Day 19: Your favorite interview of a k-pop idol or group
TOP’s boyish face is nowhere to be seen in his first movie, Into the Fire. The rapper that fans are used to seeing, rapping freely with a mischievous grin on his lips is now making his way up the hill of acting with his first movie debut.
Heavy smoke rises among the green forest, the banging of drums can be heard. In this lost world disguised with green solitude a crack is heard and the distorted peace is broken. Thump, dum, thump is the only way to describe the sound by Oskar, a character in the novel by Gunter Grass. ‘A conversation between a moth and a light bulb’ is the only weapon a weakling has to defy against the cruel world.
TOP silently plays the drums. His sharp jawline stands out as a sign of maturation, wrinkles of concentration in the space between his brows. His lips are tightly closed but his dark eyes are open. His special gaze is not something that can be easily replicated.
“I think it’s because my mind is complicated. When other kids were playing in the playground, I spent most of my time at home by myself. Since I was young, writing lyrics and rapping was one of my only joys. The solitude and loneliness became some kind of energy within me that just piled up, it comes out in the times that I need it. When I first got on stage, I saw a new side of me that I didn’t even know existed. I never got reckless though. I don’t use up my energy on senseless things either.”
For him, the reason for choosing Into the Fire for his first movie is quite simple. “I felt an unreasonable responsibility, I felt like it just couldn’t be done without me.” After seeing TOP dressed in a suit, singing his solo song at a Big Bang concert, representative Jang TaeWong immediately handed him a script. It was for the movie, Into the Fire, in which the story of the tragic battle from Pohang (August 1950) is told, as seen through the eyes of a 17 year old boy. This movie was inspired by hundreds of letters sent by student soldier, Lee WooKeun to his mother. TOP will be playing the part of Oh JangBum, the storyteller and General of the student soldiers.
“Mother. I killed a person.” He begins the letter.
“I had no idea, that something like this could happen. Fans younger than me only understand student soldiers as one part of the issue. I want to tell historical truth. The reason why I rapped and did hip-hop at a young age was to tell my story. In that case, in this age where idol singers are overflowing I should do something more meaningful compared to them.”
TOP writes, as if he were a modern-day Oh JangBum.
What does it mean for him to become a star and make so much money at such a young age? “This is something I think about often, like everyone else, I don’t think that anyone has answers for their own life. I was never satisfied. As the number of people around me increased…instead of just enjoying it, I felt more responsibility and as time passes, I want to be more perfect for them.” The weight of feeling responsible for those around him can be compared to the weight of the General of the student soldiers. Who is TOP the person, not the star?
“I don’t know. I never went out with TOP, so I don’t know. I think I’m a responsible person, but I don’t want to say that. I think I would be digging my own grave. (laughs)”
TOP began living in Hapchun for 6 months the day after the drama Iris ended production. A shabby hotel was his home, in a little city off in the country with only a few restaurants. Potato stew, Chinese food, and sometimes meat was all he ate. It was definitely a complete different lifestyle compared to the fancy lifestyle of an idol. “Around 6pm, after filming, I returned to the motel room and after just reading the script, I felt lonely and became deeper in thought, so I fell asleep drinking wine.” He is sometimes frightened in his dreams by seeing Chae SeungWon, who plays a North Korean General Park MooRyang. During that time, besides the concert stages in Japan, TOP was no where to be seen in public. Only Oh JangBum existed. TOP felt like this role could not be done without giving it his all. President of YGEntertainment, Yang HyunSuk put his complete faith into TOP’s decision for this role.
Up until this point, TOP has lived according to his own will, he is known for not being the type of person who moves under others’ orders. In order to listen to all the hip-hop music and buy his own clothing, TOP secretly worked part time at a clothing store in LeeTaeWon, unbeknownst to his parents. Under the street name, TEMPO he began going to a HongDae underground club, where he was well-known. “Up until the age of 20, I felt like ‘I have to try everything’, that was my mindset. I lived a carefree lifestyle, but I never did anything bad.” He wore so many clothes he began to grow tired of it. How many men can wear John Galliano and Tom Brown suits at the age of 24, in their own distinctive way?
