Joo Won leads a double life in Stealer: The Treasure Keeper

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Joo Won leads a double life in Stealer: The Treasure Keeper
Stealer: The Treasure Keeper is a South Korean caper comedy-drama that airs every Thursday and Friday nights at 9:15 via tvN Asia on Cignal and Smart GigaPlay app.
STAR / File

Stealer: The Treasure Keeper is topbilled by Joo Won who leads a double life as a government employee by day and a thief by night in the new South Korean caper comedy-drama.

It’s the comeback K-drama of the 35-year-old actor three years after starring in Alice. He’s also known to overseas fans for his roles in such K-dramas as King of Baking, Kim Takgu (2010), Good Doctor (2013), and My Sassy Girl (2017), among others.

In the 12-part series, Won plays the Indiana Jones-esque Hwang Dae-myung, a civil servant working with the Cultural Heritage Administration but who has a secret identity of a cultural asset thief named Skunk. His expertise is “stealing” national treasures acquired through illegal means.

He eventually joins forces with Team Karma — an unofficial heritage recovery team — to retrieve stolen cultural heritage and fight against criminals in high places, who can’t be punished by law.

A member of Team Karma is Choi Min-woo, played by actress Lee Joo-woo (Return of Fortunate Bok, The Spies Who Loved Me, Why Her), a police officer who finished at the top of her class. Though extremely talented and skilled at solving cases, she doesn’t get her dream job of being part of the homicide team and instead gets deployed to the cultural heritage group. A seemingly thankless and uneventful assignment at first, it will however afford Min-woo the most exciting action of her career as a police officer.

Joo Won plays dual roles in the ongoing action series. He is a government employee by day and a cultural assets thief by night, whose expertise is ‘stealing’ natural treasures obtained through illegal mea

The show also stars Jo Han-chul as Jang Tae-in, founder of Team Karma and former head of the Violent Crime Section’s Drug Squad. Kim Jae-won is Shin Chang-hoon, an ex-homicide investigator. Choi Hwa-jung is Lee Chun-ja, a Team Karma member with exceptional hacking skills.

In an e-mail interview for The STAR, Won said he accepted this drama because he gets to do dual roles and channel his comedic side.

“I chose this drama because first of all, the character is really interesting and I could play two characters,” he said.

“I also liked that it’s a drama that’s meaningful but has a comedy style so that it is not too serious. Through this drama, I’d like to show fans my cheerful and cute side, and also something new and interesting through Skunk’s cool image.”

Lee Joo-woo plays the elite police officer Choi Min-woo, who begrudgingly teams up with Joo Won, in retrieving stolen cultural assets

As for Joo-woo, she was drawn to her character’s strong and independent spirit, plus it gave her the chance to execute some badass action.

“I was nervous about the action scenes but I wanted to try something new,” she said.

Asked what message he wanted to convey through this K-drama, Won said that Stealer is a comedy first and foremost.

“I think people can look forward to my comic acting. In some ways, retrieving cultural assets can seem to be a really serious topic but we’ve made it really approachable. I hope people will enjoy watching it,” he said.

Joo-woo, on the other hand, noted that this is a story about “cleaning up evil higher-ups” and this kind of story has “always provided people with a deep sense of catharsis.”

“It’s especially thrilling when someone helps me punish those who are corrupt. You’ll be able to experience that thrill through this drama,” she added. Below are more excerpts from their Q&A.

On the biggest challenges during filming:

Won: “It was really difficult to film action scenes in this costume. When I put on the mask and goggles, I couldn’t see clearly and the constant humidity also affected my vision. The leather material of the outfit made it rather inflexible so the costume always felt tight and stuffy.

“Nonetheless, a lot of effort was put into creating the costume before filming started so it really looked cool on the outside. But to be honest, it was really difficult to move around and act while wearing it (laughs).”

Joo-woo: “I tried not to be too overboard with her coolness. The moment I start thinking, ‘I’m a police, I’m cool, I’m a girl-crush,’ I’ll start to act in that way. So, I tried not to be too exaggerated with my expressions or movements.”

On most memorable scenes in stealer:

Won: “I remember the earlier scenes at (cultural heritage criminal) Choi Song-chul’s home in Episode 2. It was a really cool set but in reality, I actually had to climb up and down the ladder countless times, and the falling scene could have been very dangerous.

“Using snack packaging to cover the surface was really cool and that left a deep impression on me. It was a really squeezy and low set, which made it challenging for filming, so it was a quite a memorable experience for me.”

Joo-woo: “There’s a scene where Team Karma had an operation in Jeju Island to retrieve a coin from the Joseon dynasty. Min-woo had to make a complete image transformation and I think viewers will find this to be a major twist.”

On specific skills they want to have in real life:

Won: “I really want to have Skunk’s special goggles. Regardless of your situation, relevant data will appear and you can see well even in the dark. I think it’s something that will be helpful in my daily life as well.”

Joo-woo: “I’d like to have (cultural heritage criminal) Huin-dal’s skills of being able to subdue a person with just a ballpen. But instead of anything bad, I’d like to use it for self-defense, a way to protect myself.”

On building chemistry on and off set:

Won: “As there were many scenes we had to film as a team, I wanted to create an atmosphere on set where we could talk freely with the senior actors. As my age and seniority just happens to be in the middle, I took the lead to set up gatherings where we could all enjoy each other’s company. I worked hard to act as a communicator (laughs).

“It was really fun when the whole team was filming together. We didn’t realize time just flew by and we forgot how tired we were during the filming.”

Joo-woo: “Joo Won is a really sweet guy and has a very remarkable understanding of this drama. When we’re filming together on set, he always helped to allow me to experience something new and learn from it, so I’m very grateful. He’s always very considerate, and even worried about our safety. I’ve learnt a lot by seeing those sides of him.

“I was really excited and grateful to be able to be on the same team and work alongside these great actors through Stealer: The Treasure Keeper. I didn’t do much but the senior actors were really friendly and thanks to that, every moment of acting was really enjoyable.”

On their message for their filipino fans:

Won: “Due to the pandemic, it’s been a long time since I greet you. When the drama ends, I hope there’ll be a lot of opportunities for me to greet my fans. I hope there’ll be a lot of chances for me to repay the love I’ve received. Thank you.”

(Stealer: The Treasure Keeper airs every Thursday and Friday nights at 9:15 via tvN Asia on Cignal [DTH] CH160 / Smart GigaPlay app.)

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