Park Hyung-shik: The new rom-com puppy on the block
I don’t know about you beanies, but I’m feeling some serious withdrawal symptoms after Strong Woman Do Bong-soon ended its run last week. The fact that I’m not going to get my weekly dose of Ahn Min-hyuk paints a pretty bleak future. Thankfully, Park Hyung-shik and the rest of the cast have been busy doing the media rounds because of Do Bong-soon’s success. Below are excerpts from various interviews he’s been doing since the end of Do Bong-soon.
In Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, Park Hyung-shik played quirky gaming CEO Ahn Min-hyuk, who falls for the “peanut-sized” heroine with “King Kong” strength he hires to be his bodyguard. Together, they solve the mystery behind his stalker and the serial kidnapper terrorizing the Dobong-dong neighborhood. And of course, they fall in love along the way.
Park Hyung-shik was definitely a reliable actor up to now, but it wasn’t until his turn as the quirky gaming CEO Ahn Min-hyuk that his star power has shot through the roof. Do Bong-soon was Park’s first lead role, and it was not without some apprehension on his part. “This drama was really a heroine-centric show, but getting the male lead was both a point of pride and a burden. Because this was my first time as the male lead. I thought the term “first” was good but also scary. There was a fear of the unknown. And on top of that, the female lead was Park Bo-young. She has acted with people like Jo Jung-seok sunbae, Song Joong-ki sunbae, and Cha Tae-hyun sunbae, so I was worried that someone like me, who had never been a lead before, might not be able to live up to expectations. I lacked confidence at the time.”
“I could only overcome that initial worry on the set with the encouragement of the producers, staff and fellow actors. The director would respect my decisions as an actor, and let me do as I wanted, with a few suggestions here and there. He was really good at setting the scene so the actors could get creative with their characters.”
It’s always heartwarming to hear that the atmosphere behind the cameras is as positive as the show we get onscreen, because that’s definitely not always the case. “In particular, Park Bo-young noona treated me very comfortably. We talked a lot and got close, and she helped me a lot during filming. When she saw how burdened I was feeling, she asked why I was trying to carry that weight by myself. Because they all treated me so well, I gained the confidence to portray Ahn Min-hyuk as I pictured him. And because the viewers responded so positively, I started to trust myself and push my abilities even further. That small confidence started to grow and enabled me to mature as an actor.”
Rapport between the actors is always important, but I was surprised to hear of all the affection going on between Park Hyung-shik and his onscreen rivals and enemies. “Ji-soo is unexpectedly cute and has a lot of aegyo. I was really thankful because he was so good to me as a hyung. When he would call me “hyung” and wink at me, I would shoot winks back at him, and we would joke around a lot. It was disappointing that Min-hyuk and Gook-doo didn’t have a lot of scenes together.”
Even Jang Mi-kwan, who played the serial kidnapper in the show, said that Park Hyung-shik would go around giving hugs and just being all-around sweet. Aww. “My personality is just naturally like that. I like skinship and telling people that I like them. When we finished filming, and I was going around hugging all the staff, one crew member told me that they had so much fun on set and was really happy, even joking that they loved me. I was so happy to hear that.”
The most talked-about aspect of the show was definitely the loveline between Bong-soon and Min-hyuk. Viewers commented that they could see the love in his eyes, to which Park Hyung-shik replied, “Oh no, I’m far from being as detailed an actor as to control how I look at someone. As of now, the only thing I can do is express exactly what I’m feeling. Actually feeling the emotions was the most important part, but it’s the most difficult as well. Doing this show was a great learning experience for me. When I was watching Park Bo-young act, all I could think was, ‘How is she able to do that?’ After watching her, my desire to do better only grew, and I think that’s the reason our rapport got better on set as well. It helped that Park Bo-young was really just Do Bong-soon on set. We all were so similar to our characters that we would go, ‘Wow, you’re just Ahn Min-hyuk.’ Or, ‘You’re exactly like In Gook-doo’ to Ji-soo.”