TOP never auditioned to become a singer. President Yang HyunSuk called him after G-Dragon had given him a rap demo CD made by the artist, TEMPO. Until this time, YG Entertainment had never called someone without having them go through several stages of judging. Even at the age of 20, during Big Bang’s debut, his training period was short compared to the other members.
“Have I ever failed? No. I’m not a person with a malicious personality, but if there is something I really want, I try my best to gain it in one way or another. Many opportunities happen to approach me as if it were fate. Of course, I have also worked hard and have always done my best.”
He had never thought of acting before he participated in the music video for ‘Hello‘ by Red Rock in 2007. In the music video, TOP played a man who was scarred by love and even shaved off his own hair. In that same year, he appeared as a rebellious high school student in the drama, I am Sam. The Korean-Japanese collaboration of I am 19 and Iris followed naturally after that.
“I have never officially learned how to act. In the beginning, my agency hired a teacher but they just quit on me. They said that my speech and tone…just my voice was too different from others to be able to act. The thing is, even compared to other rappers, I use a different vocalization.”
Well-established actors did not fall short in complementing him on the day of the press conference. Cha SeungWon said “SeungHyun (TOP) has the face I wish I had when I was in my 20s.” Kim SeungWoo said “It makes me wonder if I was able to act like him when I was his age. He’s worth looking forward to.” Kwon SangWoo proudly said “He acted well, not only for his action scenes, but also for even the slightest emotion.”
Kind words were said about TOP, who had basically lived on set because he had the most amount of filming. The characteristic sense of rhythm of a rapper had actually helped TOP in speaking a different dialect. In the beginning, he had a hard time because of his habit to emphasize the end of words to make rhymes, but once he listened to it, he was fully capable of imitating the accent. “I wanted to surprise everyone with my accent. But because of that, I didn’t want to hear that TOP had transformed into an actor. I myself don’t know who I am, but the word ‘transformed’ can be misleading.” Even when he acts, his name is credited as TOP, not his real name (Choi SeungHyun). To him, TOP is not just another stage name, to him, it’s a character that he had dreamed up in his mind even before debut. He had created this character, from his actions, facial expressions, to even the slightest of hand motions.
“I can’t explain it in detail, but there is some duality. The innocence and the parts of it don’t change. I’m a person who can’t think of bad things and do sly things, but I never went up on stage rapping with a pure and innocent expression, right? The TOP on stage could be or could not be who I really am.”
While this person who raps with great confidence, staring at the camera as if having an intimate conversation, he simply cannot look straight into a person’s eyes when he talks to them.
And here is another side of TOP, who we cannot be sure if this is the real him. Staring at the camera, TOP’s eyes were watery and then a tear dropped. The lively man, who just a second ago was making people laugh with his impersonation of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, is nowhere to be found. The boy carrying empty cartridges and a rifle is now Oh JangBum. Everyone watches him while holding their breath. Only the fog machine burning coffee beans to enact gun fire can be heard. The forest is suddenly filled with a coffee aroma. Photographer Hong JangHyun captured the moment with the 70’s Hasselblad film camera which is no longer produced. He has filmed TOP about 20 times ever since Big Bang‘s ‘Lies‘ promotions. Even when as he was being photographed he acted out facial expressions. After watching him today, it clearly seems that he has the aura of an actor. It is something that was not discovered when surrounded by the other 4 members. TOP showed a mix of expressions in the images, heavy desire, fear, and weak trust, ruining his boyish face. In a crazy war full of adults, he symbolized the last remaining innocence of mankind.
“I’m a kid that has only recently realized how thankful I am for my life. This doesn’t mean that I was unhappy, I was just inclined towards darkness. But the first thing I thought after reading the script was how thankful I was to not be born in that era. I wish the younger generation today could realize that as well.”
On August 11th, 1950, student soldier Lee WooKeun was found dead in a field in front of Pohang Girl’s High School while a raging battle ensured in Dabu-gong. Out of 78 people in that army unit, 48, including Lee, had died. This is how history wrote it. Now, in the middle of the peaceful forest, TOP puts on his armor in a competetive manner. “Listen to my story.”