Im Joo-hwan is one to watch in 2010
What a great year for Im Joo-hwan — he had roles in films like 2008’s Doremifasolatido and Frozen Flower, but 2009 was his year to shine. Although it was a short part, any exposure in Boys Before Flowers was enough to create a buzz, as he got when he appeared a few brief times as Kim Bum‘s older brother. But it was the quirky, heartwarming and funny Little Drama That Could, Tamra the Island, that cemented his status as a rising star.
A 2010 film industry up-and-comer
“My scandal with Seo Woo? It’s because we’re such good friends”
Recently, actor Im Joo-hwan (27) acted in the MBC fusion sageuk drama Tamra the Island as scholar Park Kyu, who appears cold and aristocratic down to the core of his bones but is really warm-hearted. His mature acting wasn’t like that of a new actor, and he won the love of a multitude of viewers.
Over the past year spent filming on Jeju Island, he cultivated close friendships with the director, filming crew, and his fellow actors as they worked together. Much wasn’t expected of this cast of rookies in Tamra the Island, but their performances were unlike those of new actors and they were rewarded with praise from arts critics. But it gave rise to a scandal between him and his co-star, actress Seo Woo.
He said, “We heard about the scandal while we were filming, and Seo Woo joked, ‘Now all my endorsements will disappear and I won’t be able to get married!’ This drama doesn’t have any famous stars, and on the acting front we were a collection of newbies without anyone who could be called a veteran, so we focused on working well together. We had script readings with the other actors, and after discussing ideas among ourselves, we cautiously proposed them to the director. I did get very close to Seo Woo, but it wasn’t anything beyond that. She’s really a good dongsaeng to me. Things can get awkward when a scandal occurs, but on set it was more important to work on the drama than to get caught up in those things, so the scandal didn’t bother me too much.”
Im Joo-hwan’s potential was acknowledged when he won a newcomer award in the acting portion of the 2009 Korean Cultural Entertainment Awards for Tamra the Island.
“It was the first award I received after my debut. When I went to accept it, I was hit by a craving for some drinks. I really wanted to go drinking, more than at any other time, to drink in a boisterous group with a lot of other people. When I went onstage to receive the award, there were so many things I wanted to say, but the staff told me to keep it short so I couldn’t say much. I’m so thankful to the other actors whom I’d filmed with over a year and three months, and the people at the action school. They made me look better. I’m thankful to director Yoon Sang-ho and Seo Woo, and Hwang Chan-bin. I received my first award with this drama, and I think of this award as being given to the entire drama, not to me.”
As Park Kyu in Tamra the Island
Im Joo-hwan first met the public as a romantic doctor who loved Sung Yuri in 2006’s Snow Queen. With his gentle, warm image, he gained a lot of Japanese fans and is rising as a new Hallyu star. He even has a Japanese fanmeeting planned in December.
He said, “I’ll be meeting Japanese fans on December 13 and 14, with 800 attendees each. It’s also to promote Tamra the Island, which began broadcasting in Japan at the end of October.”
“Japanese fans even send me fan letters written in Korean. Korean fans are more positive and approach more easily, but Japanese fans find it harder to speak and are more nervous. There are some fans who will even come from Japan when I have a fansigning event at a department store, who will arrive the day before and sleep nearby in the neighborhood to attend the next day. That makes me feel uncomfortable and I tell them, ‘I’m happy that you like me, but please don’t put yourself through a lot of trouble to come.’ If high school students come wearing their school uniforms, I tell them, ‘Go to school and study.'” [Laughs]
Im Joo-hwan enjoys a lot of popularity in Korea, too. But relatively speaking, his hot popularity in Japan is comparable to other Hallyu stars. What could be the reason for that?
“I asked that to a friend who speaks Japanese well, and he said that in Japanese fan cafes, the words that come up often are ‘He’s gentle,’ ‘He’s warm,’ ‘He’s sweet,’ ‘He’s like a boy but when he shows his manly side, it’s attractive.’ They’re all positive comments, so I’m simply thankful.”
Im Joo-hwan is also famous for going into fan cafes suddenly and chatting with his fans online. When he does, news spreads like wildfire and all the fans gather in the cafe, and he satisfies his fans’ curiosity as they talk with each other.
“Someone told me that this is the first time they’ve seen an actor go into a cafe and chatting with people. When I go into the cafe, I start by saying, ‘What are you all doing not sleeping tonight?’ and we converse comfortably. Some fans tell me, ‘I’m taking care of the fishbowl.’ [Laughs] They mean that they’re the fish within the bowl. I talk and joke around with the fans in a friendly way, and those times are really meaningful to me. The fans and I bond that way.”
The 30th Blue Dragon Film Awards have just ended. Do you want to receive the new actor award in 2010?
Next year, I definitely want to receive the new actor award. I’d like to receive the supporting actor award, too. But I still think it’s a long way off. I have a long way to go in dramas, too. The new actor award is one I can only receive once in my life, so it would feel wonderful. I’d like to get it through a really great project.
In 2010, there are a lot of movies in the thriller genre. Have you thought about shedding your gentle image and challenging yourself with a villain role?
I want to try a character that makes you feel annoyed just by looking at me. I watched Inglourious Basterds recently, and the actor in role of the German officer [Christoph Waltz] was really amazing. His acting wasn’t brutal and cruel, but his speech and expressions showed complete domination over the other person. With a look that can change in an instant, he freezes the other person. I want to try a role like that.
Which actresses do you want to work with?
I’d like to act with Thirst‘s Kim Hae-sook sunbae. I’d like to do a heartbreaking melodrama with her; when I watch her, I start crying without even realizing. I particularly liked her in the movie Open City. Watching her trembling as she ate a lump of sugar, I was totally crying, it was crazy.
Which male actors to you think are cool?
Lee Byung-heon sunbae. He’s really the best. I’m still lacking that level of skill so we probably won’t be acting together, but I’d be happy just standing next to him like his friend in A Bittersweet Life. I would learn a lot just by standing next to him, and receive that energy.
I hear that you’re not dating anyone right now. What’s your ideal type?
My ideal type is Charlize Theron. I like someone whose appeal changes, who can be classy but then also be provocative and sexy. She may sometimes have an innocent and cute image, but she steps on the red carpet and makes a dramatic impact that everyone sighs, “Wow.” Someone who smiles widely — since I was young, my mother always said, “Your girlfriend should smile broadly and eat well,” and because I heard that so much, it got ingrained in my head. I’d like for a girlfriend not to pick at food but eat well.
What are your acting aspirations?
I want to be like Lee Byung-heon sunbae. He doesn’t only have women as fans, but he has an appeal that even men find cool. You can feel his aura. He’s a fantastic actor, and I’d like to be appealing like him. Also, rather than doing a lot of films, I’d like to do projects where I can act well, even if it’s just one a year. I want to work hard and show more of myself.