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Fueled by Japan, star shines his light on Asia

Sept 04,2006
Kwon Sang-woo is a heartthrob movie star in Korea, but that’s not enough ― his sights are set on Japan and the rest of Asia.
Mr. Kwon was recently voted one of the most popular world celebrity ― including entertainers, politicians, athletes and writers ― by Japanese women between the ages of 18 and 25 in a poll by the Japanese broadcaster NTV’s variety show “Geikoi Real.” His name was also included in the list of 100 top celebrities as voted for by those over the age of 50. He and BoA were the only two Korean stars to appear on both lists.
Mr. Kwon, however, doesn’t seem to want to talk about his star power. “I have a long way to go,” he said. “I still haven’t done much in Japan.”
Since his television drama, “Stairway to Heaven,” became a hit in Japan, his recent films ― “Almost Love” and “Running Wild” ― brought that success to the box office. Yet he still refers to himself as a “frog in a well,” a Korean expression for a person who knows nothing about the outside world.
In fact, Mr. Kwon will spend the rest of this year concentrating on his world promotion campaign.
He’s made deals during visits to Tokyo and Fukuoka in August, and followed up on them with a tour in September to Indonesia and Singapore as part of a promotional campaign for The Face Shop, a cosmetic brand he models for.
On Sept. 30, he’ll be making a cameo appearance in Japan’s Seibu Dome during a pro baseball game. He plans to visit Taiwan and the Philippines in October. Then in November, he’s scheduled to publish a set of DVDs and photo books on workout techniques. He’s delayed all of his scheduled dramas and films until early next year.
“I’ve visited a few Asian cities over the past years,” he says. “But I regret that I haven’t been closer to my fans abroad. It’s great enough that they like someone who doesn’t even speak the same language, but I feel like I always took their attention for granted.”
In the long run, Mr. Kwon’s advance in Asia is his first step to entering Hollywood, one of his biggest dreams.
To do so, he’ll definitely have to improve his English skills. But first, he says, Hollywood producers need to see him as instrumental in winning Asian audiences.
“It’s the dream of every actor,” he said. “I recently watched ‘Rocky’ again, and it occurred to me what it would be like to have Sylvester Stallone as my boxing coach and appear as a young boxer who’s an illegal immigrant in L.A. It’s doesn’t hurt that I’m practicing boxing these days.”
Mr. Kwon flatly states that he’s not interested in producing, though he does enjoy coming up with fun story ideas.
“I haven’t organized a synopsis yet, but I do have to two or three ideas that I think could work out fine,” he said.
He said he’s been thinking about casting roles for a live movie of “Monster,” a Japanese animated feature by Urasawa Naoki. But for now, he wants to appear in another melodrama that appeals to Asian sentimentality.
He says that he’s worked too hard in the six years since he made his debut.
“I came to Seoul from a provincial capital and stayed at my aunt’s house in Mok-dong as soon as I got out of the army,” he says. “My monthly income then was 150,000 won ($156), and 30,000 won went into the fee for my health club. I walked into 10 model agencies looking for a job. I started skipping lunch.”
Mr. Kwon is a natural introvert ― he never has many friends around. He says his best friend is Song Seung-heun; his favorite actors include Cha Seong-won and Ryu Seung-beom. He has a special message for Cha: Stop getting drunk, promising to work with him, then forgetting about it the next day.


by Song Won-seob


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