Off to the races with the stars of ‘R.A.C.E.’
We knew we wanted to see Disney ’s 12-part K-“dramedy” series “R.A.C.E.” the minute we learned that legendary actress Moon So-ri was going to be part of its exciting cast.
After all, the 48-year-old Venice fest-winning South Korean star has turned in indelible performances in movies and TV programs that series aficionados and movie buffs alike still remember to this day, among them “Oasis,” “The Good Lawyer’s Wife,” “Three Sisters,” “The Handmaiden,” “The Legend of the Blue Sea” (with Lee Min-ho), “Life” (with Lee Dong-wook) and “Seoul Vibe” (with Go Kyung-pyo).
Keeping So-ri company in “Race” are her young and good-looking costars Lee Yeon-hee (“East of Eden,” “One Fine Day,” “The Package”), Hong Jong-hyun (“Mama,” “My Absolute Boyfriend”) and Chung Yun-ho aka TVXQ idol U-Know (“King of Ambition,” “Diary of a Night Watchman”).
The astutely paced workplace drama helmed by Lee Dong-yoon takes place in the world of PR (press relations) as it follows inexperienced but tenacious Park Yoon-jo’s (Yeon-hee) struggle to rise above cutthroat competition in Seyong, a topnotch PR conglomerate, where her friend Ryu Jae-min (Hong Jong-hyun) also works as a manager.
It doesn’t take long before Yoon-jo crosses paths with her formidable role model, industry stalwart Goo Yi-jung (So-ri) and Seo Dong-hoon (Yun-ho), the CEO of PR firm Earth Communication.
In the episodes that we’ve seen so far, PR manager Song Sun-tae (Jo Han-chul of “Vincenzo,” “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” and “Jirisan”) keeps Yoon-jo on her toes with his tough demands and nitpicking ways.
At the press conference that Inquirer Entertainment attended before the series premiered last week, So-ri explained why she was drawn to her character.
She said, “Yi-jung is the leading authority in the world of PR. She had worked in Korea and the United States before she entered the frame as the new CCO of Seyong, with Jae-min and Yoon-jo. The new CEO is someone Yi-jung went to college with.
“Seyong is a very big and old conglomerate with a long history of success, but there are old cultures that I want to change in the company. At first, I was content to do my work and get my paycheck without getting embroiled in too much stress. But I was so inspired by the passion of its young people that I thought I needed to change some things for them.
“Moreover, the show’s subject matter is public relations, and I’ve always found that world intriguing. It’s a story about PR teams, which have their own handful of struggles and issues.”
As for Yeon-hee, she said she wanted to delve into the challenges facing office workers her age. She mused, “This is my first office drama, and I felt like so many of their issues were very well reflected in the script.
“Through Yoon-jo, I wanted to represent the office workers of my generation. So I asked a lot of questions to my friends who work at the office and heard a lot of their stories in order to get into my character’s mindset.”
‘Yoon-jo is a diversity hire who got her job through a special program called ‘Spec-Out,’ but she’s more committed to her work than anyone. As much as she loves her job, she also wants to be recognized for what she does.
“In terms of characterization, I worked really hard to bring out that passion inside me. While I don’t express passion externally, I nevertheless have a lot of that energy inside me. So I tried to externalize more of that energy for this role.”
Like Yeon-hee, “Race” is also Jong-hyun’s first office “dramedy,” the model-turned-actor admitted: “Since it’s my first project set in a conventional workplace, I was a little bit concerned, but I was also very excited … because we’re dealing with a story that takes place within an office. We had a lot of scenes in a confined space, which made it a unique experience for me.”
“Jae-min is a childhood friend of Yoonjo’s. Another close friend of theirs is Heo-eun. So, this trio has been so close since they were kids that they would share anything and everything with each other. But when it comes to work, they have very different views.
“While Yoon-jo, who doesn’t have fancy qualifications, has a lot of passion for her work, Jae-min has a job in a big company where he is recognized as the star employee. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have as much passion for what he does.
“Don’t get me wrong. Jae-min cares about his personal time as much as he cares about his job. But he only invests just enough of his effort to get the job done. Even then, he is praised for what he does within the company.”
In Yun-ho’s case, it was his character that he liked instantly. “Dong-hoon is a great leader,” the dashing singer-actor observed. “He is someone who really thinks about the happiness of his colleagues and employees—and I think that often leads to any company’s success.
“I wanted to portray my character as someone with a flexible mindset rather than someone who has a lot of authority. So, I had many conversations with director Lee on how to shape my character.”
When the director was asked to explain what the title of the series means, he said, “In English, it’s R.A.C.E., which is actually an acronym for a term that’s often used in the world of marketing and PR: research, action, communication and evaluation. Each letter holds a different significance and meaning.
“In reality, there is a wide array of office workers pursuing different career paths at different stages of their lives. So it’s a story about people running their own races. It’s not like they’re competing against one another for a common purpose, but it’s a race in the sense that everyone has his own speed, pace and path.”
It’s interesting to note how screenwriter Kim Roo-ri described in earlier interviews that Jong-hyun has “the face of a boy and, at other times, the face of an emotionless man.”
Asked to comment about this, the actor laughed before saying, “I love it! It could mean showing different facets of yourself. You know, Jae-min does not have many friends at work … he doesn’t really get close to his peers in the office.
“But when he leaves the office, he meets up with his friends like Yoon-jo and jokes around. And that’s when Jae-min’s goofy and silly sides come out. I think that’s why Roo-ri said that … because she saw that I also have different sides—so I take that as a compliment.”
Different starting point
Metaphorically, “R.A.C.E.” is about that journey we all take in our lives. In that context, where are these stars in their respective races these days?
Yeon-hee answered, “I think I am in the middle of my race, or rather, I’ve just crossed the halfway mark. But at the same time, I sometimes feel like it’s just the beginning!”
Jong-hyun is uncertain, however. He quipped, “I don’t know. I’m not sure where I stand in my journey now. Because everyone has a different starting point, and we’re all heading towards different directions with different goals. Everyone moves forward at [their] own pace.
“For me, I think I’ve just started to gain momentum. But while we were shooting the series, I think we were all racing forward as a team. So, that’s how I would describe where I am at this point in time.”
As for So-ri, she said, “I remember a song that goes, ‘The path of a wayfarer is endless and lonely.’ I suddenly thought of that song. I mean, our journey in life is endless. I’m not even sure where I’m going. All I can say is that I am once again on this journey with people that I love today. That is something I can feel—and that’s what makes me feel happy. I’ll leave it at that.”
And Yun-ho couldn’t agree with So-ri more.
“The pressure is high when I need to answer right after So-ri,” he pointed out with a big chuckle. “So, I don’t think I’m in a position to discuss life in depth. But what that question made me think was that there is someone who can act as a pacemaker in life.
“I feel like who you share your life’s journey with really matters, and I’m so glad that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know these wonderful people who have become great pacemakers for me.”
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