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Film’s Mr. Serious turns to comedy

Hwang stars as a sloppy city mayoral candidate in his upcoming comedy “Dancing Queen.” (CJ Entertainment)
Hwang stars as a sloppy city mayoral candidate in his upcoming comedy “Dancing Queen.” (CJ Entertainment)

‘Dancing Queen’ star Hwang Jeong-min says he’s funny, laidback off-screen

It’s easy to mistake actor Hwang Jeong-min as serious.

His past roles on the silver screen have a lot to do with it. His recent (and impressive) filmography includes the Blue Dragon Award-winning crime thriller “Unjust” and last year’s conspiracy flick “Moby Dick.”

Yet sitting over his favorite chrysanthemum tea in Samcheong-dong, Seoul, Hwang does not resemble the passionate city desk reporter in “Moby Dick” nor the corrupt police detective assigned to fabricate a case in “Unjust.” Wearing a black and white striped sweater, Hwang is openly in awe of the “amazing taste” of his tea.

“I am a funny person off-screen, really,” the 41-year-old tells The Korea Herald. “I’ve been getting tired of those noir thrillers and crime dramas. And to many people’s surprise, I actually like watching romantic comedies, and wanted to do it for a long time. So my choice for the upcoming film says a lot.”

After a series of serious roles, Hwang chose a comedy for his first film of this year. Starring Hwang and popular singer and actress Uhm Jung-hwa, “Dancing Queen” tells the story of a married couple who rediscover their long-lost dreams.

While Uhm plays a housewife who in secret tries out for a reality TV talent show in the hope of becoming a singer, Hwang stars as Uhm’s husband and a low-earning lawyer who ends up becoming a candidate for the Seoul mayoral election ― after becoming a local hero by accidentally saving the life of a drunken man on a subway platform.

Notably, both of the characters are named after Hwang and Uhm’s real names. Hwang says his goofy lawyer character, named Hwang Jeong-min, resembles him the most of all the characters he has played.

“I think it had a lot to do with being called by my real name while acting,” says Hwang. “It would very often make me feel as if I were just being myself, instead of playing a role. And I think I really was just being myself in a lot of the scenes, especially the ones where I make silly arguments with Uhm.”
Hwang Jeong-min poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Hwang Jeong-min poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Hwang’s character inevitably conjures up the real-life story of the current Seoul mayor and lawyer Park Won-soon, who was elected as an independent candidate last year.

“Well, it was just a coincidence,” says Hwang. “The real election took place out of the blue after we finished our shooting. So we were just shocked by what was happening and how it connects to some parts of our film. But that was all, really.

“I had no hard time playing a political character,” he continues. “No one can really become a mayoral election candidate by doing what my character does in the film. There are just too many coincidences and luck. The movie is a fictional story which is supposed to be funny ― not political. I understood that clearly and just tried to be out there and have fun.”

Hwang, who acted throughout high school and majored in it at university, started off as a theater actor in the 1990s. He made his official film debut in 2000, in director Lim Soon-rye’s band drama “Waikiki Brothers.”

He won the Best Actor Prize at Blue Dragon Awards in 2005 for his engrossing performance as the kindhearted farmer who falls in love with a HIV-positive prostitute, played by actress Jeon Do-yeon, in “You Are My Sunshine.”

In 2007, he played a troubled club CEO who falls in love with a woman with a terminal illness during his brief stay in a nursing home in “Happiness,” and starred as a private detective in 2009 crime thriller “Private Eye.”

“When I choose the films that I want to work in, I always just go for the stories (not the characters),” he says. “The narrative is the most important. I believe solid narratives automatically produce engaging characters.”

Of all his roles, Hwang recalls his turn as a gay man in director Kim In-sik’s 2002 queer film “Road Movie” as the most challenging.

“I won several best new actor prizes for the role,” Hwang says. “But I wasn’t proud of my performance at all. I felt like my acting was a lie, because I could not completely feel what the character was supposed to be feeling. It took me a while to gain confidence in my performance after that movie. Now, I try to have fun as much as can with acting.”

Hwang is known for having a separate bank account which he uses to save money to treat his fellow film crew members to food and drinks.

“No movie can be made alone,” Hwang says. “It’s team work and everyone’s effort really counts. I don’t think of it as anything special. I do it privately and never really talk about it. I don’t know how it becomes public so easily.”

Just like his film character who aims to become a city mayor, Hwang says he, too, has a second dream ― which he’d like to keep a secret.

“I’d be delighted if my viewers ask each other what their dreams are or were after watching ‘Dancing Queen,’” Hwang says. “We are very often only concerned with our own desire and needs. But it would be meaningful to ask your 70-year-old mother what she wanted to be as a young girl, or what your friends are dreaming of for the near future.”

“Dancing Queen” opens in theaters on Jan. 18.

By Claire Lee (
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