If not for his nascent thespian career, Kang Hyung Suk would love to travel more. The South Korean actor, 30, shares that he’s envious of friends who spend six months working, then take the rest of the year to explore different parts of the world. “Sometimes, I envy the freedom that my friends have by not being tied up by something. I think it is important that you do not put your entire being just into work,” he muses. “Think about what you need and do just enough.”
That said, the rookie actor who made his debut in the 2019 K-drama Crash Landing On You is not complaining. Being an actor has always been his dream. He recalls attending many theatre productions with his father, who majored in theatre in university. It sparked his interest in pursuing an acting career from young. “So, now that I am doing this job, I am really very thankful. Acting is very fulfilling because I get to express myself through my craft, and share it with the audience. Plus, I get to experience many things that I might not be able to in real life.”
Kang, whose latest small screen appearance was in the TVN drama Love in Contract, has taken on mainly supporting roles so far. That is, until his recent gig—he is one of the lead actors in the Singapore-Korea trilingual movie, Ajoomma. Helmed by celebrated auteur Anthony Chen and directed by first-time Singaporean filmmaker He Shuming, the film is the first co-production by Singapore and South Korea. Kang is Kwon-Woo, a tour guide whose personal problems inadvertently cause the middle-aged housewife played by veteran Singaporean actress Hong Huifang—the eponymous ‘ajoomma’ (or ‘auntie’ in Korean) of the film—to be stranded alone on a dark winter’s night.
One of the best things about working on this production, Kang says, is that it allowed him to flex his Mandarin, which he picked up while living in China for three years as a teenager, due to his father’s work posting to Qingdao. A self-professed old soul, Kang loves watching old Hong Kong movies and listening to old Chinese songs. One of his favourites, he says, is the classic love song “The Moon Represents My Heart” (“Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo Di Xin”) by the late Teresa Teng.
Although his fluency in the language and familiarity with Chinese film and music worked to his advantage, he still had jitters about shooting Ajoomma. “I was really worried, because obviously, there were cultural and language differences,” he says. “Before that, I wondered how we would communicate with each other because I felt that my Mandarin was not good enough.”
His concerns were assuaged once filming was underway. Throughout the production, he found that the communication between the cast members proceeded smoothly, with some help from a translator on set. In fact, words were not always necessary. “It was very interesting how we were able to understand one another just by looking at each other. It was as if our hearts and minds were one,” he says.
The film has been attracting a lot of attention since its world premiere at the 2022 Busan International Film Festival in October. It garnered four nominations at the 59th Golden Horse Awards, though it did not win in any of the categories; and was selected as the Singapore Film Commission’s submission for the Best International Feature Film category at the upcoming Academy Awards in March 2023.
Despite the positive buzz, Kang is surprised at the reception he is getting from this film—especially from Singaporeans. He certainly did not expect the warm welcome he received when he came to Singapore for the gala premiere of the film at the Capitol Theatre in October. “To have people cheering and asking for autographs is very new to me, and it is very exciting,” he says.
Getting dressed up for the red carpet is also a novel experience. He reveals that his off-duty look leans more towards comfortable athleisure. Embarking on the film’s promotional tour however, has challenged him to put in more effort, he confesses. “Actually, many people have been telling me that I need to dress up a bit,” he says before breaking into a laugh. “But it is really not easy for me. I do enjoy being on photo shoots though, because I get to try things that I have never worn before.”
Despite claiming to be sartorially lacking, Kang looks natural and at ease in a spectrum of different styles at his BAZAAR Singapore photo shoot. Arriving on set with little rest—he landed in Singapore for a whirlwind promotional tour for the movie, right after wrapping an episode of Love in Contract—he works the camera effortlessly in Hermès, Fendi, Ralph Lauren and Loro Piana.
“I have waited a very long time for this moment so I am very thankful that I get to do this. Coming to Singapore and working with all these actors still feels like a dream to me,” he marvels. Once he’s finished with his jam-packed schedule, he plans to sequester himself in Jeju for a while. “I want to spend some time with myself. That is my healing process,” he says.
Photographer: Reuben Foong
Stylist: Windy Aulia
Producer: Navin Pillay
Grooming: Andrew Park using Chanel Beauty
Stylist’s Assistant: Isabella Low