Cho Yi-hyun relishes in relatively relaxed role in 'Ditto'

Cho Yi-hyun [GOGO STUDIO]

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.

"Ditto" (2000) revolves around college sophomore So-eun in the year 1979, who comes across an old ham radio that connects her to a college junior named Ji-in living in 2000. [HANMAEK MOVIES]

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 Cho at a cafe in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul on Wednesday to discuss more about her character.

Cho Yi-hyun portrays Mo-nee, a college sophomore living in the year 2022 who is trying to muster up the courage to confess her love for her crush and her best friend, Young-ji, portrayed by Na In-woo. [CJ ENM]

Cho Yi-hyun, who had her breakthrough in Netflix Korea’s zombie horror series “All of Us Are Dead” (2022), was “hyped” at the chance to star in the relatively mundane role of Mo-nee in “Ditto” (2022).

“When I received the offer for the role [earlier this year] I knew that the film was planning to release in theaters in November,” Cho said. The remake was filmed from May 31 to Aug. 20 this year.

“I thought it was a perfect opportunity to show the audience another side of me in a completely different genre after ‘All of US Are Dead.’”

Cho said she has been “longing” for a character like Mo-nee even long before the Netflix hit because the majority of her characters involved complicated pasts misfortunes, or even worse — would meet tragic deaths.

Mo-nee comes across an old ham radio and meets Kim Yong. She realizes that Kim Yong went to the same college as her parents, who were a campus couple. [CJ ENM]

“I had met director Lee JQ once before I knew he was working on ‘All of Us Are Dead,’” Cho said. “He’d asked me what kind of roles I wanted to try, and I told him I wanted to meet one that didn’t have to go through blood, sweat and tears and that both of her parents were alive and well [...] The depth and the weight of what my prior characters were burdened with was too much that I worried if this had become my thing, that I would be stuck playing similar characters [in the future].

So imagine how thrilled the actor must have been to portray an ordinary girl in college, whose only issue is trying to find the courage to confess her crush for her best friend, Young-ji, portrayed by Na In-woo.

Cho Yi-hyun [GOGO STUDIO]

For the scenes where Yeo and Cho talk through the radio — which constitute a big chunk of the film — each actor tried to be there for their counterpart in person to deliver the lines together.

“When we filmed those scenes, we’d be on the set that entire day,” Cho said. “And Yeo, even though it was his day off, would come in and deliver the lines with me, so our intonations and delivery wouldn’t feel awkward. Me, Yeo, and director Seo all came to a consensus that we should be there for each other because the scenes where we’d talk on the radio had to feel natural, like the characters are really communicating with each other.”

The film also gives a peek into the troubles that the MZ Generation today face through Young-ji, who takes some time off from college due to financial issues. It’s also why Young-ji keeps Mo-nee strictly in the friend zone as he feels he’s not ready for love.

The actor, while agreeing that the characters mirror what today’s generation are going through, says that she’s learned to “let go” of her own worries and troubles.

“When I first began acting, I had a lot of worries and ambitions about what kind of actor I would become,” Cho said. “And I was so caught up in the idea that I was torn when I was turned down for roles. But strangely enough, when I’ve learned to relax, everything begins to turn out all right [...] And based on my personality, I’m the type of person who can spiral downwards when I begin to think about my worries or dreams — even the smallest of things can snowball into something big. So I try not to think about them. Even when hardship does come to me, I don’t go too much into it. I just try to enjoy it, and think that maybe it’ll be over one day.”

Cho Yi-hyun [GOGO STUDIO]

The 22-year-old actor, however, does not believe in the notion of falling in love with her best friend.

“That’s like, betrayal to me,” Cho said. “In my world, there’s no dating my friend because for me, friendship comes first before love. So if we’ve decided to become friends, and he flirts with me, than that’s a betrayal. It’s what will break off our friendship. The bond between friends has higher possibility to last compared to one of love, I think. Because it’s easier to patch things up with friends, compared to boyfriends, who’d become a stranger once we break up.”