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How Park Seo Jun Is Breaking the Mould

By Lynette Kee

Park Seo Jun in Ralph Lauren Purple Label suit jacket, sweater and trousers.
 
Park Seo Jun in Ralph Lauren Purple Label suit jacket, sweater and trousers.

How would you describe a quintessential Korean gentleman? With a double click of my mouse, a young man with a poreless, translucent complexion surfaces in a matter of seconds. Sitting cross-legged with his arms resting over his knee, he is dressed simply in black shirt, grey trousers and a striking mustard checked blazer as he faces the camera front and centre. “Hello, I’m Park Seo Jun, an actor from South Korea, and I’m pleased to meet everyone from Singapore,” he says in our video before waving with both hands and breaking into a bashful laugh. His effervescent personality seemingly punctuates the stillness of the air.

Rummaging through the search engine abyss of the world wide web reveals Park’s career to be moving at a rapid pace as his latest drama series, “Itaewon Class” continues to break the internet as the seventh highest rated drama in Korean television history — just a few short months after its release. While Park certainly excels in light-hearted films and dramas, and has been dubbed “the master of romantic comedy” by the Korean press, he has however enjoyed greater acclaim for his highly emotive performances.

Givenchy suit and top. Bottega Veneta shoes. Stylist’s own socks.
Givenchy suit and top. Bottega Veneta shoes. Stylist’s own socks.

His breakout role saw him portraying a determined writer uncovering the unscrupulous lives of the rich in “Kill Me, Heal Me” (2015). Two years later, he won five out of the six best actor awards he was nominated for, for his role in the television series “Fight For My Way” as an underdog struggling to succeed in high society. And now, an international audience is singing praises of his portrayal as an ex-convict in “Itaewon Class”, a series that openly addresses the societal issues faced in South Korea. Whether it’s through coincidence or a conscious choice, Park clearly has a deeper perspective to offer the world through his craft. At the age of 31, his career seems to be on a comfortable upswing.

Ralph Lauren Purple Label shirt, trousers and shoes.
Ralph Lauren Purple Label shirt, trousers and shoes.

“We are still lacking in terms of capital compared to Hollywood. Despite that, we are producing something exceptional — ‘Parasite’ is the evidence of that. I myself need to work hard to show more of Korea’s culture.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The Korean wave has swept over the globe since the turn of the 21st century, its growing popularity owing in part to the country’s support of the creative and entertainment fields, and its extensive investment in training schools where rising stars work toward realising their dreams of becoming an idol. In Park’s case, it was less a decisive attempt at show business but an accidental revelation. The thought of acting had never existed in the young Park’s head until he was given a chance to perform on stage in high school. “The whole experience was very new and culture-shocking. Since then, I felt that maybe I should venture out into acting and I haven’t thought about anything else ever since.”

Bottega Veneta jacket, trousers and shoes. Kimseoryong top.
Bottega Veneta jacket, trousers and shoes. Kimseoryong top.

In the years spent developing his acting chops, Park has constantly pushed the limits of human perception to observe, feel and think. But since jumping into the entertainment industry equipped with little to no peripheral experience other than his education and time spent at military service, the seasoned actor finds it crucial to look inward with each character and to make personal growth a part of his job. Park knows he has to put himself under the microscope and allow humanity to filter through in his onscreen personas.

With that conviction, Park shares that his experience portraying a desolate ex-convict in “Itaewon Class” had him “think back on the times I felt defeated in life and got lost,” and how the character eventually “enabled me to go back to my fundamental [personal] beliefs and reflect”.

Gucci sweater, jeans and beanie. Raf Simons shoes. Stylist’s own belt.
Gucci sweater, jeans and beanie. Raf Simons shoes. Stylist’s own belt.

When asked for his macro perspective of the Korean industry, Park exhibits a certain wisdom. “We are still lacking in terms of capital compared to Hollywood,” he says, “despite that, we are producing something exceptional — ‘Parasite’ is the evidence of that.” “Parasite” (2019) was a film directed by Boon Joon-Ho, and the first South Korean film to snatch four film awards, including the coveted Best Picture, at the Oscars. It also featured the actor in a smaller role. To Park, the explosion of this movie provided an opportunity for people to experience Korean culture through technology and storytelling. Seeing recognition from all over the world has worked as a motivation for Park to keep doing better at what he does. “I myself need to work hard to show more of Korea’s culture,” he says.

Kimseoryong jacket and shorts. Ralph Lauren Purple Label shirt. Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shoes. Stylist’s own tie and socks.
Kimseoryong jacket and shorts. Ralph Lauren Purple Label shirt. Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shoes. Stylist’s own tie and socks.

Away from the big screens and on his personal camcorder, it seems that Park is working overtime taking his audience behind the scenes at photoshoots (with his dog Simba in tow), sharing even more candid moments, such as when he is stuffing his face with local delicacies on his YouTube channel “Record Park’s”. Now, more so than ever, celebrities are grasping the opportunity to showcase their own personalities on various platforms. But Park started his YouTube channel last year with the pure intention of connecting with his audience.

Ermenegildo Zegna sweater, trousers and shoes.
Ermenegildo Zegna sweater, trousers and shoes.

“I’m not a professional YouTuber. In some aspects, sharing my day-to-day life may not be special, but I feel it’s worthwhile because I found a way to return favours to fans,” he says in one of his videos, his enthusiasm mellows down to a sincere smile. While these video snippets may offer a glimpse of his life away from his characters in movies and television, it also reveals the amount of time Park spends in front of a camera — even when he’s not working.

Ralph Lauren Purple Label jacket, trousers, top and shoes. Kangol hat.
Ralph Lauren Purple Label jacket, trousers, top and shoes. Kangol hat.

One can’t help but wonder how he deals with the pressure of constantly being filmed, on top of the invasive demands that are often faced by celebrities of his stature. “I think of it as a fan service,” he says. From his perspective, it’s a small price to pay in order to give back. “It’s just my normal daily routine, it wasn’t done to gain anything in particular,” he says. And for someone who spends so much of his time in front of the lens, he also expresses that strange conundrum of not being able to imagine a life otherwise. “Filming became a part of my life,” he says. “Rather, I sometimes feel weird and empty when the cameras stop rolling.”

For all his talent and skills, Park still believes in the value of hard work. “It’s still difficult but I think that the more I try, eventually, there will come a day when I get used to all this,” he says. It is the same endearing way that he has honed his craft, and one can’t help but admire his resolution to constantly better himself, not just as an actor but as a public figure determined to connect with his audience.

On the cover of T Singapore’s “Sustainability” June 2020 issue, Park Seo Jun in Ralph Lauren Purple Label suit jacket, sweater, trousers and shoes.
On the cover of T Singapore’s “Sustainability” June 2020 issue, Park Seo Jun in Ralph Lauren Purple Label suit jacket, sweater, trousers and shoes.

See the full spread in the e-magazine

Photographs by Hong Jang Hyun
Creative direction by Jumius Wong
Styled by Im Hye Rim
Hair by Eom Jung Mi
Makeup by Jeon Dallae
Set design by Choi Seo Yun
Coordinator: Park Hee Young
Producer: Lee Kyung Kim at BL Creative House

Watch the Korean actor talk about dealing with mental health, his acting roles and the state of the Korean entertainment industry.