Jang Hyuk interview on magazine <Singles> September issue. Translated by Gumi.
Many thanks to JangHyukNo1 for the captures
I asked him to act ‘sitting on top of several chairs and not wanting to let go of a single one’. It probably wasn’t a hard request for an actor with 19 years of career. But Jang Hyuk couldn’t help laughing a little in the middle of shooting. He probably noticed my hidden intention for this cut. In this era when everyone including idol group members try to act, this actor who already turned 40 revealed his steadily-built muscles grabbing chairs as if he really won’t let go of a single one. Jang Hyuk who does not rest a moment and stands in front of camera, crossing borders of Korea, China and Taiwan–is he also afraid of younger actors growing fast and fiercely? “That’s something I’m concerned for ever since my debut. That I will be replaced. Of course a long rest sounds attractive right after I’m finished with a project, but I worry, what if no one wants me after that?”
So Jang Hyuk acts without a break. “Even a character I’ve been deeply immersed in for half a year, I can forget him the day after the filming is finished.” Jang Hyuk’s goal in his rookie years was not becoming a great actor like Al Pacino, and also was not becoming a top star. It was simply ‘keep having a next project to act in.’ In order to start a new drama or movie, he had to get rid of previous work’s character quickly. In other words, Jang Hyuk’s ‘getting rid of a character’ is a survival tactic he taught himself as a young man who desperately wished to survive as an actor. “The main problem is putting on a set of new clothes. I’ve been acting for 20 years, but still putting on new clothes for the first time always feels difficult.” Actor Jang Hyuk is not a clown who dances merrily under inspiration after gulping down some rice wine. He is rather a meticulous artisan who works hard everyday, consistent and sharp like a clock.
After returning from army, for nearly a decade, he has acted in 2-3 movies or dramas every year, but there is not a single character that repeats. For every new choice, Jang Hyuk made a rhythmic turn following his own pace, like a nimble boxer in the ring. But his newest drama <God of Commerce-Gaekju 2015> is his third sageuk (historical drama) in a row, after movie <Empire of Lust> and drama <Shine or Go Crazy>. Upon hearing that he will be acting a peddler in late Chosun era, walking all over the country and doing commerce, it’s not unnatural to think “Sageuk again?” Did this boxer accidentally trip over himself? “In fact, I took turn doing sageuk and modern projects. I finished filming <Empire of Lust> and then filmed <Fated to Love You>, and before the current one I filmed a movie <Inside or Outside> in Taiwan.” It wasn’t a flared up excuse, it was a calm explanation. “It is a risk to show three sageuks in a row, I can’t deny it. But the story of characters in original novel caught my attention. The frame of someone who knows how to earn money versus someone who knows how to spend money well…I thought it was very relevant and realistic. I did not want to avoid it just because it is a sageuk.”
Jang Hyuk is not the type who deliberately calculates and plans his own image change. He simply jumps in if he sees a character or a project that seems interesting. Modern or sageuk, action, comedy, melo, he boldly jumps over borders of various genres. But Jang Hyuk, in the past, also has once deliberately tried construction of a new image. It is now often introduced as ‘Jang Hyuk’s embarrassing past’–‘TJ project.’ At that time, Jang Hyuk went on stage and rapped in his low voice. “I didn’t do it because I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to show a new image other than my image as a rebellious lonely child, constructed through dramas and movies. Back then it was in trend for actors to show new images through music dramas, and my company suggested I do it in my own album and music video.” Jang Hyuk finally laughs. The album might have been a failure, but TJ project was not. Thanks to it, he could feel free to construct comic images in <Successful Story of a Bright Girl> or <Please Teach Me English>. Instead of sitting and calculating what would be the best move, if you give it all you have for every project and every moment, that is how you get the ‘image change’ and progression. The face of the actor sitting in front of me seemed to be telling me so.
This man who gives off a simple and hardworking vibe like an athlete, indeed enjoys sports like an athlete. Recently he is into boxing and horseback riding. Like any other athlete, he doesn’t want to avoid when he faces an opponent who makes him feel competitious. Why is he into sports? “I don’t work out to build muscles or a body to show.” He also doesn’t do it to show off cool action skills in movies or dramas. For Jang Hyuk, sports or working out is also a form of acting training. “Sports and acting is connected. Acting is not something you can do alone. A scene is completed only when you create ensemble with a partner. Same goes for sports. I enjoy sports that requires a partner. I need to decide what to do according to the other’s movement. When I repeatedly go through boxing training where I need to think how to dodge and how to attack in a short while before opponent’s punch arrives, I become more spontaneous and flexible in thinking. It all helps in acting.” Jang Hyuk stopped for a while and added, “Well, but it’s not like I think of acting 24/7.” When he has free time, he goes camping with his family and enjoys thinking about nothing, and he also drinks with his friends. “Sometimes, after drinking, I suddenly have an impulse to watch films I did before. I reminisce, ‘Wow, I really worked hard back then,’ and think of places I went and people I met during filming. Sometimes I laugh to myself while watching, like a crazy person.” I imagine Jang Hyuk thinking of acting even when he is drunk. Wait, didn’t he just say it’s not like he thinks of acting 24/7…?!
During this interview which was serious from head to toe, there was one moment when a loud laughter bursted out, and that is when Jang Hyuk described himself as a ‘funny person’. He claims that he is a funny person but media has been editing and only showing his serious side, thus he has serious and solemn image. He then went on for a considerably long time explaining how important humor and wit is, and how you are supposed to apply it…Then he finally sensed staffs standing around trying desperately to hold laughter, and suddenly changed topic as if nothing happened. He said that he is a very ‘tiring’ person, ever since he was young he carefully and discreetly choose every word he says and every action he makes. It has become a habit for himself so he is just fine with it, but he supposes it makes those around him pretty tired. At that moment, everyone couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Jang Hyuk is indeed a funny person. Sometimes when a person is too serious, that seriousness creates cacophony and becomes funny. Just like this case, although I am not sure if this ‘funny’ is the same as the one Jang Hyuk intended.
A real strong person is not the perfect one without weakness but is the one who knows his own weakest, softest spot. “I am a very weak person. To become strong, I work out, and face acting with trained heart. Do you know what I’m most wary of? Becoming ‘used to it’. It’s all over, if I become used to my life, used to acting. Who would ever want an actor who is relaxed and repeats same acting over and over? That’s also why I keep working without a long rest. Beginning is always difficult and hard, but agonizing over every sentence on script allows me to act with new heart, new attitude every day.” I feel like Jang Hyuk’s new drama <God of Commerce-Gaekju 2015> won’t just be a story of a mere peddler growing to become a business magnate influencing entire Chosun. It will also be a well-recorded documentary of how actor Jang Hyuk turns into merchant Chun Bong Sam. Maybe, the real drama actor Jang Hyuk has been showing us for past 19 years is exactly this.