Obtaining a top-star label is hard; keeping it is much harder. An actor needs to embrace changes to survive the turbulent and whimsical entertainment labyrinth. And that's exactly what Kim Young-cheol
has done in recent months.
Kim, one of the most widely known TV actors in Korea, has taken up a supporting role for "A Bittersweet Life
", a new thriller movie directed by Kim Jee-woon
. The change means more than it seems: It is rare for Kim to take a supporting role on TV, but he is now willing to adapt and transform.
"One of things I realized when I took some rest in the past two years is that I'm not young enough to stick to lead roles", Kim said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
Kim's role in "A Bittersweet Life
" is not minor, however. He plays a callous gangster boss called "President Kang" opposite the main character Sun-woo played by top-rated actor Lee Byung-hun
If the traditional hierarchy is strictly applied, Kim's role is classified as No. 2 in terms of importance in the movie after Lee's. For those who haven't tasted the spotlight at all, Kim's confession might sound snobbish, but his tone - and determination - was genuine.
To keep fit for serious acting and keep his sharp image, the 52-year-old actor said he walks about 10 kilometers in less than two hours every day. In fact, he looks much younger than his age. Sporting his short, silver hair and stylish suit, Kim seems cool.
"Although my role in the movie is a cold-hearted man, I think there can be many different types for bad guys, and I've tried to look cool", Kim said, laughing lightly.
Kim's more detailed description for President Kang: "no color, no smell". In plain language, President Kang does not have any inkling of human heart - except for his affection toward his younger girlfriend.
In the film, nail-biting suspense begins to build up as Sun-woo, the right-hand man of President Kang, defies the order of his boss in connection with the woman, and their relations go awry, sparking a cycle of violence and revenge.
No doubt, the role of the boss fits in perfectly with Kim's sharp image. The only dilemma is that Kim does not feel he's cut out for such a strong, charismatic character. "People often say that my image is cold and the role like a gangster boss is a right choice, but I feel strong pressure when I play such roles", Kim said.
That's quite a frank comment from an actor who started his career in the late 1970s and has long dominated the domestic TV screens. Kim first joined a drama company named "Minyae", starting with a lowly job of mopping the floor for the theater. His career faced a turning point in 1978 when he entered the TBC, a now defunct broadcasting station, as an actor.
"I just thought that if I work for a broadcasting station, I can make money to buy noodles and cigarettes", Kim said. "Soon, I found it quite fun to do some acting for TV dramas".
Incidentally, his first ever TV role was a gangster. Not a boss, but an obscure one with little influence at all. In a drama named "Promise", Kim was abruptly called on to play the role when the original actor was absent due to military training.
"It was a bit part, but screenplay writer Nah Yeon-sook
appreciated my acting, which was very brief and simple", Kim said. Since then, he has completed countless roles for TV soap operas and movies, some of which happened to be linked to Lee Byung-hun
who plays the No. 1 role in "A Bittersweet Life
In one TV soap opera, Lee played a bit part of a man who dies while serving in the army, while Kim was, of course, the main character. In another, Kim and Lee were brothers. "I was dying inside a truck, and Byung-hun had to cry for my death. Because his act was so real, I couldn't help crying too, leading to about 10 NGs, and that's the moment when I thought he surely would be a big star in the future", Kim recalled.
Ironically, a similar drama portrayed in the movie was unfolding at the time. As the boss thinks little of his underling in "A Bittersweet Life
", Kim did not see any importance in Lee's continued attempts to talk to him. It was natural for Kim to focus on his work as the top-rated actor, and Lee, who just began his acting career, had no serious reputation.
"On several occasions, Byeong-heon came up to me and asked me if I knew this person, who he said was his uncle, and I was busy, so I said 'No' and went away. It turned out that his uncle and I went to the same high school, the same class", Kim said.
So he's "bitter" about the reversed roles? Not at all. He's feeling "sweet" about the new role: "I've learned so much about the latest filmmaking trends and techniques through this movie, and I've kind of figured out how I should practice and upgrade my acting skills thanks to the role in the movie", Kim said.
Kim said he is now trying to modify his acting career and in the process strengthen himself. "It's a period of change", Kim said.
By Yang Sung-jin