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From Stage to Screen, K-pop Stars on the Move

Oct 08, 2019
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
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Intense Training Pays off for Idols-turned-Actors

One of Korean cinema’s chief assets has long been its formidable stable of screen performers. Many of the industry’s leading lights have come from the stage (such as SONG Kang-ho), while many others got their start working on the small screen (including JEON Do-yeon). Yet over the last few years, a new sector has been providing an increasingly impressive and steady stream of new film performers - the K-pop industry.

As is the case elsewhere, singers are of course no stranger to Korean multiplexes, with names such as UHM Jeong-hwa (Princess Aurora, 2005) successfully making the transition in years past. Yet what differentiates this new crop of mic-to-screen performers is a far more rigorous training background that has prepared them for the screen.

In the early decades of Hollywood cinema, one of the great sources of on-screen talent was vaudeville, a turn-of-the-century style of theatrical entertainment hailing from France which encompassed various acts, from comedy to musical performance. Classic comic performers such as Charlie CHAPLIN cut their teeth in vaudeville troupes, but the training regimes, tour schedules and the sheer variety of performance techniques learnt on the job also proved to be a fertile training ground for figures that would find themselves among the world’s most celebrated dramatic actors, such as Cary GRANT and Mickey ROONEY.

Fast-forward a hundred years and 6,000 miles across the globe, and a similar thing appears to be happening in the Korean entertainment industry, with highly trained K-pop performers bringing their well-honed set of skills and professionalism (not to mention their legions of fans) to film sets big and small, often to great acclaim.

Though there have been far too many successful crossover examples to offer a comprehensive list here, we’ve compiled a short list of standouts this week for KoBiz.

DOH Kyung-soo (aka D.O.) - EXO

EXO member DOH Kyung-soo made quite a splash when he decided to move into films, choosing the social issues indie Cart (2014) by director BOO Ji-young as his entry point. He next featured in the romantic drama UNFORGETTABLE (2016), but it was the hit family comedy MY ANNOYING BROTHER (2016) that confirmed him as a box office star. Black comedy Room No. 7 (2017), the opening film of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, followed in 2017, and he scaled to even greater box office heights later that year in the smash hit fantasy epic Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017), followed by its 2018 sequel Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days. 2018 also saw him star in the acclaimed tap dance musical drama Swing Kids from director KANG Hyoung-chul as the young star continues to explore new boundaries as an on-screen performer.

Yoon-a - Girls’ Generation

A key member of the sensationally popular girl group Girls’ Generation, Yoon-a’s first foray into cinema was alongside seasoned stars HYUN Bin, YOO Hae-jin and the late KIM Joo-hyuk in the smash hit espionage comedy-action thriller Confidential Assignment (2017). She only played a supporting role but drew strong notices at home, as well as global recognition in the form of a Rising Star Award at the Asian Film Awards in 2018. This year, she took on her first leading role, in the action-comedy disaster pic EXIT, which proved to be the biggest local film of the summer and once again earned her plenty of acclaim. With two hits under her belt, she can only go up.

BAE Suzy - miss A

A member of miss A and later a solo performer, BAE Suzy explode onto the big screen in the sensationally popular Architecture 101, which became the most successful romantic drama in Korean cinema history at the time of its release in 2012. Splitting her time across several mediums, her next big screen role came with the period pansori drama THE SOUND OF A FLOWER (2015). BAE also appeared in a cameo in the noir thriller REAL in 2017. She will next appear on screen in the big-budget action-thriller Mount Baekdu (translated title) alongside LEE Byung-hun and HA Jung-woo, which is currently in post-production.

IM Si-wan - ZE:A

ZE:A member IM Si-wan is another K-pop star who tested the waters with a supporting role in a big film before breaking out as a leading man. He did so alongside the legendary SONG Kang-ho in the period trial drama The Attorney (2013), which welcomed well over ten million viewers and received plenty of attention for IM’s role, despite his being surrounded by acting heavyweights with far more screen time. IM parlayed that success (which included several Best New Actor gongs) into several more leading roles, which included one alongside SUL Kyung-gu in the well-received crime drama The Merciless (2017), which was invited to the ‘Midnight Screenings’ section of the Cannes Film Festival.

IU – Solo singer

A long-standing solo superstar, IU recently celebrated her 10-year anniversary tour last year and though she’s become increasingly well known as a TV star in recent years, she clearly has her aspirations set on the big screen. Earlier this year, she was the lead of the Netflix anthology series Persona, in which she played the main role in all four episodes, each of which helmed by an acclaimed Korean filmmaker, among them YIM Pil-sung (Antarctic Journal, 2005), LEE Kyoung-mi (The Truth Beneath, 2016), KIM Jong-kwan (Worst Woman, 2016) and JEON Go-woon (Microhabitat, 2018). IU drew ecstatic responses for her varied and confident turns in the special series and though her feature film debut has yet to be fixed, we can only imagine that it will follow in short order.

AN So-hee - Wonder Girls

A former member of Wonder Girls, AN So-hee has actually had a longer career than most as a film performer, racking up credits starting as a teenager with the romantic comedy Hellcats alongside KIM Min-hee in 2008. She followed that with several cameos in The Last Godfather (2010), Mr. Go (2013) and C’est Si Bon (2015), before featuring in the main cast of the global smash horror action-thriller TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016), which debuted in the midnight lineup of the Cannes Film Festival. She followed that up with a bigger part opposite KONG Hyo-jin and LEE Byung-hun in the Australia-set drama A Single Rider in 2017.

Sulli - f(x)

f(x) member and later solo artist Sulli kicked off her film career in Punch lady in 2007 and then appeared as the young version of HA Ji-won’s character in the comedy-drama Ba:Bo in 2008. Six years later she teamed up with SON Ye-jin in the swashbuckling action-drama The Pirates (2014). Following that she teamed up with superstar KIM Soo-hyun in the noir thriller REAL in 2017. She is currently preparing to appear as the lead in the second season of the anthology series Persona, which is due out next year.
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