Hyun Bin’s latest drama, Crash Landing On You, is the story of star-crossed lovers who are separated by the 38th parallel. The storyline so intrigued viewers that it became the highest rated tvN drama and the third-highest-rated drama in Korean cable TV history. The drama was not just popular in South Korea, but also in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, as well as ranking among the top ten most viewed Netflix programs in Japan and the U.S.
Hyun’s character is Ri Jeong-Hyeok, a conscientious North Korean officer who risks his life to protect a South Korean heiress, played by Son Ye-jin. The story provides a fictional glimpse into shuttered North Korea and a border-defying Romeo and Juliet romance. Hyun’s performance earned him a Most Popular Actor award at the 2020 Baeksang Arts Awards.
“All the roles that I have acted in were all special in a different way,” said Hyun. “But the role of Ri Jeong-hyeok had more warmth and innocence compared to the other roles that I have acted. I think it was more special in terms of expressing the role.”
Hyun was surprised by the drama’s worldwide success, even though his past dramas, Secret Garden with co-star Ha Ji-won and My Lovely Sam Soon with Kim Sun-ah, achieved international recognition.
“Although the language of North Korea and South Korea is similar, there are big differences in the vocabulary,” said Hyun. “I was curious how the viewers in South Korea, as well as the rest of the world, would accept it, which was surprising. Nevertheless, I thank all viewers for being positive about Crash Landing On You. I also thank the viewers for loving k-drama.”
Hyun has been popular in the Philippines since 2005, when a local TV network aired a Tagalog-dubbed version of his romantic comedy My Lovely Sam Soon. His appeal there is sometimes referred to as the “Hyun Bin Phenomenon,” which recently led Smart Communications, a Philippines-based telecommunications company, to recruit him for an ad campaign. In an ad, Hyun rides a sports car and zooms through the city streets, alluding to the blazing speeds by which Filipinos can enjoy their daily dose of entertainment via Smart LTE and Giga Promos.
“The ‘Hyun Bin Phenomenon’ is pretty much due to digital technology,” said Jane Basas, SVP and head of consumer wireless business at Smart. “Filipinos have developed the craze because they are able to stream his shows, hear the buzz about him online, share their excitement with their friends, and even get to interact with him through social media,”
The Philippines has been named the world’s leading social media capital. In a country with a population of 108.8 million, there are 173.2 million mobile phone registrations, meaning most people are using multiple mobile phones/subscriptions per person. Pop culture is dominated by American, Korean, British and even Bollywood productions, but recently the Hallyu, or Korean pop cultural wave, has made an even bigger impression.
The ad campaign was shot in Seoul and, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, visits to the Philippines must wait. However, Hyun is pleased that the campaign offers him another way to connect with his Filipino fans, whom he describes as “the warmest in the world.”
According to his agency, Vast Entertainment, Hyun is currently on location for his upcoming film, Bargaining. Directed by Im Soon-rye, the film is about a kidnapping that takes place in the Middle East. The film was originally set to shoot in Jordan, but, due to the coronavirus, the film will instead be shot in Korea. Hyun plays a National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent, who takes part in a rescue attempt.
Hyun doesn’t always play heroes. Before starring in Crash Landing On You, the actor played a villain in the film Negotiation. He enjoyed creating the character.
“I like playing the villain role,” said Hyun. “I worked hard to portray the complex emotions that this character had. One of the things I discussed a lot with the director was that we did not want this character to be the typical villain. We spent a lot of time finding ways to do that. So I looked for different ways to approach the scenes, for example, being gentle and soft for a scene that would otherwise be intense.”
Hyun’s acting resume is diverse. In another recent drama, Memories of Alhambra, he played an obsessed gamer on a quest to perfect a virtual reality game. In the historical zombie film Rampant, he played a prince and martial arts expert. He did many of his own stunts, without a double, since his regular exercise regimen includes martial arts. He aced the action scenes in the film Confidential Assignment, but won’t rule out any particular roles or genres in the future.
“I like playing characters that fit my age and represent that time and the situations we face,” said Hyun.
One lesson he learned from acting is the importance of focusing on what he can control. There’s no need to stress about the rest.
“I think I should just focus on what it is I can do. Then it gets simple. All I have to do is to prepare well and show good acting.”
Almost two decades after his drama debut in the 2003 series Bodyguard, acting has given Hyun a sense of stability.
“I think I’ve become stronger and more relaxed. I’m more curious and interested in work, and there are more things I want to express. I am also working now on more projects than I did before.”
This story was originally published on forbes.com.