Man at His Best

Nam Joo Hyuk Will Prove His Acting Prowess Beyond Playing Men And Gods

From television campus crush to television leading man, the Korean model-turned-actor’s breakout role might be just around the corner with Ansi City.

BY Zul Andra | Oct 1, 2017 | Film & TV

Wool and alpaca coat, wool, cashmere and mohair turtleneck pullover, cotton trousers and leather sneakers, all by Dior Homme.

Walk under the contrails of runway models that took flight towards the glittering horizon of television and drama, and it might be polite to not step on the ruins. Nam Joo Hyuk knows this: there was nothing in his first catwalk, dressed in a see-through printed organza shirt at the SONGZIO Homme Spring/Summer’14 fashion show, that would lead him to a position of reverence. 

There are those before him that have taken the modelling-acting route and succeeded. And there are those that returned to the world of shampoo and fast-food commercials. The Kim Woo Bins and the Cha Seung Wons are a few and far between. Joo Hyuk has got everything to lose if he dares not walk into the sun. 

Given that he’s at a ripe young age of 23, it was only three years ago that Joo Hyuk debuted in the romantic comedy, The Idle Mermaid. A year later, he went from supporting to main role in another television series, Who Are You: School 2015 where he played a high school love interest. 

Calfskin leather trench coat, cashmere turtleneck sweater, cotton trousers, wool trousers, leather belt, metal teddy bear key chain and leather sneakers, all by Dior Homme.

In that same year, he added a different element to his repertoire playing a vengeful character in Glamorous Temptation. In the span of four years, he has acted in seven television series, won two “Best New Actor” awards and continues to face a slew of criticisms for his dimensionally trite acting. 

I have a very strong competitive spirit. So, when I act, my competitive spirit is burning. Sometimes, criticism can motivate me as well. I don’t get stressed a lot, but if I do need to change my mood, I exercise or spend time alone.

It’s easy to attack young actors at the gate. The act itself is as trite as their dilettante performance. But one doesn’t have to be a Solomon of South Korea’s cultural landscape to understand the canon of its television industry. 

A debutant makes his appearance in a variety show, and then earns his place in a supporting cast of a television series on a national network. It was in 2014 that Joo Hyuk appeared in Saturday Night Live and Running Man, and made his debut as a computer expert in The Idle Mermaid

Wool and lambskin jacket, cashmere turtleneck pullover, wool trousers, leather belt, aluminium brooch and leather boots, all by Dior Homme.

If by the grace of his charm and good looks, the debutant will gain a small but vocal idol worship that puts him in good stead for a lead role in a cable network. His sophomore television effort must include some romance, some kiss in the rain, some twinkle in the eye. 

It is a little embarrassing to give advice... but at other times, I work out hard to maintain my body shape. I eat meat a lot too. When I don’t have any shoots in my schedule, I work out no matter what. Even on the day that I have a shoot scheduled, I go to gym in my spare time.

Getting in is easy, the only door large enough for all aspiring actors to enter is the variety show to a television rom-com route, but getting out is harder. How many times can Joo Hyuk entertain a show host? How many times can he kiss in the rain? Joo Hyuk’s trajectory saw him taking up leading roles in Who Are You: School 2015, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo (2016) and The Bride of Habaek(2017). Oddly, all his roles are associated with water: a high school swimmer, a competitive swimmer and the God of Water, respectively.

Wool suit and cashmere turtleneck pullover, both by Dior Homme.

That’s quite a title bump. If you’re a horoscope kind of guy, Joo Hyuk’s star sits on the constellation Aquarius. But if there’s anything he’s not, it’s a water carrier. 

Armchair critics in Korean forums have associated Joo Hyuk’s acting prowess to that which requires a lot more work. You know who else needs “more work”? Every other emerging actor. Aspiration and awards aside, he has done himself splendidly in a career spanning less than five years. Now he has to face his biggest challenge yet: to dry the wetness behind his ears.

It is so hard to define youth, but I think it can be in the shining moments. It is not meant to be described by a number... because I know that I will never have this moment back again. I have done my best to live each day and not to waste any. I think you have to do what you want to do, enjoy it and try your best to live each and every day.

Joo Hyuk went from the fashion pages to the small screen. Before anyone knows it, he too will be glossed over unless he refines his craft like how the likes of Song Joong Ki, Lee Min Ho and Gong Yoo did—all who garnered international acclaim from breakout roles in television and film. Joo Hyuk is at an age where his future is within arm’s reach. 

Next year, Joo Hyuk will be making his big screen debut in the period film, Ansi City. The SGD18 million war epic is based on the 88-day defence mounted by the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo against an attempted siege by the Chinese Tang dynasty in 645 AD. Joo Hyuk plays a Korean spy who works for Ansi City’s General Yang Manchun (played by veteran thespian, Jo In Sung) and the film is expected to premiere next year. 

If Korean fandom is anything to go by, there’s a certain buzz when “seniors” and “juniors” are cast together in something as major as a potential blockbuster film or a television series crafted by a respected scriptwriter. It’s a visceral notion that a veteran—to be moulded in his own image—is passing on the baton to a young upstart. 

Joo Hyuk may need to sharpen his acting tools. If playing men and God afforded him the acknowledgement of his strengths and weaknesses, perhaps a war might bring him closer to identifying what kind of leading man he will be.

Wool suit, cotton shirt, leather belt and leather sneakers, all by Dior Homme.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, October 2017.