Edited by Jeon Gyeong Ju
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
On May 2nd, tvN’s Vincenzo successfully ended with its highest ratings of 14.6% (based on Neilsen Korea). The plot of “the Korean adoptee who became the Italian mafia consigliere returning home and repay evil for evil” is somewhat cheesy. But, Song Joong Ki has persuaded us with his charisma. We can spot the actor’s power that led Vincenzo to success in his previous projects.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
Despite the small role he played in his 2008 debut film A Frozen Flower, Song Joong Ki left a significant imprint on the audience. Then in 2010, he faced the first turning point of his life with the KBS fusion historical series Sungkyunkwan Scandal. As one of the “handsome 4,” Goo Yong Ha was a slick and playful person who goes by the nickname “Yeorim.” But at the same time, he’s a complex figure who cynically takes a wait-and-see attitude at everything because of his social status as a Jungin.
Perfectly showing off his beauty and acting skills, he shook off the burden of playing his first lead role. With Yoo Ah In, who played “GeolO,” Mun Jae Shin, Song still maintains a close friendship. At that time, the fans called Yong Ha and Jae Shin the “Geol-Rim,” and they received as much love as the main couple, Yoon Hee and Sun Jun.
Tree with Deep Roots (2011)
SBS’s Tree with Deep Roots is the work that proved Song Joong Ki’s stardom, which started with Sungkyunkwan Scandal, wasn’t just a lucky break. Although this was also a historical fiction tv series, Song played the young Yi Do (now called King Sejong), the best monarch in the Joseon Dynasty and Korean history. More pressure was put on him as Han Suk Kyu, whose name became synonymous with great acting, played the grown-up Yi Do. Nevertheless, Song led the early parts of the series to success, exuding his power as a leading actor.
Especially, there are a few scenes that can’t be missed out when talking about Song’s acting skills. The first scene is where he screams to his father, King Taejong (played by Baek Yoon Sik), “The abdicated king is not the king. I am the king of Joseon!” Another scene named the “Sejong Derby” is where young Yi Do appears in front of adult Yi Do, who was agonizing over his subjects’ opposition to creating Hangul and “Hidden Root” plots. In the scene, young Yi Do mocks and provokes himself to do the right thing. It has a slightly different vibe, but that charisma may have contributed to his passionate performance in Vincenzo.
The Innocent Man (2012)
KBS’s The Innocent Man shone Song’s darkened mood, but the project was caught up in various scandals from the getgo because of its unusual title. The National Institute of the Korean Language advised KBS to revise the so-called misspelled title of the series. On top of that, some started to argue that the misspelled word in the title and the main role’s name “Ma Ru” were intentionally chosen to promote a specific fried chicken brand.
In any case, apart from the many controversies, the coldness and sorrow of Kang Maru, the “bad man” who uses his enemy’s daughter to avenge his ex-lover who betrayed him, proved Song Joong Ki’s potential in the modern series following the historical series. Interestingly, Song’s real-life best friend Lee Kwang Soo appears in the series as Kang Maru’s friend. And yes, Lee has perfectly pulled off the role of Park Jae Gil, a somewhat pathetic yet loyal friend, showing off their chemistry in and out of the set.
Descendants of the Sun (2016)
Song has mostly starred in the KBS series. And of them all, his biggest hit is Descendants of the Sun, which still remains rather high in the history of the Korean TV rating chart. The series was the start of pre-production in the industry and later wrote a new chapter of the Korean Wave when it was exported to Japan, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, North America, South America, and Europe. Even in North Korea, people watched the show secretly, avoiding strict censorship and crackdowns. And in the center of this craze was Song.
He turned into Captain Yoo Si Jin, the leader of the Alpha Team with an altruistic spirit who can boldly go straight forward in love. Along with the sensational popularity and jaw-dropping achievements, the “best” fruit that came out of the series was Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo couple, both on TV and in real life. The two got divorced only a year and 8 months after, shocking the fans, but the romance of Yoo Si Jin and Kang Mo Yeon that bloomed on a battlefield will be remembered forever in fans’ memories.
Arthdal Chronicles (2019)
tvN’s Arthdal Chronicles made headlines from the planning stage thanks to its enormous budget and luxurious cast lineup. And with the series, Song once again took himself to another level, playing a double role as Eun Seom and Saya, who bear the fate of Arthdal. It was a rare fantasy genre in the K-drama scene, and the fact that it reinterpreted the first Korean Kingdom of Gojoseon for the first time ever received generous reviews.
However, suspicions of copying popular overseas series such as Game of Thrones and controversies over poor visual effects, makeup, and props have been raised, further strengthening fans’ negative prejudice against Korean fantasy series. In addition, the series was charged with violations of the Labor Standards Act and the Industrial Safety and Health Act, including long-hour filming and staff injuries, by the Seoul Regional Employment and Labor Administration. To make matters worse, the project failed to reach 10% ratings until the end, discoloring the show’s original intent. Despite various issues, production for the second season sailed quite smoothly, but all scheduled was put on hold due to the pandemic.
Editor Jeon Gyeong Ju: A natural-born media geek who is physically Korean and mentally multinational. All dramatic stories are my favorite sweets for life. TVs and streaming platforms are not only the playgrounds but also the weapons.
Translator Kim Hoyeun: If you are a fan of K-drama, K-movie, and K-pop, I am your guy. I will continue to provide you with up-to-date K-entertainment news.