Jung Woo-Sung may not be a household name in Hong Kong (except among fans of Korean TV and movies), but he certainly knows how to make an entrance. The 45-year-old South Korean actor arrived at our cover shoot at H Queen’s with an entourage of about 10 including his managers, publicists, stylists, a make-up artist and two bodyguards in intimidating black suits.
After wrapping up the shoot, he was whisked downstairs to a green room – away from the crowd of paparazzi and fans who had gathered outside – until he was ready to face the TV cameras at a special art exhibition organised by Swiss skincare brand La Prairie.
For Jung, who has appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows in his 24-year career, dealing with screaming fans and breathless young women is just another part of the job – and something he’s grown accustomed to since he was a teenager and quit making hamburgers to pursue acting.
“I didn’t go to acting school. I started out as a model, which was easier at the time,” says Jung, who grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood of Seoul and started working at 15 to help support his family. “One day I heard about an audition looking for a rookie for a new movie, and I went for it. I was very lucky; I got the title role without any previous acting experience. I was also fortunate that teen girls adored my appearance, no matter how good I was at acting.”
Indeed, Jung’s debut in The Fox with Nine Tails led to a diverse range of roles on TV – in series including Asphalt Man, Athena: Goddess of War andPadam Padam – and in movie genres ranging from crime, action and thriller to fantasy, martial arts and romance. Some of his most memorable, and successful, projects include Beat, Musa, Cold Eyes, Steel Rain, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird.
Along the way, Jung’s interest in film led to an affinity for art and photography. The first work Jung purchased was by German photographer Candida Höfer, who had an exhibition in Korea. Another artist who made an impression was the sculptor and abstract expressionist John Chamberlain. “I already knew the artist because his works were so interesting,” he says, recalling a visit to the Guggenheim Museum in New York. “When I finally saw his works at the exhibition, I was immediately fascinated.”
Jung insists he’s still a novice when it comes to art and that’s it’s too early to call him a collector. Instead, he seeks out art with which he feels an emotional connection. “I enjoy them and feel happy looking at them,” he says. “But sometimes they stay with me for just a short time if I feel as though they no longer belong to me.
Besides acting and art, something else that makes Jung happy is his humanitarian work. Through this, he has learned not to take anything for granted. “I’m sociable and adaptable. I could endure the distressing conditions because I was there by my own choice,” he says. “But they were forced to leave their countries. They didn’t have a choice. Still, they showed me how powerful and courageous humans can be.”
In addition to his humanitarian duties, Jung continues to act as well as produce, direct and run a talent management firm with his good friend and fellow actor Lee Jung Jae. He also frequently serves on the jury of various film festivals, including the Busan International Film Festival in Korea and IFFAM (International Film Festival and Awards Macao).
Despite the buzz around the Hollywood feature Crazy Rich Asians, Jung is happy to continue working in Korea and on Korean films. “In the past, getting a role in a Hollywood movie was considered something special. But with the gap [in movie quality] narrowing, many Korean movies are now screened overseas and it’s become possible to work with actors and directors from different countries,” he says. “Hollywood actors and actresses are also taking part in Asian movies more than before. So there are more choices now.”
Jung’s latest project, currently filming in Korea, is a heart-warming tale of a corrupt lawyer who turns good after meeting a young woman with autism. Witness is set for release around Chinese New Year.
With so much going on, Jung’s focus is just trying to stay in the moment. “I’m not so ambitious. If I keep working hard and sustain what I have achieved, that would be my life’s achievement. Some people say that staying where you are is the hardest thing to do, and I agree. I can go up or I can be elbowed out by others at any time, but staying where I’m at is the most difficult thing to do,” he says with a laugh as he lifts his hands in the air. “Hang in there!”
Read the full story in Prestige Hong Kong October 2018 issue
Photography Dino Busch
Styling Tasha Ling
Photography Assistant Jonas Novak
Styling Assistant Flossie Wong
Location Whitestone Gallery