Park Bo-young, in her interviews, also complimented Park Hyung-shik’s acting, calling him an expert at kissing and the lovey-dovey scenes. Park Hyung-shik laughed and said, “Rather than say I was good in those scenes, I think the actual setting made it better. Because I was acting as a pretty innocent and naive guy who had fallen in love at first sight, those kind of scenes just came naturally. At first, I wanted the kiss scenes to come out prettily too, because [Bong-soon] was someone he treasured. But as he fell deeper in love with her, he became bolder in his affection for her. I also think that was only possible because Park Bo-young the actress was that lovely and cute. Even the director and crew members would have hearts in their eyes because of her.”
However, the couple scenes weren’t all smooth sailing, mostly because the director would want spontaneity in those scenes: “When Min-hyuk and Bong-soon were in a scene together, the director wouldn’t say cut. He wanted to watch us continue just on our rapport. So we kept on having to ad lib through the end of our scenes, which came out really fun. It was really hard while filming them though.”
It sounds like there was definitely a lot of ad libbing going on, even aside from the couple scenes. The actors who portrayed Dong-pyung (Kim Won-hae) and Secretary Gong (Jeon Seok-ho), were particularly prolific in their ad lib dialogue, and Park Hyung-shik said, “They would just come up with ad libs left and right before I could get a word in. And before I knew it, the scene would be over. I could never expect the dialogue in the script to remain that way.”
Park Hyung-shik revealed that he saw a lot of himself in Ahn Min-hyuk in that he is very uncalculating, so when asked about the loveline in comparison to his own love life, he responded, “I definitely got to feel those emotions vicariously through Ahn Min-hyuk. I was able to love [Bong-soon] and show all the affection I wanted to, which was great. Because Park Bo-young was just Do Bong-soon to me, I was able to inhabit Min-hyuk’s character more naturally. I did really love Park Bo-young as Bong-soon while filming. Actually, I wanted to express even more affection but I was told to tone it down. I didn’t know why people were saying my lines were cheesy and cringe-worthy. In my family, my father tells me he loves me all the time, and there’s a lot of open affection, so when I date in real life, I tend to express my emotions a lot. I’m pretty obvious when I’m lying, so I just say what I’m feeling. I think being honest suits me best.”
About Min-hyuk’s character: “He resembles me a lot in that he’s able to express himself well, and doesn’t really hold grudges. I also have a bit of his crazy in me. My manager has joked that I’d be really good at playing a psychopath. I actually want to play one too, if given the opportunity. I might give myself migraines trying to understand and portray such a character, but I think it would be a fun challenge. I have quite a lot of character types that I want to play, so taking on various genres and roles is what I intend to do, if I can.”
Prior to Do Bong-soon, Park Hyung-shik first raised his profile in KBS’s Hwarang, and while the drama itself wasn’t as successful as hoped, his portrayal of Sammaekjong was widely praised. He actually received his offer to join Do Bong-soon while filming Hwarang, so he pushed off the decision on whether to do it or not, but after reading the script, Park Hyung-shik fell for Min-hyuk’s charm right away. As did we all.
“I actually intended to take a break after Hwarang because I was so tired from filming, but I thought I’d be stupid not to take this character. I really liked the emphasis on his quirkiness rather than painting him as cool. He’s childish but intelligent, and knows how to read people and situations well. He had his own personal trauma, but he doesn’t let it show, nor does he let it affect his life. Even when he was betrayed by his brother, he could just say, ‘Don’t do it again,’ and let it go at that. He had so many unexpected sides to him that I found Min-hyuk so cool. I could never expect what direction he would go in, which I liked, and I thought that the viewers would also enjoy his character. That’s why I decided to do this show, and then I found out that Park Bo-young was the female lead. I thought I would be really dumb not to take it. People around me were also jealous.”
