Actor Ahn Jae-wook has it all -- a successful career, a beautiful wife and now, a new-born daughter whose mere thought brings a smile to his face.
Ahn is part of the first generation of South Korean actors who started "hallyu," or the Asia-wide popularity of Korean culture, in the 1990s. After taking a four-year hiatus, he has finally returned to South Korean TV as a widowed man with lots of baggage in the tongue-in-cheek family drama "Five Children."
"The writer has done a great job of keeping the story light-hearted, even though the topic (of broken families) can become depressing very quickly," he told Yonhap News Agency in an interview recently. "It describes life's pains not too painfully."
In the KBS 2TV drama, Ahn plays the titular character Lee Sang-tae, who is a single dad with two kids. He meets a divorced woman with three children, Ahn Mi-jeong (So Yoo-jin), and the two try to give love another shot even while life throws them curve balls.
"The fast pace of the story throws me off sometimes. I've wondered whether it's too fast for a weekend show, but fortunately the response from people in their 20s has been positive," he said.
"They've told me they've had no problem with the pace, and that's how I realized young people are watching our show, too."
A departure from previous, more serious dramas on weekend time slots, "Five Children" had been a source of anxiety among producers at KBS. But contrary to expectations that it may flop, the show opened at a solid viewership of 20 percent and surpassed the 30-percent mark in just 10 episodes.
Having become a dad only a day before the show premiered on Feb. 20, Ahn says the timing of his daughter's birth may have helped his role.
"If I were still single and had to act like a single dad with kids, I would've had more trouble with this role," he said. "But fortunately, I've been married and became a dad before the show started. I think the sense of responsibility I feel in real life has aided my acting. People have been telling me I look very comfortable on the set."
The daughter has not only helped his career but his personal life, too.
"My little brother is 39 years old, so Soo-yun (my daughter) is the first child in our family in 40 years," he said. "My parents are obviously ecstatic, but I've also felt my relationships with them get closer."
Although Ahn and Lee share their marital and parental statuses, Ahn says he's still had to act differently from his true self.
"Frankly, I think Sang-tae is too timid," he said, followed by a laugh. "But I've tried to hold back a little at the beginning, since he's not divorced but widowed -- I figured he shouldn't be too upbeat."
Not only is he good-looking and talented, Ahn has proved to be a family man, too.
"I don't remember buying anything for myself within the past year besides one or two gym clothes," he said. "I used to be so selfish, but now, all I want is to buy things for my wife and my kid."
"Before, I used to treat my friends to dinner on a regular basis, but now I think, 'If I buy something for my wife with this money, I'd probably earn bonus points, wouldn't I,'" he said.
Ahn realizes he's lucky to be in his position -- especially considering the near-death experience he underwent three years ago.
In February 2013, Ahn collapsed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or bleeding in the area between his brain and the tissues covering the brain.
"Because I hadn't felt sick in the run-up to that incident, I realized immediately how lucky I was to recover. I also experienced no complications like paralysis. So lately, when I watch my wife and daughter sleep in the same bed, I wonder if this is all a dream," he said.
Understanding his fortune, Ahn says he wants to devote the time he has left to work on his career.
"I think (God) has given me more time so I can do more work," he said. "I'll try to reach out to my viewers through my acting on 'Five Children.'" (Yonhap)