personal and work life became so busy until the end of 2012 that I was not able to prepare the necessary articles for the celebration. I told myself that I will work on my “Love Letter” series in January 2013.
Back in late 2012 I thought that JHJ would not be in any drama in the first quarter of 2013 since all the dramas that would be airing during that time have already secured their male lead. So, when January 2013 rolled in I started gathering the materials that I will need for my “Love Letter” series.
How was I to know that JHJ would accept a 2nd lead role for a drama that will air in the first quarter of 2013? Well, there went my plans for my “Love Letter” 10th anniversary celebration.
As soon as JHJ’s casting in “Ad Genius” was announced I became so busy tracking down updates about it that I could not find enough time to work on my special project.
But JHJ’s Andrea is my first love amongst the characters JHJ has given life to onscreen. I cannot let its 10th anniversary pass by without celebrating it somehow.
I originally planned on coming out with a series of articles on “Love Letter” for the whole month of February 2013. But since we are busy with “Ad Genius”, and may become busier still with “King Rouge” airing on February 14, I decided to spread the “Love Letter” articles throughout the year.
Besides, I believe that celebrating “Love Letter’s” 10th anniversary should be savored, not rushed. So instead of a month-long celebration, it has now become a year-long celebration.
This article is the first in my “Love Letter” 10th anniversary celebration which I will call “A decade of Love Letter”.
HAPPY 10th ANNIVERSARY TO “LOVE LETTER” AND TO “ANDREA”!!!
Credit: Photo – I don’t know who made the 2-picture collage I used for this post. I just found the picture on the internet. So, whoever you are – thank you very much!