Jang Keun Suk – A Pheonix Reborn
Jang Keun Suk has never had as physically and emotionally demanding a role as he now plays in Daebak The Royal Gambler.
In his past roles, he played a variety of characters, from a psychotic killer to a loveable if emotionally scarred musician. His previous roles absolutely showed his acting talent and his potential to play more substantial characters. His portrayal in Where the Truth Lies of a young adult who wantonly murders a stranger chills the audience. He plays the role with a charisma that makes you want to like him; then suddenly he exhibits pure evil with one look. That one look is shockingly real and intense, leaving us both confused and frightened. In Beethoven’s Virus, he makes us believe he is a musical genius, torn between loyalty and honor for his mentor and his desire to be strike out on his own, seeking new interpretations of classical compositions even at the cost of being abandoned. At times, he seems so lost and alone and at others abrupt and abrasive. But we empathize with his character and want him to succeed because Jang plays the role with such honesty and truth.
Acting, according to the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg, is the art of making the unreal real. In other words, the acting must appear honest and real and truthful – of making the audience believe everything the actor does and says really happens. As many directors who have worked with Jang have said, he’s a natural born actor. He instinctively knows what to do, how to say a line, what look to give, and what movement to make to create a believable character.
His character, though, in Daebak (Jackpot) The Royal Gambler is something entirely new for Jang. Born out of long year of reflection and a greed for strong role, he chose this script exactly for the reason that it would change the trajectory of his acting career. No more soft roles, he said; he wanted roles and characters that were difficult to play and would challenge him as never before, to force him out of his comfort zone. But he’s never had to endure physical stunts that would make most of us cringe and go screaming towards the exit.
Although early in Daebak, he plays a free-wheeling, mischievous country boy, innocent of city ways and city people, his character swiftly endures harsh struggles to survive and is nearly killed in the process. He sees his father murdered in front of him; he’s beaten, stabbed, falls off a cliff, gets buried up to his chin in salt flat mud, and starved long enough to grab and rip the skin off a live viper and feast on its’ raw meat. And if that isn’t enough, he’s tossed into the outhouse dung hole.
Having endured all those traumas, much like the protagonist of a Greek tragedy – and in many ways, Daebak is much like a Greek tragedy – he emerges a stronger, wiser, and even harder man. He becomes Dae-Gil the Royal Gambler, the best gambler in Joseon. He may not like this new world he’s discovered, where winner takes all and never mind the consequences to others, but he knows how to play the game, even if it requires swindling. Yet, for all his newly found toughness, he harbors a sense of goodness, fairness, and honor. We see the compassion in his eyes when he encounters injustice to others. We also see the hard gleam of revenge flashing in those same eyes when he seeks to destroy his antagonist.
This actor is not the soft, handsome Jang, with his long locks, winning smile, and bluff jokes, so often portrayed in the media and elsewhere. This Jang is one who has acquired a vision of his career and now greedily pursues that vision, regardless of the hardships and physical challenges required.
His year of reflection, wherein he endured the stings and barbs of the media and public opinion, created a new Jang. He emerged stronger Jang who, like his character in Daebak, single-mindedly seeks his goal of becoming a truly great artiste.
This Jang is a phoenix reborn from the ashes of his past.