Sunday, April 26, 2015

[O] Shin Sung Rok and the Shin Sung Roks of a series

I am in love with Shin Sung Rok. Not only is he photogenic, he is a darn good actor, the best supporting actor to grab or almost grab the lead actor's shine.

I have watched 3 of his series, gonna watch the 4th that is The King's Face and in each of the 3 series I've watched, You Who Came From Another Star, Liar Game and Trot Lovers/Lovers Of Music, he has given a different performance each time or in K-drama speak, a different good feeling each time. He may look somewhat same, depending on level of slimness, but his performance has been hugely different. From the all out socio-psychopath that is borderline comical and yet scary in You Who Came From Another Star to a disturbed man that you somewhat feel a sense of pity for in Liar Game to the all out forgetful, lovable but ultimately wise President of a music company in Trot Lovers, I have never quite seen an actor displayed such vast differences in 3 roles in the space of 4 to 5 years. I read in The King's Face he will be another villain and from the little I've seen, he will definitely bring his A game as he always did. He is one actor that you can't say is pigeonhold into a particular mold.

The thing about Shin Sung Rok is if he is a HK TVB actor, fans will be complaining why isn't he the first lead since he is deserving to be one. In K drama, it is always the supporting actors that have a better role because the leading actor has to be the stereotypical leading man. Only the supporting actors can display weakness or
quirkiness or evilness that is unbecoming of a leading man and that is were Shin Sung Rok excells. So he may not be top billing of the leading guy who wins the leading ladies, but without him, all the 3 series I have named will be much poorer in content, in performances and in enjoyment. I have read some great reviews about him but I've read many more who feels he was just ok whilst praises were heaped on the leading man. That is ok because the mark of a great actor, supporting or leading is someone who leaves a mark unseen but felt. I bet these very same fans as they recall back the series will remember what this guy did or didn't do. So the leading man can get all the swooning but leave the real hard job, that is to elevate the mundane k drama into a very good and different k drama to that dependable supporting actor.

And it is not like as if he is truly a supporting actor. In all 3 series, you can say he shared the limelight with the leading man, except he either ends up in prison or dead or without the leading lady. No big loss really because in the end along the way he did something or didn't do something that in retrospect lend credence to the series.

Take for example You Who Came From Another Star. Without him, there is no villain and no purpose. He looked the best there, with his severe hairstyle and his choice of fashion and his fleshed out face, he really looked very good looking. Normally I will say he was so obviously evil that the word EVIL chopped on his forehead. I didn't like him at first, I felt it was so kdrama to be so single minded and so obvious. And I was distracted by the love story of the leading couple which seriously tested my patience. After the ending, I went back to episode 1 and there were  so many tell tale signs of a great villain. I watched his scenes again and I really appreciate the way he really hams it up because deep down even the actor knows this character is such a comic book all out villain. Every smile, every look, every stare, I knew I was watching a character rarely seen in Kdrama or any drama. A character with layers that are more than about the most celebrated Kdrama word; sa-rang. There is no love with his Jae Kyung and I love how he laughed when our hero revealed himself as a superhero with superhero power because this Jae Kyung was so out of it, he didn't even feel bothered at all. Where can you see such a villain in Kdrama? Well, this is a first for me.

Not that I am expert in Kdrama. But here is an actor who plays so un-kdrama like characters that I just love. Even the most usual kdrama that is Trot Lovers when it came to his interpretation, became somewhat different.

I have never seen a president of a music company who on paper is stereotypical super rich chaebol's son there to protect the heroine from every danger and be her gallant hero depicted the way he was in this series. Except he didn't get the girl and it was ok. He didn't get anyone, and to me it was no big deal. I love how he interpreted his character. We always see wise super cool rich man's son. His President Joo is wise, cool, rich but not all at once. He started out like someone lazy, forgetful and taking things that aren't his but as the series went on, you will realise his President Joo is perhaps the wisest man in the series and probably the bravest and in the end the kindest. Wisest because he could see beyond layers, bravest because he dared to confront the problem but without offending people and kindest because at the end of the day he gave the one girl who did not deserve a second chance a second chance because he sees that people makes mistakes and acknowledges that deserves ... another chance. He is not all out kind like our heroine, not all out nice and yes, his character did not have any upheaval, he was not like the hero who changed from arrogant to nice to amnesiac to nice again. So for many fans of the drama, maybe they felt his President Joo didn't have much to do, he faded into the background. I disagree. He was very much present throughout and he did and said things that drives the characters and he is a man in the background; unseen but you can feel his presence. Shin Sung Rok again displayed amazing acting capabilities in making this character so cool and so nonchalant and yet you know he cares deeply and he cares a lot. Peel away one layer of quirkiness you get a layer of a man who knows the truth but knows better than to say the obvious. I love his President Joo. I also can't understand how the writer can write such a great character that has a quirky eccentric personality and at times with dead serious sense of humour and charm and yet have our heroine fell for the sulky arrogant selfish hero, unless on paper President Joo wasn't meant to be that way. Or in the end it is the ideal kdrama love story where the gentle kind hearted nice heroine will inevitably fall for the guy who pushes her, abuses her emotionally and verbally, sells her to some nightclub, insults her and force kisses her just because he balances it with selling his beloved guitar for her, showing extreme jealousy when she pays attention to someone else, is nice to her little sister and cooks and cleans for her. If I were her, I would have fallen for President Joo who was consistently the knight in shining armour who has the decency to ask "Have you considered what I said in the car the other day? Let's date, shall we?" without force kissing me. I like a gentleman, thank you very much. Even if I had to pay for his lunches which again shows his quirkiness.

