There was a little bit of commotion in the room where Fabricated City actor Ji Chang-wook is holding an interview session with reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

One reporter asked for his thoughts on receiving the Baeksang Arts award nomination for Best New Actor (Movie) for his role in the film. Baeksang Arts Award honours achievements in the South Korean movie and television industry.

“If I get an award through this project (Fabricated City), I would be grateful and happy. But I don’t want to think too much about it,” he said through a translator.

While the question seemed harmless, it was enough to raise eyebrows with his public relations team.

You see, members of the media were advised to stick to pre-approved questions by his management. But the 29-year-old South Korean star seemed unfazed by the “surprise” question.

If anything, the actor should be commended for maintaining a calm and composed demeanour throughout Fabricated City promotional tour in KL.

Less than 24 hours before the interview, Ji arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to a frenzy of screaming fans. While burly bodyguards kept everyone at a distance, Ji smiled and waved at fans who greeted him with cries of “saranghae” (I love you in Korean) and “annyeonghaseyo” (how are you?).

Ji didn’t expect to receive such a reception for his maiden visit to Malaysia.

“I was surprised to see them giving me such a warm welcome during my first visit here. I consider it a unique experience as well,” he said.

The new leading man?

Affectionately nicknamed “Wookie” by fans, Ji sealed his status as one of South Korea’s hottest actors through roles in popular K-drama series like Healer, Empress Ki and K2.

Fabricated City marks a new phase in Ji’s career as he plays the role of a leading man on the big screen for the first time. He has been in showbiz since 2006, working on musical theatre shows.

He revealed that he accepted the role with some hesitation. “When I first got the script, I actually felt burdened and worried. Will I be able to convince the audience with my acting?”

In Fabricated City, Ji plays Kwon-yoo, an unemployed gamer whose carefree life takes a nightmarish turn when he is accused of raping and murdering a minor.

It’s a physically demanding role for Ji whose character gets roughed up a lot in the film. He also has to keep on running away from people while figuring out a way to prove his innocence.

Not that Ji is a stranger to action sequences, though. He did plenty of them in K2, where his bodyguard character even has an infamous nude fight scene in a men’s bathhouse.

Fabricated city

A scene from Fabricated City.

He credited his meticulous director Park Kwang-hyun as well as co-stars Shim Eun-kyung and Ahn Jae-hong for keeping him going throughout the taxing production period.

Fabricated City spoiler alert

In the end, he is proud of the final product but admitted that the movie left him feeling a bit emotional. “While the movie has a happy ending, I don’t feel that way because the people who abuse their power are still alive. Someone who has died (from a tragedy) won’t come back to life. I personally felt sad after watching the movie.”

Stunned with his reply, journalists in the room wondered out loud if Ji had revealed a spoiler. Without hesitation and any translation, he promptly said “Yes” with a smile. Perhaps the word “spoiler” is simply universal.

Ji has a knack for saying things as it is. When asked if he gained anything personally from being involved in a project like Fabricated City, he simply answered, “Well, I get to earn money.”

His honesty is refreshing, a far cry from the everything-is-perfect superstar image that his team is trying to cultivate.

Ji is seemingly aware that he is but a product of the highly-competitive and tightly-controlled Korean showbiz industry. His success, of course, comes with a price.

“Because of this fame, there is some discomfort in terms of how I live my life,” he shared.

A challenging past

Ji’s father died when he was in elementary school. In an interview on South Korean talk show Taxi in 2016, Ji opened up about his difficult childhood.

“My family’s situation was such that we couldn’t generously provide for ourselves. I had no abilities or money. My mum worked hard in a restaurant and was also sick,” he said in the Taxi segment.

Ji said that he was happiest when he could help his mother financially: “I was most satisfied with myself when I paid off my family’s debt with money I earned. It had meaning.”

So, instead of complaining about what fame has taken away from him, Ji rather focuses on the positive aspect – money.

“I get paid to do this job and I’m happy with it.” he said.

Ji also gave his assurance that he won’t take his fans’ devotion and the financial perks of fame for granted. “I promise to work hard to fulfil your expectations of me.”