It must’ve been difficult to go straight from Sammaekjong in Hwarang to Ahn Min-hyuk because they’re 180 degrees different from each other. While Sammaekjong had to hide his identity and suffer from unrequited love, Min-hyuk was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and also got the girl in the end. “I actually might’ve wanted to become Min-hyuk because of Sammaekjong. As Sammaekjong, I couldn’t reveal that I was king, nor be happily in love, so it was really emotionally trying while filming. But with Min-hyuk, everything worked out for him. I think I needed those sides to Min-hyuk: How he could just say whatever he wanted, protect the woman he loved, and get along with his company’s workers like friends.”
It seems that Park Hyung-shik came to some revelations while filming Do Bong-soon, and he himself says he broke through his previous limitations as an actor. He’s done quite a few projects since his acting debut in 2012 with SBS’s Dumb Mom, followed by Sirius, Nine, Heirs, What’s With This Family, High Society, and Hwarang. In contrast to other idol actors, Park Hyung-shik has never experienced controversy due to his acting, but has always felt his own limitations and faults.
“I just think it’s a relief that I never got widespread criticism for my acting. To be quite honest, my earliest projects were not well known, so not many people actually saw them. But at the time, I would’ve probably rejected any offers to be in a primetime miniseries. I received acting lessons while filming my earlier dramas, but I could only act what I had learned by then. When the director asked me to take a different approach in a scene, I didn’t know what to do at all. I was so embarrassed when that happened that I just wanted to go hide. If I had really studied the character and thought about the life he had lived up to that moment, I would’ve been able to understand his actions and use that to come up with a different approach, but I wasn’t able to.”
“So I decided to study by myself for the next project, which was Sirius. Thankfully, I was able to finish that drama without any complaints about my acting, so I thought that going about studying acting by myself was the answer. But I found that that method had its own limitations. I realized that I needed to feel the responsibility of taking part in a project that many people worked so hard on, and I couldn’t just act for my own pleasure. That’s why I decided to take lessons again. Now, I do my own research into the character, and then go over it again with my acting teacher. My teachers also tell me that while lessons are important, real-life experiences are even more so. What I feel, see, and learn from talking to various people are the most valuable. I think what they told me is right.”
All of his efforts certainly paid off: Strong Woman Do Bong-soon had peak viewership ratings of 9.7%: “I’m not usually too anxious about the ratings. The viewers have their own tastes, and I think the projects’ fortunes are not something I can influence. But when the ratings are revealed, I have to admit that I wish more people would watch the drama, and if ratings fall, it’s disappointing. But with this project, I really didn’t expect the ratings we got. I received a lot of love not only from Korean fans, but also international fans, which I was surprised to find had increased because of this project. This is also the first time I’m going on a reward vacation. I’m really excited and happy that the drama ended on a positive note. We had a lot of fun on the set. Rather than filming, it just felt like we were hanging out. Because we had so much fun, it felt like time flew by.”
Park Hyung-shik first entered the public eye with his stint in variety program Real Men. Since then, he’s earned himself quite a few nicknames, which include “baby soldier” in Real Men and “straightforward romanticist” in Hwarang. (They all roll off the tongue slightly better in Korean. Slightly.) Now, he’s added a couple new monikers to that list with Do Bong-soon: “next generation’s rom-com king” and “puppy-man.” Asked about his new nicknames, Park Hyung-shik replied, “I really like the title “next generation’s rom-com king.” The other titles reflect a side I’ve already shown in my characters, but the “next generation” part feels to me that people are looking forward to what I will show in the future. Every so often, I will look at online comments, but I tend to avoid ones that are complimentary and focus on the negative ones. Obviously, I know myself best so I know what I need to fix, but I also think it’s important to know how others view me.”
