Kim Dongwan: I’m not serious!

It’s no longer unfamiliar to see the title of ‘actor’ being added to Kim Dongwan’s name. Having achieved commercial success with the movie ‘Yeongasi’ (a.k.a Deranged), Kim Dongwan says he’s proud to be a part of Shinhwa, the longest-running idol group in Korea. But when the topic of acting comes up, his typically polite self becomes serious. Although he waves it off and says that’s not the case.

The movie ‘Yeongasi’ has really been a hot topic of discussion. Having been attacked by Hollywood superheroes like ‘The Amazing Spiderman’, ‘Dark Knight Rises’, and ‘The Avengers’, Korean movies have again been revived with ‘Yeongasi’. What’s surprising is that this summer, the revival of Korean movies has been kickstarted by ‘Yeongasi’. These days, be it Korean movies or Hollywood movies, it’s not considered a blockbuster if the production budget doesn’t exceed 10 billion KRW. And such a landscape gave rise to an idea of effectively using a small budget, and then directing good actors in the right roles, and through this, a good production with mass appeal was born.

The main reason behind the success of ‘Yeongasi’ is its enterprising ability to keenly capture the urban legend that was circulating between high school students through the Internet. Gradually, the concept of bringing a good idea to the forefront worked, bucking the trend of productions growing bigger in scale and becoming more mainstream. And more than anything else, the power of the cast underlies all of that. Kim Myungmin is of course recognized as a good actor. As for Kim Dongwan, as an actor of great promise who has yet to receive 100% recognition for his acting, he has an ability to draw intense energy. On that note, more than anything else one can say that ‘Yeongasi’ is an actor’s movie. With amazing scenes achieved with making the most of out of the many extras, the main cast members shine even brighter.

Now we come to Kim Dongwan. As a Shinhwa member, as someone among the current crop of top idols, from some point onwards, he has been quietly widening his scope of activities in acting, working towards the goal of getting noticed by Chungmuro as one of the young actors to watch out for. His gentle smile is charming, but when the camera starts shooting, the actor Kim Dongwan immediately exudes his unique charisma in its full glory. Though he’s still awkward with the term ‘actor’, more than anyone else he fully enjoys acting itself. I heard him out as he shared his innermost thoughts.

It feels like you have now solidified your status as an actor. Have you thought about why ‘Yeongasi’ has garnered such an explosive response from viewers?
Actually I can’t come up with an analysis. Occasionally there are cases where an album is released and a song that’s not the title track becomes popular, but it’s difficult to analyze why that happens. I’m just thankful that the movie has done well. Actually my main intention was to learn as much as I could from Myungmin-hyung and to get along well with him, I didn’t really worry too much about whether the movie was going to do well at the box office. Even though I worked very hard on the movie.

What specifically did you want to learn from Kim Myungmin?
Actually it’s not in terms of acting. This movie is on a much greater scale than what I’ve done before and I was really looking forward to acting in it. In fact, in the process of filming I really grew to like Myungmin-hyung a lot. To begin with I’ve always liked cool senior actors. Seniors like Lee Jung Jae and Lee Byung Hun. They really lead their lives like actors. For me, I don’t really like having to manage and maintain a nice image to receive love from everyone. I respect actors who steadfastly hold on to what they believe in.

I heard that there were people who tried to stop you when you wanted to take up ‘Yeongasi’.
Ah, they weren’t strongly against it, just a little. (laughs) They pointed out that the role somehwat conflicts with my existing image. But I’m the type to ask for advice and then do it my way. Most people, when they’re asked for advice, they tend to give the easy and safe route. But you seldom see cases where the safe route leads to great success. There are many times where courage and boldness are needed. Even now, I’m now at a crossroad where I have to pick my next project, and I’m so troubled that I can’t really sleep well at night. Ah, which project did you ask me to talk about? I’m sorry, but I have to make the final decision by tomorrow so… I’m sorry. (laughs)

I think while watching ‘Yeongasi’ at the cinema, there are scenes that you feel that you could have been done better, and scenes that you like.
There’s a scene where the fire was really strong. Usually the final cut to be used is decided after a few takes so you can take a little bit of time to fine-tune the acting. But I forgot that there couldn’t be multiple takes because the set had to be completely burnt down. Later on, my friends told me that I came out looking like a fool. Even if the viewers don’t realize that, friends have frighteningly sharp eyes. As for a scene that I like, it’s the scene where I run into Honey Lee in the research lab for the first time and I ask her for money. Initially I played out the scene with even more pathetic lines but it got edited out. Because she’s taller than me, it looks even more pathetic.

Usually celebrities don’t really like to look bad, that’s surprising.
I think I can’t pull off roles that need me to be classy. Perhaps we can say that I don’t seem sincere or serious. People say to walk slowly, to carry myself well but it’s naturally difficult for me. I think if it’s possible, I’ll try to avoid playing the role of a boss or a classy role.

