“CQ, CQ, CQ, do you copy? If you could, please respond.”
Korean audiences in their 30s and older will immediately connect this line with the 2000 fantasy romance film “Ditto.”
Starring then-rising stars Kim Ha-neul and Yoo Ji-tae, the film revolves around college sophomore So-eun in the year 1979, who, by chance, comes across an old ham radio. When a total lunar year eclipse cause the radio to turn on, So-eun receives an unexpected response from a college junior named Ji-in, who insists that he goes to the same school as her, but absurdly argues that he’s living in 2000, 21 years from her present.
Although it seems like a classic love story transcending time, the film features a cruel twist of fate which left audiences gasping in despair — So-eun discovers that Ji-in is the son of her best friend Sun-mi and Dong-hee, a senior who is So-eun’s first love.
Although the exact number of ticket sales “Ditto” garnered is not known as the Korean Film Council did not begin compiling box office data until 2001, the film is presumed to have been seen by more than 1.2 million people.
Twenty-two years after its release, the iconic film is getting a remake, starring youthful actors such as Yeo Jin-goo and Cho Yi-hyun. One major difference is that the time periods for the male and female roles have been reversed. This time, a college junior living in the year 1999 named Kim Yong is portrayed by Yeo, and a sophomore living in the present year 2022 named Mo-nee is portrayed by Cho.
Director Seo Eun-young, who is behind the remake, has expanded the narrative’s theme beyond romance to include everyday worries and dreams that today’s youth struggle with today through the narratives of the protagonists portrayed by Kim Hye-yoon, Bae In-hyuk and Na In-woo. Seo hoped the characters’ situations would resonate with a wider audience including the MZ generation (millennial, Generation Z).
“As the original film did, I wanted to set the gap in the timeline at about 20 or so years,” Seo said at a press event after a screening on Tuesday prior to the film’s theatrical release on Nov. 16. “And I wanted the year of the past to be set in 1999 — to portray that particular end-of-the-century vibe and the youths impacted by the Asian Financial Crisis [in the late 90s]. […] Nowadays, there aren’t a lot of films strictly revolving around romance, and I wanted to bring diversity into the content market. I also wanted the film to offer a warm consolation to the youth today deliberating on their own romance and dreams.”
The Korea JoongAng Daily interviewed Yeo at a cafe in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul on Wednesday to discuss more about his character.
Yeo Jin-goo feels that he is ready to take another leap of faith in love after portraying Kim Yong in “Ditto.”
Kim Yong, a college junior freshly back from serving his mandatory military service in the year 1999, falls in love at first sight with a freshman named Han Seol, portrayed by Kim Hye-yoon.
Unlike the shy, timid So-eun, Yong has trouble hiding his feelings — suddenly bursting into laughter when talking about Han Seol with his friend or hugging himself when he thinks of her.
“I wanted to depict a youth you’d come across every day [during that time],” Yeo said. “His real passion lies in literature and writing, but he chooses a major completely irrelevant because that’s what the adults told him would make it easier for him to get a good job. His selection of clothes and hairstyle attributed to his bland personality — very casual, comfortable shirts, t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers — but when that kind of a person is hurled into a love-at-the-first-sight moment, maybe it could turn his head around. It would be the first time he’d be so sure of his emotions. I wondered whether he could keep it under control.”
“If it weren’t for the ham radio, I would think that Seol and Yong would have made it,” Yeo said. “They would have married and maybe have children of their own — they would be the couple who succeeded in their first love.”
The actor, however, says he would have still chosen love over fate or friendship, unlike his character.
“I [still] choose love,” Yeo said, after hesitating for a moment. “It’s definitely not an easy decision to make, and I don’t know what I would actually choose if something as miraculous happens to me, but I think I’ll still choose love. Although I understand Yong’s decision. If he chooses to pursue his love, everything would change in the future — there would be no Mo-nee, for instance.”
Unlike his character, however, the 25-year-old actor admits he hasn’t loved anyone as passionately.
“Reality was more important,” Yeo said. “And I thought my reality had to be more perfect for me to have room for love. Particularly as an actor, when for periods of time, I have to focus my entire energy on acting. And I don’t have the ability to commit fully to both my work and relationship. My situation is not all that different from my friends. We all ask each other, ‘Why aren’t you meeting someone?’ We all say that we’re just not ready. We believed that it was more important to focus on work. We’ve just started to become accepted as members of society or still are in the process of it, and that’s how I felt before I starred in ‘Ditto.’ But now, I believe the concept of love is not something that can be kept at bay. I also believe I was overthinking all the responsibility and commitment which comes with it [even before I tried]. And it’s all part of the experience and personal growth to meet someone and love them. But I think people nowadays feel a bit awkward committing to their emotions.”
When asked about his ideal type of girlfriend, the actor, after laughing jovially, listed out some attributes.
“I want her to be bright,” he said. “I love fooling around and doing role plays, so I hope she’s someone who can keep up with me on those things.
“I also hope she isn’t picky about food,” Yeo added, emphasizing he loves good food and cooking. “I’m the type of person who’s really sincere about what I eat, so I think it would be frustrating if I couldn’t share that happiness with her.”
In the 2000 film, Ji-in, after a frantic search, finally meets So-eun, who’s become a professor of English literature. However, the two protagonists only lock eyes and pass by knowingly without talking to each other. The remake offers a different conclusion when Mo-nee goes to meet Yong after he becomes a writer.
“I’ve discussed it a lot with director Seo about what would be the best for Yong,” Yeo said. “She initially suggested that Yong would not marry, but I thought differently. I think he would have the courage to meet someone else later in his life, which is implicitly shown through the ring on his fourth finger [of his left hand].”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]