With little dialogue, Park Ji-hoon's latest role presented new challenges
The beloved K-pop star who shines on stage returns to the small screen as a lonely outsider in Wavve’s original drama series “Weak Hero Class 1.”
When offered the role of the protagonist Yeon Si-eun in “Weak Hero Class 1,” singer and actor Park Ji-hoon knew it was a perfect opportunity to show a new side of himself to his fans. Park, who has been active as an actor since the age of seven, has already made a name for himself by ranking No. 2 on Mnet’s hit K-pop survival show in Season 2 of “Produce 101” (2017). Following the success of the show, he immediately debuted as one of the 11 members of the project boy band Wanna One, which became one of the most beloved, iconic third-generation boy band, storming the music charts with a series of hits such as “Energetic” (2017), “Burn It Up” (2017) and “Boomerang” (2018).
However, his winking and smiling days were gone for “Weak Hero Class 1.” Si-eun, who, on the outside, seems like an ordinary high school student, makes it clear from the very beginning of Episode 1 that he chooses to be an outsider because he has no interest in anything else other than studying. With his ultimate goal to graduate with high honors and to get into a top university to earn the attention and love of his separated parents, Si-eun is willing to destroy anything that gets in his way.
Since the series was released on Wavve last week, the streaming platform reported that it ranked No. 1 in terms of influx of paid subscribers out of all content released this year, while it ranks No. 2 on OTT (over-the-top) chart Kinolights, a content recommender site based in Korea, just after JTBC’s “Reborn Rich” (2022) starring global star Song Joong-ki. The series is being simultaneously streamed on Amazon Prime, Comcast, Google TV, Roku and iQIYI, garnering positive responses from overseas. On Chinese review site Douban, the series received a score of 8.4 out of 10 from 1,787 viewers in three days after its release, while American film review site IMDb gives it 8.8 out of 10.
Park described the series as his “turning point” at a press interview at a cafe in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul, on Tuesday. However, the actor did not necessarily want to totally break away from his previous image.
“I don’t want to shed the lovable, cute image that I had,” Park said. “It’s an element that I’ve wanted to possess, and I think of it as [one of] my attributes. But I did want to show a new side of myself, which is why I spent countless hours discussing the role and the series with director Yoo Soo-min. I did have a premonition that it will become a crucial turning point in my life, and I’m grateful that people realize the amount of effort I put into this role.”
Adapted from Naver Webtoon “Weak Hero,” the series follows Si-eun, an outcast in his class, who becomes involved in school violence, drugs and gambling and through these things, forges a friendship with two of his classmates, Su-ho and Bum-seok, portrayed by Choi Hyun-wook and Hong Kyeong. Described as “weak in physique,” Si-eun seems to be a perfect target for school bullies — but he is extremely fast and quick in judgement, using the tools near him with full intent to catch the bullies off guard.
Although he gradually opens up to his two friends, the character stays sullen by his nature, speaking only a few sentences in each episode.
“One of the hardest parts to relate to was that Si-eun doesn’t speak that much,” Park said, adding that he had to portray his characters’ emotions mostly through his gaze and facial expressions. “But where I do feel that I’m similar to him is his loneliness. When I was in the band, I had 10 friends that I could depend on. However, since we were a project group, there was a due date [for our disbandment] and the reality of being alone hit me as I went solo [...] But I’m fine now. Three years have passed [since disbandment] and I’m in a place now where I’m okay even though I’m alone.”
The 23-year-old actor is well-aware of his selling point, which he attempted to maximize through this series.
“It’s more difficult [to act] when it’s without any dialogue,” Park said. “So I thought what was most important was that I had to portray my emotions through my gaze, which I believe is one of the attributes that I possess.”
Park admits that Si-eun was the most intense character he has portrayed in his 16-year career. Although he may seem distant, the friendships he forges seem to be permanent for the once-lonely outsider who goes above and beyond to protect his friends, even at the cost of his grades.
“As I monitored myself through the screen, I kept crying,” he said. “I especially like my distorted face in the last episode. Both the the physical and emotional energy that I vented for the character were maximized from head to toe. After filming, I would immediately go home and zonk out to sleep.
“But I do understand why Si-eun went out of bounds to avenge for his friend, Su-ho,” he said. “Su-ho is the first friend that Si-eun ever had and his guilt that everything had happened because of him pushed him to do what he did. I believe that even though he may not seem like it, Si-eun always craved for a touch of human warmth, to have friends and be loved by his parents.”
Park, who seems to be on the path for success as he juggles both his singing and acting careers, says his role model for the latter is Lee Byung-hun.
“One of the best compliments that I saw from the comments was that they saw me not as Park Ji-hoon, but as the character himself,” Park said. “I’m ever so grateful for that comment. It’s the same with my role model. When you see Lee Byung-hun on the screen, you see him not as the actor, but as if he’s really become that character.”
Global viewers and his fans are already crying out for for a second season of “Weak Hero Class 1," which the actor is positive about.
“However, everything is undecided for now, so I’m cautious to say for sure,” he said. “But I am feeling how popular the series is. The day before yesterday, I was holding a fan meet-and-greet in Thailand, and many of my fans there complimented me on ‘Weak Hero Class 1,’ all telling me how much they enjoyed the series.
“I had anticipated [that the series would do well] but it has exceeded well beyond my expectations,” Park said. “I’ve always done my best at the given task laid out in front of me, and my fans know that I work hard even when I’m off-the-grid, so for that, I’m ever so grateful.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [email@example.com]