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Kim Hyun-joong’s pretty boy days over?

Hallyu star to play tough fighter in new gangster drama

“Inspiring Generation” (working title) stars Kim Hyun-joong (left) and Im Su-hyang attend the drama’s showcase at The Raum in Seoul on Monday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
“Inspiring Generation” (working title) stars Kim Hyun-joong (left) and Im Su-hyang attend the drama’s showcase at The Raum in Seoul on Monday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

Heroes are the idols of many a wee child’s dreams. All those action figures and games play into the fantasy of being that charismatic warrior that everyone looks up to.

For hallyu star Kim Hyun-joong that fantasy has become reality.

The 26-year-old K-pop idol is returning to the small screen as Shin Jeong-tae, a swift-fisted thug who grows up to be the best fighter in the land.

Kim’s new series, titled “Inspiring Generation” (working title), represents his first since MBC rom-com romp, “Naughty Kiss,” failed to bring in strong ratings three years ago.

Rather than take a step back and re-test the waters with a supporting role, Kim has taken a bold leap forward by shouldering the lead for the upcoming epic, which is set in the 1930s when Korea was under Japanese rule, and unfurls across Korea and China.

This will be Kim’s first period piece. Yet, he seems game for the challenge, even taking the fact that his first historical noir will be partly set in Shanghai in stride.

Far from furrowing his brow over how to immerse himself in a time and place so distant from what he is familiar with, Kim approached the situation from a broader perspective.

“I don’t feel a big difference between now and Shanghai in the 1930s,” Kim said at the drama’s showcase in Seoul on Monday.

For him, the story is a human one, one that involves universal themes of love and anger, themes that anyone could relate to at any point in time.

That does not mean he was oblivious to the actual physical details on set that helped form the foundations of a story that took place over 70 years ago.

Kim revealed that while filming scenes that took place in China, he noticed one of the props was a brand of chocolate that even modern-day consumers are familiar with.

When he asked if it was historically accurate, he was told that the brand was available in China at the time, signaling how modernized Shanghai was over 70 years ago.

The period piece genre is not the only thing new to Kim.

Kim’s new street-wise hero is a guy who has to be tough and strong enough to take on Korean, Japanese and Chinese mafia, a guy who can wear his scars with true grit, who knows no fear and who will take on anyone if necessary with his bare fists.

In short, Shin Jeong-tae is going to be a far cry from Kim’s previous, pretty-boy roles like those he played in KBS’ “Boys Over Flowers” and MBC’s “Naughty Kiss.”

At the press event, the star sounded ready to shed off the quiet, stoic genteel persona of his past works for the tough skin of his latest character.

“I am looking forward to showing a somewhat more manly side of myself,” he said, sporting a tan and a certain gravitas befitting his new role.

Of course there will be plenty of action-packed fights in the upcoming series, to which, Kim promised, “I have been preparing for all those action scenes, so I do not intend to disappoint.”

As with any storybook hero, Kim’s Shin may seem invincible on the outside but harbors his own emotional scars.

“Shin Jeong-tae has endured a great deal of personal pain,” Kim revealed. “He and his father are not close and so he is a very lonely person but he is also very warm-hearted as well.”

Romance will also be part-and-parcel of the upcoming series, with Kim’s Shin caught between his childhood sweetheart Ok-ryeon ― played by Jin Se-yeon ― and his love-turned-nemesis Tekuchi Gaya ― played by “IRIS 2” actress Im Su-hyang.

“Inspiring Generation” is slated to start airing January on KBS.

By Jean Oh (