[K-Star’s Best Character] When Kang Ha Neul Met ‘Dongju’

Edited by Hwang Hong Sun
Translated by Jeon Gyeong Ju

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One day, JTBC‘s travel reality show Traveler 2 broadcasted a funny episode related to Kang Ha Neul. When he was on a trip to Argentina as one of the cast of this program, an employee at the famous local restaurant asked Kang Ha Neul if he was a Korean actor. He greeted the actor with delight, saying that his wife greatly enjoyed watching When the Camellia Blooms on Netflix. Ahn Jae Hong and Ong Seong Wu, who accompanied Kang at that time, looked at him in unison with envious eyes. Maybe Kang Ha Neul has been becoming a global star without realizing it.

Kang Ha Neul is not the actor to become a superstar overnight with his best work in a lifetime after a long period of obscurity. Since his debut through KBS’s teen drama My Mom! Super Mom! in 2007, Kang consistently appeared in various works. He was already quite famous in the musical scene, while continuing his acting career by playing the lead characters in television dramas and movies such as The Heirs, Misaeng: Incomplete Life and Twenty.

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Kang Ha Neul, who had been active steadily, faced a big change in his career when he got cast as the title role of Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet. (shortened to Dongju). To Kang, Dongju is the work that helped him rise to a true actor beyond his popularity.

Dongju is a film that tells the story about youth of Korean poet Yoon Dongju. Kang Ha Neul, who is really a fan of Yoon Dongju, was said to have felt a lot of pressure at first. He was very worried about whether he could play Yoon Dongju. Although he even wanted to run away from the set, Kang tried his best despite the pressure. He studied day and night to memorize scripts, which more than half of them were written in Japanese, and performed with a sincere heart not to harm the reputation of Yoon Dongju. At the end of shooting, he threw the scripts with a relieved heart and even wept.

Yoon Dongju, portrayed by Kang Ha Neul, is more of a youth who lived in that era than the solemn figure published in his biography. He is also a person who feels emotions of love and jealousy at the same time. The movie highlighted Yoon Dongju’s humane side to narrow the distance between the audience and the character. In the play, Kang recited a poem written by Yoon Dongju in a calm voice. Many viewers love this scene, perhaps thanks to his efforts and sincerity.

As it was a low-budget movie, Dongju didn’t drew a lot of publicity. The box office figure on the first week of its release was also less than expected. Nevertheless, the film finally surpassed the 1 million mark of moviegoers, fueled by word of mouth telling that Yoon Dongju’s humane side was well captured and Kang Ha Neul’s performance was outstanding. Making its box office profits more than 10 times higher than its production costs, Dongju secured both its box office success and its cinematic quality.

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Kang Ha Neul, who grew up a notch through Dongju, has become an actor who leads his works on his own. The 2017 action comedy film Midnight Runners, his following work after Dongju, was a huge success, attracting more than 5.6 million viewers nationwide. Furthermore, he was praised for his captivating performance by playing the role of Hwang Yong Sik, a pure-hearted police officer in When the Camellia Blooms, one of the “best dramas of the year” in 2019. I’m looking forward to the next step of Kang Ha Neul who’s brilliantly performed day by day since Dongju.

What do you think?