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'Squid Game' star Wi Ha Jun fears nothing—except one person

By MARBBIE TAGABUCBA, The Philippine Star Published May 22, 2023 7:07 pm

Wi Ha Jun has been pushed off a cliff and has overcome his severe phobia of open water in global sensation Squid Game. He has even filmed at one of the world’s freakiest real places on the planet in Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum. With his penchant for suspenseful projects and unpredictable roles that have fans worldwide hooked, does he fear anything at all?

“My niece,” he tells the STAR in all seriousness before his first-ever fan meet, Gameplay with Wi Ha Jun, with clothing line Bench over the weekend. He then chuckles, flashing his arresting grin, realizing how silly it might sound. “She is most precious to me. I am careful when I act and I always think about how she might react once she watches me in my roles.”

It’s a carefulness that shows in how he picks his roles. The script has to be compelling on the first read, he says. He then wonders if he can explore his character’s motivations. He is drawn to examining characters that are not what they seem at first, referencing similar works and characters, then portraying them with his own nuance and layers. As he played the male lead opposite Kim Go Eun in Little Women and supporting roles in slice-of-life romance dramas Romance is a Bonus Book and Something in the Rain, he stood out and kept viewers guessing.

Gameplay with Wi Ha Jun

Ha Jun has come a long way from growing up on his family’s abalone farm in Wando, South Jeolla, and performing dance covers of TVXQ in school. Still, he’ll never forget his family’s specialty with the convenience of ramyeon for his ultimate comfort food even when he’s far from home.

“Abalone is best enjoyed when fresh. I slice it into sashimi cuts while ramyeon is boiling and cooking. While waiting, I will enjoy its freshness and eat it raw. Once the ramyeon is cooked, I dip it into the soup, shabu-shabu style, and eat it together.”

He even has his special tip when it comes to cooking ramyeon: “I lift the noodles to cool it a little and introduce some air into the soup.” He’s so confident in his ramyeon skills that he demonstrated this onstage to a squealing crowd during his fan meet.

Stage fright? Never had it. During the fan meet, he reconnected with his K-pop aspirations as a teen and performed another song he grew up with, Rainism by K-pop pioneer Rain, and then David Guetta and Nicki Minaj’s hit Hey Mama, popularized by viral Korean reality TV show Street Woman Fighter. The acrobatics and boxing enthusiast always felt a calling to the stage. 

Singing like an idol? “I don’t think I can be a vocalist since my voice is not that high. I can rap a little and dance,” he laughs again. “Oh, I can be the 'visual.' I can be the member that talks to the audience.”

His playlist right now, however, is less upbeat. On repeat is the 2010 Korean hit Laundry by Lee Juck, a ballad about going on with life despite a broken heart. It’s a classic that’s been covered by another Bench ambassador and his upcoming co-star Ji Chang Wook and K-pop idols like Shinee’s Onew and Minho. Does it reflect his current state of heart? 

“No,” Ha Jun, now single, answers. “I just like winding down after a long day with sad songs.” He chuckles and grins again—a bright, sincere smile like sunshine that contrasts with his angular features and tough-guy resting face. He’s definitely a romantic; a slice-of-life romance in a setting not unlike his island countryside hometown is one of his dream roles. 

Wi Ha Jun charms fans during his Manila fan meet

Ha Jun shares how much he was able to push himself as an actor and his capacity as a person in Bad and Crazy. He’s played the upright and the morally gray, but in the upcoming crime-action drama The Worst of Evil, he becomes his most antagonistic as a rising mob boss in a drug trafficking triangle that runs between Korea, Japan, and China.

“It has not only been physically challenging but also mentally and emotionally,” he admits, “reflecting on why people in his position would do these things.”

He will be sparring, using both fists and wits, with Wook, who plays an undercover cop infiltrating the mob. Will it be another enemies-to-bromance pairing, just like in Bad and Crazy with Lee Dong Wook? “We’ll see,” he says. “That was a surprise for us.” 

As for The Worst of Evil, “Please watch out for it,” he says, unsmiling and serious this time. “There will be a lot of fight scenes and intense dialogue. It challenged us as actors and we worked very hard. We’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.”

The Baeksang and Blue Dragon-nominated actor’s TMI on the day of the fan meet? “I have muscle sores all over from working out for the fan meet,” he says with a smile. “I wanted to be prepared for everything.” While no abs were shown during his fan meet, it just goes to show how Ha Jun’s fearlessness extends to his care and sincerity in everything he does. He always gives his 100%.