Song Joong-ki is more than good looks

Su Mi Kim, April 26, 2016, 9:46 a.m.

This is the 12th article in a series that explores the driving forces behind hallyu and the global rise of Korean pop culture. Though many have come to know him as the dashing Army Capt. Yoo Shi-jin in the recent hit series “Descendants of the Sun,” actor Song Joong-ki has actually tried his hand in diverse acting roles since his debut in 2008.

When it comes to his acting career, Song is not shy about his ambitions, he revealed in a group interview at the Grand Hyatt Seoul on April 15. 

“There are so many characters I want to play,” the 30-year-old actor said. “I’m greedy about acting.”

Song has primarily been in the spotlight for his pretty-boy image, milky-white complexion and elite education background. He majored in business administration at the prestigious Sungkyunkwan University. However, his past works hint at an actor who is willing to take on substantial challenges in his craft. 

In his first film, “A Frozen Flower,” he starred as a military commander’s bodyguard, a role that initially had no lines. Song was injured during the shoot when he fell off a horse, but continued filming through the pain. Director Yoo Ha, impressed by Song’s tenacity, decided to give him a short scene with dialogue, reports say. 

In “A Werewolf Boy” (2012), Song played a half-man, half-wolf creature, raised among wolves, who becomes devoted to a girl who cares for him and teaches him the ways of human life. Song received positive reviews for his portrayal, which viewers said offered a skillful blend of wolfish habits, innocent boyhood and the unconditional devotion animals show toward humans. 

The versatile actor also made his mark in television through his roles in the dramas “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” (2010) as cocky playboy Goo Yong-ha, and in “Deep Rooted Tree” (2011) as a young prince. 

According to Jo Sung-hee, the director of “A Werewolf Boy,” Song was as fastidious in his acting technique as he was gregarious with the filming crew. “Song prepares a lot and practices his scenes extensively,” Jo said at a press conference for his new film, “Detective Hong Gil-dong” on Monday. “He trains very hard. He’s also very talkative and energetic on the set.”

For his next project, Song has chosen the film “Battleship Island,” set in the period of the Japanese occupation of Korea. Song is to play Park Moo-young, an independence fighter who infiltrates a Japanese island to rescue a group of captured fellow Korean fighters. The role is a dream come true for him, Song said. “I really wanted to do a period piece set in the Japanese occupation era,” he said. “With this film, I’ve cleared one longtime goal.”

Going forward, Song wants to steer away from the chivalrous boyfriend role that has earned him massive popularity.

“I want to play a character that is cold,” he said. “I think there are sides of me that are like that. I’m a fan of the actor Edward Norton, and if you see his early works, he plays a lot of those roles. A thriller could be fun, too.” On his acting approach, Song said he likes to “go by the book” and prioritize the script over anything else.

“I read the script very carefully and I try to imagine, from the writer’s point of view, why a certain line of dialogue was placed in a certain scene.” At the same time, he says it’s inevitable that his own personality comes through in the characters he plays. “I’m not a fan of gushing emotions,” he said. “I think that probably shows in all of the characters I play. I try to reinterpret the characters in my style.”

For his role as Yoo in “Descendants,” for example, Song was lauded for convincingly delivering romantic dialogue that could otherwise have been cringe-inducing, striking just the right balance between the cool and the emotional.

His time in the military was a significant turning point in his life, Song said. “I was told I would never get another chance to rub shoulders with ordinary soldiers and live a normal life. I felt I would be able to learn a lot not only as an actor, but also as a young man.”

By meeting people who had come together for Korea’s mandatory military service, Song said he realized he shouldn’t complain about his own hardships. 

“There were people from all different backgrounds. I thought to myself, ‘Things that I consider stressful aren’t anything to some people,’” he said. “I felt so many things in the military. I think that shows in my acting now.”

Now that his popularity has rocketed to superstardom -- at least for the moment in Korea’s ever-churning celebrity scene -- Song says he feels burdened with responsibility. “I have to work hard at my job so that my company employees can take home their pay,” he said. “And I’ve gained international fans who are supporting me. I think I absolutely shouldn’t disappoint them.” The best way to live up to these expectations, Song said, is to focus on his craft. “I’m an actor, so the best thing I can do is to show myself through a good project.

When asked if he wants to abandon his pretty-boy image, as most “serious” actors are wont to do, Song replied, unexpectedly, with a resolute “No.”

“Realistically, looks offer an advantage to an actor,” he said. “I’m going to work hard to maintain my skin. I’m going to prevent aging as much as possible. And I will keep trying to become a better person on the inside as much as I spruce up the outside.”

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