The above video clip shows scenes of Jo Hyun Jae playing Crown Prince for the first time in his career in the drama “Great Ambition/Daemang” (SBS, 2002-2003). Though this is JHJ’s first outing as Crown Prince, even at the very young age of 22, you can see that he can already carry himself well as Crown Prince.
The drama is set in Joseon-era Seoul, alternately referred to as Hanyang or Hanseong during that time period. All the characters in this drama are fictional, even the King and the Crown Prince.
How did Jo Hyun Jae end up playing the Crown Prince in “Great Ambition”?
During this period in his career, JHJ’s manager would send him to audition for whatever drama/movie would announce casting calls. The casting call for the movie “Untold Scandal” came first before the one for “Great Ambition”.
Before the audition for “Untold Scandal”, JHJ thought that his looks were too modern to fit in a historical drama, but he went to the audition anyway. But as soon as he donned the hanbok (Korean traditional costume), JHJ realized that he looks good in traditional costume. JHJ got the part in the movie “Untold Scandal” for the role of the naive scholar Kwon In Ho. Filming for the movie didn’t start right away, so he went to other auditions while waiting for filming to begin.
“Great Ambition” was a much-anticipated drama in 2002 because PD Kim Jong Hak (who died in July 2013) and Scriptwriter Song Jinah were also the team behind such mega-hits as “Sandglass” and “Eyes of Dawn”. So when the casting call for the drama came out, JHJ went to the audition.
When JHJ went for his screen test, the late PD Kim asked him to put on the costume of the Crown Prince. One look and the famous director said: “You’ve got the role.” Nobody could look more regal than our JHJ.
In this drama, JHJ’s Crown Prince pretends to be sick (in body and mind) to keep himself safe from those who wanted his position. Can’t blame the Crown Prince for pretending, all his older brothers died once they became crown prince. His father, the King, is not a good ruler, more interested in women and the good life rather than ruling the country. The Crown Prince’s uncle (played by actor Jung Sung Mo, who played Marshal Hae in “King’s Daughter, Soo Baek Hyang”), who seems slightly mad, is plotting to become the next king. What a family! No wonder the Crown Prince escapes the palace every chance he gets.
The Crown Prince first appears in episode 26 (Arirang version) dressed as a yangban (nobleman). A woman is walking at a marketplace and a young man calls out to her.
Crown Prince: Over there. The woman ahead of me. I hear that you are the wife of the richest man in Hanyang. Since I want to have a taste of those food, I believe you have to buy if for me. They say you need money to eat that. I don’t have any money. (Then he smiles sweetly at her – pictured below.)
Having been raised inside the palace, the Crown Prince doesn’t know that he needs money to be able to eat outside the palace. Haha! Later, I found out that Korean royals don’t touch money. They consider it beneath their station to touch money because they think it is dirty. (I do not know if royals in other countries think the same way.)
The woman is the wife of the richest merchant in Hanyang, also the mother of the 2 lead males played by actors Jang Hyuk and Han Jae Suk.
That is the extent of Jo Hyun Jae’s very brief first appearance in the drama, it didn’t even last 5 minutes! But it is enough to create quite a stir among viewers. Look at the picture below of the smiling Crown Prince and tell me how can it not create a stir!
What happens after that very brief encounter between the Crown Prince-disguised-as-a-yangban and the wife of the richest merchant in Hanyang is for you to find out. 😀
Below are links where you can watch the drama with English subtitles. The drama is quite long, drags a lot, has many sub-plots and side stories that bored me a lot, but the premise is still interesting . There are 2 things that made me watch the drama until the end: (1) the beautiful friendship that developed between the Crown Prince and the lead male Park Jae Young (played by Jang Hyuk), and (2) Jo Hyun Jae’s wonderful performance as the lonely but playful/naughty Crown Prince.
Youtube channel for Dae Mang with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgAb80wx3a-tHFWZzENUfvX6WNwx5v-Ng
Below is episode 26, the episode where JHJ first appears in the drama. The Crown Prince appears at around 17:00.
Jo Hyun Jae has no love interest in this drama. But for a very brief time the father of Lee Yo Won’s character tries to marry off his daughter to the Crown Prince.
The friendship that developed between Jo Hyun Jae and Jang Hyuk while they were filming the drama must be very strong because up to now, 12 years later, the friendship is still going strong. They attend the first screening of each other’s movies.
Credit: Videos and photos as labelled. Thanks!