As an esteemed actor in his home country of Japan and abroad, eP Cho believes that it is his duty to represent unique individuals in the world. He aims to showcase those who often do not have their stories told, bringing inspiration from his own upbringing. Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, he often faced discrimination as a mixed-race child with a Caucasian father. With a brighter skin tone and hazel eyes, he stood out from the rest of his childhood friends. When he moved to Japan and was a foreigner, he had to deal once again with discriminatory issues. These barriers have contributed to his acting, making him stronger and allowing him to dive deep into the characters he is portraying to truly bring out all of their distinctive qualities.
“I'm an actor who has represented unique people in the world. As a person from Korea, I have played mostly Japanese, Asian-American, and Korean-Japanese characters. Because I've been working on my language skills, I show the audience that nationality does not matter. I even break people's stereotypes. Acting is all about what is inside of you,” he said.
This is evident in his extraordinary contributions to films like A Little World and Parallel Hate, which have gone on to see many awards at acclaimed international film festivals. His talent is also beautifully represented with his work on the two-part Japanese gay dating story Sex x Friend and HIV x Love. Cho was happy that he could show the real part of the LGBTQ+ community's reality in Japan.
“I am always into a story about minorities and my manager brought this script to me. This was a new challenge and type of work for me and I loved to jump in. The director and writer, Katsuhide Yamago, is openly gay in Japan, which is a super rare thing in the country. I wanted to support him and the LGBTQ+ community, and he wanted to share the real challenges of being a gay man in Japan,” said Cho.
Sex x Friend follows Yuto, a gay young man navigating through friends-with-benefits style relationships. He is helpless, suffering extreme loneliness, and sex is the only remedy for him. Yuto is heading to his sex partner Kei's house and discovers his relationship with Kei has become more intimate than just friends. HIV x Love is a sequel where Yuto is still single but learned a genuine connection from a bad one-night stand. Meanwhile, Kei finds out that he is HIV positive, so Yuto has to take a test. Yuto eventually comes to understand the meaning of relationships and true love.
“I think there are things that have to be discussed and recognized, and this topic is one of those things. Nobody is going to teach anyone how to navigate a gay relationship in Japan, and under-representation causes a lot of wounds and a lack of acknowledgment. I wish people could see things in a real way and differently in Japan about this issue, and these films aim to tackle that head-on," said Cho.
In the film series, Cho plays the leading role of Kei. In the first film, playing the character was a lot of fun, portraying a caring and adventurous partner. When he worked on the second film, and his character has HIV, he was careful to show a real person dealing with a difficult situation, as there is still a lot of stigma and fear associated with HIV positive individuals. In both films, he captivates audiences and allows them to truly feel for Kei.
To get into his character's mindset, Cho had many conversations with Yamago and his acting partner, Kaze, about gay relationships in Japan and what it is like to be HIV positive. This had far less to do with a desire to fact-check and much more to do with his desire to truly understand the reality faced by people who have experienced it first-hand.
“When I filmed this project, I knew there was nothing different between straight relationships and gay relationships or even non-binary relationships. We are all human beings in a different form,” said Cho.
Cho’s portrayal of Kei was dynamic and powerful, and was a great contribution to the film series’ outstanding festival run. Sex x Friend was an Official Selection at the 2017 Queer Hippo International LGBT Film Festival, the Whatashoty Independent International Film Festival, The Five Continents International Film Festival, and was on the nomination list for the Best LGBTQ Film at The Philadelphia Independent Film Awards. HIV x Love premiered at the Rainbow Reel Tokyo: Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival 2018 and went on to the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film 2018, as well as the Five Continents International Film Festival 2018 where it won Best LGBT Film. For Cho, these awards and accolades come secondary to sharing such an important story.
“I'm just happy to be part of these projects and have a chance to express some parts of the LGBTQ+ community’s issues. I hope I have more chances to portray different types of people in society that people can relate to and see themselves in when they often don’t get a chance to. It is about a real problem with real people, and we need to see more of this in film," he concluded.
Published by Pooja Agarwal