I’m so happy to see that his commitment to becoming a better actor has also translated to commercial success: Since Strong Woman Do Bong-soon first started airing, CF offers have doubled, or even trebled. When his contract with his former agency Star Empire was about to expire, Park Hyung-shik was inundated by a slew of large management agencies vying for an exclusive contract with him. In the end, he decided to go with UAA, which also represents Yoo Ah-in and Song Hye-gyo.
“In a way, moving to a new agency is similar to finding a new home. I didn’t feel the need to listen to anyone’s advice. What was most important was what I treasured and what I wanted to do going forward. I think I needed a company that could fully support my opinions, treat me as a human being, and truly wish that I succeed. I’m really grateful because so many agencies expressed their interest in me. But I wanted an agency who felt the same as me, because every step I took after leaving my former company was extremely precious and urgent. I decided to go with the agency who could give the most attention to me and my career.”
Because his move was right after he finished filming for Do Bong-soon, he hasn’t been able to introduce himself to his label mates in a personal setting, but he did meet Yoo Ah-in recently for a shoot: “We first met to film a CF together. He joked that I need to go through newbie initiation, and that it was kind of awkward to meet for the first time at a shoot. I was just thankful that he kept initiating conversation with me. I really want to meet him in a personal capacity off-camera.”
With his move to UAA, Park Hyung-shik has de facto retired as an idol. ZE:A debuted back in 2010, and for 7 years he had been an idol, but is now opening a new chapter as an actor: “It’s disappointing, so my desire to succeed in the future is even greater, because I don’t want to be disappointed again. My career and everything else I do in my life, I want to do it well. To be honest, I started acting because I liked it, but I was only able to come this far because of the viewers, who regarded me in a positive light. Being an idol since I was young was definitely a source of motivation.”
Park Hyung-shik has definitely built an inner strength from his time as an idol. Having never been embroiled in a scandal for the 7 years he’s been in the public’s eye, he was able to maintain a clean and gentle image. Perhaps because of the hardships he experienced as a trainee and rookie idol, on the set of Do Bong-soon, he went above and beyond his own responsibilities and even studied the dialogue and characters of his fellow actors.
Asked of his time as an idol, Park Hyung-shik mused, “I think it’s both good and bad at the same time. When I was an idol, everything was extremely regulated and machine-like. Because we all had to move together as a group, we lived like soldiers. I only really found my own identity when I first started doing solo activities. My sunbaes would ask me what I liked, and I wasn’t able to answer them. Up to then, I had lived without even thinking about my favorite color or type of car. But because I’ve experienced such a lifestyle, I can easily endure any physical or mental strains thrown my way now. Now, I have much more alone time and so I can reflect on my work and see what I lack. I’m definitely using that to my advantage.”
Although they’ve gone their separate ways, the ZE:A members still keep in contact and try to meet up as often as they can. “We’ve been together since I would go to the company with my high school uniform still on. We have all been friends for 10 years, and they’re more like family now. My mother once told me that if you have even one friend you can talk with about how you feel, you’ve succeeded in life, but I have so many such friends around me. I think what she said then was true.”
So far, Park Hyung-shik has mostly played well-off characters born with a silver spoon in his mouth (Heirs, High Society, Hwarang, Do Bong-soon). But, he wants to break that stereotype and take on more varied characters. “I never considered my past roles as similar characters. What I felt in each character, and how I expressed them were very different, in my opinion. But as a viewer, because their backgrounds are similar, I can see how they might be seen that way. If that’s so, that just means that I have that much more to show. I believe I can show a more manly side, even as a psychopath, and take on genres like science fiction and noir.” Sci-fi? Um, yes, pleaseandthankyou.
“To me, what I will do in the future is most important. There’s much more to come than what I’ve experienced, and there’s a lot I want to achieve. There’s so much I haven’t done yet, so I want to try everything. As of yet, I find it hard to call myself an actor. I just want to continue having the same passion for acting and singing as I’ve had up to now. Ideally, I would be as desperate to continue acting in ten or twenty years. That’s the kind of person I would like to become.”