Liar Game was a bit difficult for me to comment simply because I disliked the series but loves the performances by my current favourite K drama actor. I liked the premise of the Japanese version because it works. In Kdrama to move the entire game to reality TV where the host ended up as one of the contestant that involves shooting blanks at one another, I feel it is even more comical than You Who Came From Another Star. It was so OTT it defied logic. But then in Kdrama you always get scenes like seniors bullying juniors just because they can,food trucks in TV studios, force kissing deemed as romantic and a whole lotta tears and love, nothing is logical anyway. But Liar Game to me was doomed to fail in terms of premise from day one because for all the heightened drama and what nots, it was such a confusing series that makes a mockery of game shows and the law. It reminded me everything I abhor about Singaporean series where they have scenes like family squabbles over an admitted forged Will and the law could do nothing about it because law does not exist in TV land. Same goes for Liar Game. Yes there are prisons and policemen and what nots but in the end the entire premise was flawed. I watched the Japanese version and immediately I was struck by how scary it was for the heroine to be involved in an illegal underground game ran by men in weird looking masks and the idea of so much money suddenly in front of you is the ultimate question of greed and how it consumes people. Liar Game wanted to ask the same question but in the end the heroine  by participating in the reality show for money already betrayed her own integrity. THe fact she kept giving away her money and stayed in the show hoping to win back some money didn't really show her in a good light. It was more repetition than good storytelling. The story gave a good twist when it moved away from the wide eyed deer in the headlights innocent but boring heroine to the more complex love hate relationship between the 2 male leads; one of questionable purpose and one pulled into the game of deception. That was the good light in that series; the rest were simply a bore to watch. And again Shin Sung Rok is the reason why a perfectly ordinary mundane series that tries to be different is different; and yes I must give credit to Liar Game being the first K drama I have watched that from episode 1 until the last, there is no love story. Yes, you read me right! NO LOVE STORY! AT ALL! Yeah! Unfortunately, I can't even buy the fact that the hero was some professor, he just looked perpetually angry.

Let's go back to the male leads in each series to illustrate why I love Shin Sung Rok.

In You Who Came From Another Star, our hero Do Ming Joon is a bit more complex. Lived for 400 years on earth, his resolve never to be in a relationship thawed when he met and fell for the super arrogant but ultimately a nice misunderstood top actress whose name is forever etched in my brain; Cheon Soong Yi. He is good looking, he can freeze time, he can travel within seconds. No he can't fly, he has no laser eyes and kryptonite doesn't kill him  but human saliva does. But ultimately I feel he is so boring to watch when everything revolves around that woman. He cries, he hurts, he yearns, all for her. He even used his super power to stop time so that he can erase a message from her phone. In Kdrama however big the universe is, they will always squeeze it into a tiny space that becomes insignificant. The world is reduced into 2 people's world, to Kdrama that is the ultimate, to me that is what a misuse of power. He won't use it to save people; he won't use it to greatest purpose; he will use it to please the woman he loves. I can understand why girls love that sort of story; it is narrow, it is singleminded and it shows once you love that person, you love THAT person forever. Don't we all want that truly dedicated guy whose eyes is only for us? But to have that for 15 episodes or more can be frustrating. Sometimes it is too singleminded and that makes Do Ming Joon such a one note character for me. You can say basically every character in that series is one note. The plus point is the lead actor is one hell of an actor, the non plus point is he is wasted in this sort of character. He needs to be in a more dramatic movie that does not involve love or sex which is atypical of any K drama or K movie. Which is why my eyes go to the guy who isn't about love. Even the actor who plays the second lead who is love sick over the leading lady gave a great performance but his most shining moment were his confrontation with his evil older brother or that heart breaking scene where he had to tell his father the truth about that evil older brother. The ones where he kept hovering over the leading lady to me were the most boring.

