I read something on the Beanie wall a couple weeks ago about a friend of a Beanie being really harsh on idol-actors. The friend said something to the effect of, “They should just sing, dance, and entertain in that one capacity. They have no business acting or doing anything outside the very narrow profession of K-pop, even if they’re good at it.” I must admit, I kind of had this attitude at one time as well. This submission is borne out of that old attitude, and now I’m writing a defense of the crazy super talented idol-actors who steal every scene they grace.
The Lonely Shining Goblin
Yook Sung-jae started his career in the boy group BtoB in 2012, and has since been in several K-dramas, including my personal favorite, The Lonely Shining Goblin, playing the charismatic, immature nephew, Deok-hwa, and the (SPOILER ALERT) mysterious ultimate god toying with the lives of his immortals. I belly laughed every time he begged his “SAMCHOOON!” for his ever-elusive credit card, “CAARDAA!” His constant banmal teasing of Kim Shin to reveal the identity of Eun-tak was comical. I had to pick myself off the floor due to shock when it was revealed that he was the puppet master, the “butterfly god.” His irreverent behavior towards his elders never felt disrespectful or rude, but cheeky and endearing. Yook Sung-jae showed us his acting chops and despite acting opposite big names like Gong Yoo, Lee El, Kim Go-eun and Lee Dong-wook, he was never out-acted by his older counterparts. Not bad for “just” an idol actor, eh?
The Lonely Shining Goblin
Then there’s Kim Min-jae. Who didn’t love him as Nurse Park in Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim? There were so many standouts in that ensemble cast, but he brought an ardor and innocence to the character who became enchanted with a mysterious patient who later joins the hospital staff. I remember one scene in particular when he was confronting Do Im-bum, played by none other than the extremely talented Yang Se-jong, about Im-bum’s harsh treatment of the new medical student intern. His voice boomed over Yang Se-jong’s, and I was wondering who this kid was with the lovely baritone voice. I looked him up — as I do any actor that impresses me — and lo and behold, he’s an idol too? Well, not an idol per-se, but a rapper. That definitely explained the voice.
If that wasn’t enough, he was in Goblin which aired at the same time (how many scene-stealers were in that show?) as the younger version of Lee Dong-wook’s character. He acted opposite Kim So-hyun who got her start as a famed child actor and he was so good I couldn’t tell he hadn’t been acting all his damn life. I actually preferred the younger portrayals of the star-crossed, manipulated king and his young queen. He played the immature and jealous king with so much heart that I didn’t hate him, I really felt sorry for him. That in turn made Lee Dong-wook’s Reaper Kim that much more sympathetic.
No one may believe me, but I had no idea who Ki-kwang was before Circle. I think I may have rolled my eyes once or twice when I saw K-pop Beanies swooning over him on the recap. This show didn’t make me a fan of K-pop (no, that came much later), but it did put Ki-kwang, the actor, on the map for me. His performance as Ho-soo, the serious, straight-faced, straight-laced, drinker-of-the-Human-B-Kool-Aid, amnesiac was played so perfectly, I didn’t know he wasn’t an actor by trade. I usually laugh at amnesia tropes, but I actually cried during his heart-rending scene when he found his memories again. Playing opposite the entrancing Kim Kang-woo for most of the drama could have made him look small and inexperienced, but he stepped up and filled that role better than anyone I can imagine. His idol group Highlight is lucky to have him, and we’re lucky he’s stepped into acting.
SHINee’s Key is just phenomenal, isn’t he? I know there is already a piece dedicated to him, but I couldn’t leave him out of this one. I loved his portrayal in Lookout as the skater-boi genius computer hacker. Everything about him was pitch perfect, from the kinky hair and devil-may-care attitude, to the sweet, shy infatuation he had with Kim Seul-gi’s character. Despite his relative inexperience, he never over-acted — which a less talented actor easily would have done. Instead Key played the part with a beautiful nuance. It was exactly what I wanted from him and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing that character except him.
Because This Life Is Our First
I can’t forget Bomi of Apink in Because This Life Is Our First. This young girl, in an office full of men, held her ground, commanded respect, and never took any crap from anyone. But it was her low, hoarse voice that made her stand out, as well as how dead-pan and quirky she played “Bo-mi” in the show. While her skirts were oh-so-short, she never was seen as inappropriate or a sex object, unless she consciously decided to be (when she transformed into the nightclub dancer), and I attribute this to her strong character acting. I can see a long career for her as a character actress, and I’d watch any show just for her.
So why do we get so bent out of shape when an idol crosses over into acting? All of us have varied facets of our life. In my own life, I’ve been paid to be a musician, soldier, physician, educator, administrator, and hopefully, at some point, a writer as well. Performers perform. Entertainers entertain. Singers must connect their audience emotionally to the songs they sing in the same way actors must connect us viewers to the characters they become — quite a natural segue in actuality. I think of the old Hollywood “triple-threat” actors, who sang, danced, and acted (i.e. Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Judy Garland) as well as modern Broadway and movie stars (i.e. Kristen Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman). No one faults them for not staying in their lanes. May we be so encouraging of those who dare to step out of their comfort zones and try something new, to grow as an individual, and to be successful doing it!
The Lonely Shining Goblin