[ENTERTAINMENT]Despite Series of Misses, He's Still a Hit

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Despite Series of Misses, He's Still a Hit

Cha In-pyo, 34, whose tough yet gentle image won him an instant fan club when he first appeared on TV screens playing a Prince Charming in 1994, has found the going a little rougher as a movie actor.

For one thing, there have been so many missed opportunities. Cha could have been the first Korean actor to star in a major Hollywood film, "The Truth About Charlie." The actor who ended up in the role, Park Jung-hun, recently returned to Korea to great fanfare after wrapping the movie. But Cha had turned down the role to star in a Korean thriller, "Doctor K," directed by Gwak Kyeong-taek. Unfortunately, as Cha himself says, "Doctor K" was "thwarted" at the box office.

That was just the first in a series of bad choices. He then turned down a role as a secret agent in the hit movie "Shiri," later played by Song Gang-ho, and in this year's smash "Chin-gu" ("Friends").

But Cha doesn't seem bitter, saying with a smile, "Well, it's all water under the bridge."

Though Cha has not been successful financially, he is still an object of affection for the public. The veteran TV actor currently playing Cha's father-in-law, Park Geun-hyeong, said, "Who could hate Cha In-pyo, who is so well-mannered to the elderly and so affectionate to the young?"

It took some time for Cha to earn his fame. He went to live in the United States at 21, majoring in economics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He then worked for a local shipping agency only to become quickly disillusioned. He said that he returned to Korea with no fixed plan but to become an actor.

After some ups and downs working as an English teacher, he abruptly won a TV role. At 27, he was suddenly playing a hero in a trendy drama and was on the way to becoming a household name. The heroine in the drama, Shin Ae-ra, later became his real-life wife.

Cha may have sex appeal but he has found it difficult to earn points from the critics for his acting. "I should have known that easy come, easy go. I earned my fame too easily, but at 27 I wasn't ready to be a professional actor," Cha said. Indeed, he had to pay for his quick popularity - a former marriage in the United States that had ended in divorce was revealed, and he was called up for military service.

But the hardest part, Cha remarked, was the public conception of him as an incompetent actor. He is grateful to a TV scriptwriter, Kim Jeong-su, who coached him in acting. It must have helped, for Cha is slowly regaining his reputation. He is currently starring in "Geu Yeojane Jip" ("That Woman's House"), a drama on Channel 11 on weekend nights at 8 p.m., for which he is receiving good reviews. He is also set to return to movie screens with Kim Yun-jin ("Shiri") in a romantic drama, "Iron Palm."

"The secret of my success is integrity," Cha said. His future goals certainly seem honorable. "I want to become more steadfast as a father and a husband. I'm not so greedy that I'm prepared to give my whole life to the stage."

by Chun Su-jin

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