[ENTERTAINMENT] For How Long Will Looks Trump Talent?
If you want to be a popular － or at least recognizable － actor or an actress in Korea, the first place you visit may not be an acting school but the plastic surgeon.
The consequences of valuing comely looks over acting ability has had unfortunate, predictable consequences. Pretty faces with dismal abilities are awarded substantial roles. Once they have made a debut, usually in TV dramas, they become popular regardless of their acting ability, and once they are well-known, they switch to movies.
Kim See-moo, a film critic who teaches at Dongguk University, remarked, "In Korea, especially, most of the established actors and actresses came into the profession accidentally, when big-time figures in the film industry were impressed by their good looks. However, those who are professional actors but are not armed with immediately appealing looks hardly have an opportunity. Most of the real actors and actresses end up in theater."
But some of the lucky ones, the actors who have had an easy ride to success, know better than to rest on their laurels. Jang Dong-gun, 29, and Lee Jung-jae, 28, are good examples. They have tried to resist roles that reinforce their bland images.
Jang Dong-gun, whose attractive appearance has won him admirers not only in Korea but also in Southeast Asia, attempted an about-face in the up-coming Korean movie, "Chin-gu" ("Friends") to be released on March 31.
Far from his trademark image of a gentle and tender guy, he plays a gangster. Mr. Jang remarked, "I was charmed with the character because it was a 'heavy' part. Now I want to mature as a genuine actor who can play any kind of role."
Before starring in "Friends," he had appeared in 11 TV dramas and four movies, distinguishing himself not with his acting ability but with his prince-charming image.
But by starring in "Friends" and "Injeong Sajeong Bol Geot Eopda" ("Nowhere to Hide") he has succeeded in securing a reputation for himself as an actor with an attitude, not just cute looks.
While Mr. Jang found success as a gangster, Lee Jung-jae also tried to break the mold by accepting a role as a comedian in "Seonmul" ("Last Present"), to be released March 24. In this romantic film with a tragic ending, Mr. Lee stars as a comedian whose beloved wife is dying of cancer. In stark contrast to his former "dandy" image, he appeared in this movie in a clown's costume. The experiment has also won him praise.
Mr. Kim remarked, "This variety of roles shows that these actors are mature enough to try some difficult roles. However, the Korean film industry still needs to seek out more capable actors instead of those with nothing to offer but good looks."
Some say there are signs that trends are changing by pointing to the success of Sul Kyung-gu ("Peppermint Candy," "I Wish I Had a Wife, Too") whose looks are secondary to his acting talent.