Kim Seon-ho embarks on journey back to the public in 'Touching the Void'

Poster of the play “Touching the Void” featuring actor Kim Seon-ho as British mountaineer Joe Simpson [THE BEST PLAY]

Why do people climb mountains?

This simple question took on a much more profound meaning in actor Kim Seon-ho’s performance on July 9 as the British mountaineer Joe Simpson in the ongoing play “Touching the Void.”

It was the 36-year-old’s first performance as Joe in central Seoul’s Art One Theater — his small cozy home before his shot to fame on the small screen through tvN drama “Start-Up” (2020) and scandal-induced downfall nine months ago.

Based on the 1988 memoir of the same title by Simpson, “Touching the Void” is a British play adapted by writer David Greig. The stage version draws on the true story from the year 1985 when Joe Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates embarked on a perilous hike to the snowy peaks of the 6,400-meter-high (21,000 foot) Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. It first premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in London in 2018 and subsequently ran in West End and other parts of the world such as Hong Kong and Australia.

In a dark and tragic play, Kim’s effort to keep things light in the first-half with low-key humor and his infectious dimpled smiles were duly noted. The scenes were reminiscent of Kim's character in KBS’s long-running variety show “2 Days & 1 Night” (2007-) and served as reminders of why he had once been such a beloved actor and entertainer nationwide.

Things go quickly south as the two climbers are derailed from the course by a sudden snowstorm and Joe falls off an unstable snow cliff. Marooned in a crevasse with a broken leg, he begins his lone 72-hour fight for survival on the mountain.

Kim’s gripping performance had the audience on their toes, agonizing with him on his every fall and injury. Drenched in sweat that is visible through the actor’s green hiking jacket and his eyes blurry with tears, it is evident that Joe’s struggles don’t only take physical and emotional tolls on the character, but also on Kim the actor.

Main poster of the Korean revivial of the British play “Touching the Void.” [THE BEST PLAY]

“Touching the Void” intensely depicts the psychological stages of a person in an extreme situation. In this portrayal, one of the greatest obstacles that hinders Joe from moving forward, besides his pain and exhaustion, is fear and loneliness that, even if he does miraculously make it back to basecamp, no one would be there waiting for him.

But as his sister’s voice in his head tells him, just like there is no good reason for climbing mountains, sometimes, there are no better reasons to go on living other than the fact that you are still alive.

Given the actor’s recent history, Kim being the actor to perform in “Touching the Void” amplified Joe’s lonely and desperate fight toward life. Such emotional high points were also telling of the actor’s past few months spent under the radar.

Actor Kim Seon-ho as Joe Simpson during a rehearsal of the ongoing play “Touching the Void” [THE BEST PLAY]

Kim had kept out of the spotlight since October last year when an anonymous online writer who claimed to be his previous girlfriend accused him of pressuring her to have an abortion. It later came to light that Kim and the anonymous writer had, in fact, been in a relationship and that the woman had been pregnant with Kim’s child, which he had knowledge of. The public began to hold boycotts over products that Kim was a model for, and he was subsequently fired from most advertisements, television shows and dramas.

But starting with “Touching the Void,” which began showing on July 8, Kim is now clawing his way back into the public’s eye. He is also set to star in an action film noir “Sad Tropics,” scheduled for release in the second half of 2022.

By the looks of the full house last week and even more people who had gathered outside the theater to catch a glimpse of Kim leaving the building that evening, he seemed set for a new start.

Tickets for the performances starring Kim are all sold out until mid-August. Tickets for the rest of August and September have yet to open.

Kim alternates the role of Joe Simpson with actors Shin Seong-min and Lee Hwi-jong.

“Touching the Void” runs through Sept. 18 at Art One Theater in Jongno District, central Seoul.