In Trot Lovers, the main lead was an actor who is in real life a real singer. So was the leading lady. So was Shin Sung Rok except Mr Shin is a singer in musicals. In western world, some may scoff at that as some broadway actor, as opposed to theatre stage actor but in Korea, anything stage wise is respected I suppose. I don't know. All I know is Mr Shin should have switched role with the leading actor because he looked more like a musical genius than our leading guy who looks confused most of the time. Any subject about music is lost in the story. It could have been a girl who liked rap music instead of trot. Trot music is by the way a traditional sort of music; imagine Hokkien song, like those Japanese type old songs where old people sings wearing kimonos. That sort. Apparently there is no respect for such songs when I feel the respect for pop songs should be lower because in Korea, pop songs to me equal cookier cutter factory. The leading actor doesn't have that musical genius look. And musical genius do not do pop. Not to me at least. Shin Sung Rok has the face of someone doing something different but is very good at it and so he would have been a convincing musical genius, whatever the genre. Even the series that uses trot music as its core somewhat lost its core a few episodes in. The actors who are also capable singers in the end didn't display those music capability. It could have been anyone doing the singing and it could have been any sort of song anyway because the series never really gave music its main focus. It gave everything else its focus but music. Whatever you want, you get. Life threatening disease, suspected attempted murder, irresponsible debt ridden father, car accident, rivalry between seniors and juniors, bullying, dashing President, arrogant popular singer, amnesia... everything except the music. Trot music is depicted as disrespected in the series and in the end music itself is disrespected. What a pity. Worse is for a 2014 series, the make up, the clothes, the hairstyle, felt more like 2004. It just felt so dated. The 3 saving grace is the performances (especially the leading lady who was lovely and charming), the ending (which was different but pleasing) and Shin Sung Rok.

In the Liar Game, the male actors did much better than the female lead who was to me the worst. She was clearly inadequate and what a pity; a better actress would have given her character more than just wide eyed innocent stupidity. Yes, the character is stupid. Once is innocent, twice is naive but again and again is just stupidity. Again thank god for the supporting characters.

The point is K drama is full of cliches and sometimes being the lead hurts more than anything else. I am happy Shin Sung Rok is the secondary lead or main supporting actor or whatever term you give him. Yes he is not the bona fide lead, he probably won't ever be. He is also not the kelefe or the supporting actor. If you define him that way you're making a fundamental mistake as to his importance. His unique position allows him to play different characters differently and in Korean drama series or even movies, that is a blessing. More fans may not see it and may dismiss him as "nothing much to do" or "just swarmy, don't him at all" and some did say that.  And these are the very people who likes big actions; tears, cries, anger, whatever they can see so obviously. An actor as subtle as Shin Sung Rok who can be as obvious is clearly an actor in control of his career as much as he is in control of his expressions; calculated and expressive. I do hope he gets to be the bona fide lead one day but even if he isn't, it doesn't matter. He makes a series so much better by being in it. Like I said, I love Shin Sung Rok simply because he is one hell of an actor and he will have a long fulfiling career no as those actors you can't name but is always there but that sort of supporting actor that you know who he is, you know his name and he is a constant presence in everything you love about a series but do not always credit it to him when if you think back, you will realise he had a huge part in that credit.

Finally to my fellow friends and fans of HK TVB, anyone who feels their idols who are not given bona fide lead can take comfort in an actor like Shin Sung Rok. You don't need to be a lead to standout. And you may not have a leading actor's face, but the leading actor can't act the entire series himself. He is only as good as the man standing next to him but as a leading actor, he will face twice the pressure. It is always good to have the Shin Sung Roks in any given series. And do remember, Shin Sung Roks of a series is not someone you can't name; he is just never the lead or bona fide lead but this is that sort of actor you know his name and he is here to stay.

Oh how I love Shin Sung Rok and all the Shin Sung Roks!!

P/S I finished King's Face. A villain again who wants to be King. But I sorta pity his villain. Anyway he is never gonna get the girl, ever until he is bona fide lead. One of these days he will be but he loves musical too much to concentrate fully on movies and series. My next series on  the line? Hyena, apparently quite risque. Ha! Have you seen K-movies? Nothing more risques than K-movies where female actresses must strip and have sex scenes like they didn't like it but likes it. Yes not a fan. Also am hunting for his appearance in We Got Married Season 1. Watched a few episodes and he has his jerk moments. I gotta say, still my favourite Korean actor for now. Point is never seen him done the same role twice, Now this is an actor who errrr sings. And yes he can sing.

And no, he can't dance.


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