x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Wonho Chung on his breakout role in the movie 30 February

We talk exclusively to the Dubai-based Korean comedian, who was born in Saudi Arabia and speaks fluent Arabic, about the forthcoming Egyptian comedy.

Wonho Chung on the set of the Egyptian film 30 February.
Wonho Chung on the set of the Egyptian film 30 February. "The whole experience was amazing," he says. Courtesy Muna Ismail

"This is the first time in history a Korean [appears] in a major Egyptian movie," says Wonho Chung, who was born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Jordan and speaks fluent Arabic.

The comedy 30 February, which has opened in the West but is scheduled to be released in the GCC in January, follows a man who cannot help but attract bad luck and explores what happens after he meets a girl who is equally unlucky. The film is directed by Moutaz Al Touni and stars Lutfi Labib, Nour, Sameh Hussein and Aiten Amer.

With the phenomenal success of other stars of Korean origin such as the rapper Psy of Gangnam Style fame, the millions of Korean pop fans in the Middle East and major Korean corporations such as Samsung successfully competing with Apple and BlackBerry, Chung says Korean talent is in the spotlight now more than ever before. It is his time to shine internationally, he believes.

Stand-up to the big screen

"This film is like a dream come true," says Chung, who was first noticed in 2007 while touring with the Arab-American comedy group Axis of Evil. "If the feedback is positive, then you will see me in many more Egyptian movies, then regional and hopefully international films.

"Look at Jamie Foxx, Will Smith and Robin Williams, for example - they all started out in stand-up comedy."

Chung has also appeared in the award-winning nine-part documentary 3 Guys and Wonho for ShowComedy. He has hosted Showtime's Friday Night Live with his fellow Axis of Evil comedian Aron Kader and performed with comedians including Sugar Sammy, Ronnie Khalil and Ron Josol. He is also the host of OSN Showtime's weekly programme Showmemore, which features a mix of international celebrities.

It's a wrap

Filming for 30 February wrapped up last month in Egypt. Chung filmed all his scenes in one day.

"I play the president of a Korean company," he says. "The whole experience was amazing and the confidence I had manifested in its own way. The role will leave an impact because it is a positive one."

Seeing himself on the monitor between takes proved quite "surreal" and being a Korean who speaks five languages gives him an added advantage, he says.

The founder of New Century Productions - which backed 30 February - took notice of Chung's talent at an event in Dubai earlier this year and offered him a role, even though the script had already been written.

"I was performing and the last skit I did was in Arabic, but with the Egyptian accent, and he thought that was interesting," says Chung. "He said it was shocking enough to hear me speak in Arabic but even more shocking to hear me do an Egyptian accent. The next day, I got a call from New Century telling me to come to Cairo at the earliest."

A memorable role

The scriptwriter was then told to create a new part just for Chung and fit it into the existing script. It will be a "memorable" role for audiences, Chung promises, and for the comic as well.

"I've been trying to break into the Egyptian movie industry for a long time, because it's the Hollywood of the Middle East," says Chung. "Many are big-budget movies and the industry influences the region."

With a song in his heart

Chung also has some experience in the music industry. Last year, he recorded the hit song Laylitna with the popular Arabic singer Ramzi. He will soon be back in Egypt to begin recording his next song with the producer Hassan El Shafei, a judge on Arab Idol.

"Hassan is one of the best music producers in the Middle East and I've always wanted to work with him. We are focusing on introducing a new genre of music in the Middle East and appealing to the young demographic," he says.

The song, which will be in Arabic, is about an impossible love story. The music video aims to be a unique concept depicting the story behind the lyrics. "With 32 million fans, Korean pop is massive in the Middle East because fans feel that they can relate a lot to the style of those stars," says Chung. "Who do we have in the Middle East that can appeal to the young demographic like, say, Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga even?"

The movie 30 February is scheduled to be released in the GCC early next year. For more details visit www.wonhochung.com

melshoush@thenational.ae