Let’s talk about your first movie project, ‘Spin Kick’. It didn’t do well at the box office but I understand that it’s a very meaningful project for you.
It’s a project that I worked hard on and learnt a lot from. But I feel a little unhappy that it’s used on variety shows to elicit laughs. I have no choice but to laugh and go along with it but I wonder how bitter the people involved in the movie must be feeling. It’s a project that I’m really grateful for. I think I couldn’t realize my full potential so I still feel apologetic about it. When I was at my peak as a singer and as an idol, I chose to take up acting. As a singer, when I stand on stage, there are many things to prepare. Of course singing with Shinhwa is great, but I have to pay a lot of attention to things like whether my clothes look nice, whether I look good. On the other hand, when I’m acting, even if my hair is entangled and I’m looking haggard, I don’t have to bother about it. It’s difficult to go into the specifics, but I suppose there’s a sense of freedom when I’m acting? I feel something like a sense of liberation.

Given that you’ve established yourself as an actor, in the past year you also appeared in the drama, ‘The Peak’.
It’s a project that has given me so much. Even when I was cast for the movie, many of the production team members said that they decided on me after watching the drama. The filming process was really tough. Because of the rainy spell, there was a landslide at Mount Umyeon and filming was frequently cancelled. Whenever there was a break in filming, director Lee Sang-yeob would call us in for script reading sessions. Once when I was spacing out, I even thought about whether the spirit of Lee Yuk-sa (the historical character that he was playing) will look for me and possess me. (laughs) Seo Hyunjin and Yoon Jihye, who were also part of the cast, really worked very hard too. I think I was just tagging alongside these outstanding actors. It’s like this during our group activities too, but in acting, but for acting too I think I naturally choose to be surrounded rather than to be in the limelight.

And why is that?
Like group activities, a drama or a movie is a project created by many people. That’s how I see it. You can’t be using both your strength and your head at the same time, or play the guitar and the drums all at once, isn’t it. The most effective way is to have everyone doing what he’s best at. And I will try not to go beyond what I do best. It’s not about playing it safe. You throw yourself into a fire pit, but you go into a fire pit where it’s bearable. I don’t like unjustified confidence. I really hate sayings like ‘if it can’t be done, do it’. (laughs) If it can’t be done, isn’t it wiser to go back and look for another method?

You have really good luck with friends. You’re still doing very well with Shinhwa’s group activities after so long… And isn’t doing ‘Shinhwa Broadcast’ tough? The filming hours seem to be very long.
There are often times when I don’t notice that there are cameras around because I’m working with such longtime friends. It’s really fun on days when we’re in a good mood, and when our condition isn’t so great, it’s as bad as what comes out on TV. We’ve gained a lot more from living as a group for a long time. Now that I’ve gone on to solo activities and acting, I have no regrets. There are many singers who can’t get to sleep the day before a concert. But there’s a sense of stability from being in a group, we feel more at ease because we are pillars of strength for one another.

Don’t you have anything to say to the young idol groups who are very active these days?
Everyone’s working very hard. So there’s nothing in particular that I have to say to them. These days idols are like monsters. They’re nice, they sing well, they dance well… There’s nothing missing. During our time, if you were kind then you weren’t really talented, if you had outstanding talents then you were probably unlikeable. (laughs) Even if I don’t tell them anything, they know what they’re doing, and they will continue to do so in future too.

So, to wrap things up, tell us about the plans you have as an actor.
Of course my goal is to have people recognize me as an actor. Not as a singer who acts, but to receive undoubted recognition as the actor Kim Dongwan. Ah, no. Actually I just like acting. People often advise me to pick my projects carefully, but if I mull over everything then when will I get down to acting? Like what soccer coach Guus Hiddink said, “I’m still hungry.” (laughs) Ah, I should have ended with something cool but I’m just rattling off. People who’ve acted before know this. When you go to a film set, from young children to elderly grandfathers and grandmothers, they’re all gathered there. The moment when people who usually don’t say a word to one another starts to cry, laugh, and embrace one another on cue, it really blows my mind away. Don’t we often hear that women past 30 turn into the protagonists in makjang dramas and want to cry all the time? When we act, we feel the rush of real emotions. Really, you just keep experiencing those indescribably mind-blowing moments. Some time ago, I watched director Kim Kiduk’s ‘Arirang’, and while I’m not personally acquainted with him and I don’t really know him well, I can keenly identify with the parts where he really wants to make a film. That part is sad too. That’s right, because I want to do it too, I will do it. Of course, the fact that I’m a singer and a Shinhwa member won’t change, but I want to become the actor Kim Dongwan who has a thirst for acting.

Indeed, Kim Dongwan does have a pair of wings attached to him now. His group Shinhwa is still riding high on ‘Shinhwa Broadcast’ and their Asia tour, the movie ‘Yeongasi’ has given him the title of ‘actor’. Just like what he hopes for, we’re now entering the time where ‘actor Kim Dongwan’ comes to mind before ‘Shinhwa’s Kim Dongwan’. When talking quietly to people, his eyes are full of gentle warmth, but staring intently at the camera, his gaze is infused with a sharp charisma that can’t be expressed without experience and effort. Kim Dongwan is advancing this much as an actor.

Credits: + Absolut Shinhwa