August 28, 2007
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Perhaps a reflection of the growing awareness of an increasingly multiracial Korea, a growing number of foreign faces are appearing on Korean television. More and more Korean dramas are casting foreign-born actors and actresses, although in supporting roles.
In recent years, hunky actors like Daniel Henney and Dennis O, who are partly Korean, have won the hearts of fans, even though they can barely speak Korean.
Now, it's the turn of good-looking and fluent Korean speakers like exotic British-Japanese Eva Popiel and blonde Belgian Julian Quintart to make a splash on the entertainment scene.
Eva Popiel, a young Japanese-British woman who attracted attention after appearing in the hit KBS talk show "Beauties Chatterbox", is now parlaying her popularity into an acting career.
At the press conference for the KBS1 daily series Likable or Not ("I Hate You, But It's Fine"), Popiel attracted media attention because this is her first acting role, though she may have even overshadowed the drama's lead stars Han Ji-hye, Kim Ji-seok and Jo Dong-hyeok.
Popiel admitted it was hard at first, but she received a lot of support and help from her co-stars. When asked if she made a lot of mistakes when acting, she replied "only a little". Her co-star Kim Chan-woo had nothing but praise for Popiel, saying she is very beautiful and hard-working.
Popiel plays the role of Sonia, a young woman from Kazakhstan who has come to Korea to work at an events company. She has been working in Korea for three years, sending money back to her family in Kazakhstan. The show will air on KBS1 at 8:25 p.m. from Monday to Friday, starting Sept. 3.
Other foreign women who have appeared in "Beauties Chatterbox" are also branching out into the entertainment industry.
Japanese woman Saori Chang has signed up with an entertainment agency and appeared in other variety shows, while Canadian Luvada Dunford has been seen in television commercials
Meanwhile, Cambodian beauty contest winner Ka Cho had a minor role in the drama series How to Meet a Perfect Neighbor, which starred Kim Seung-woo and Bae Doona. The drama was filmed on location in Cambodia. Ka Cho, whose real name is Pov Theavy, won the Beautiful Woman and Handsome Man 2006 competition in Phnom Phen last year.
The presence of foreign faces in Korean television is a welcome trend. However, it remains to be seen whether foreign actors and actresses can go beyond the stereotype and create more meaningful characters.
Julian Quintart, a 20-year old from Belgium, is appearing in the SBS Friday drama Sky High, which started airing Aug. 24.
Quintart never imagined he would have ended up as a celebrity when he first came to Korea as an exchange student in late 2004. He first gained attention appearing in the SBS Saturday morning show "A Way to Live Well and Eat Well". Since then, he has appeared in numerous shows on MBC, SBS and Mnet.
Quintart is making his acting debut in the SBS Friday drama Sky High, which started airing Aug. 24. He plays a supporting role as Daniel, an American who grew up in New York and can speak a little Korean.
In an interview with The Korea Times on Sunday, Quintart said he does not want to make his role a stereotype of foreigners living in Korean. "He (Daniel) is not typical because he can speak some Korean. I think most foreigners' roles in the dramas are like Dennis O and Daniel Henney, who seem very cold. But my character shows another image of foreigners, as cute and cheerful", he said.
Quintart, who turned 20 last Friday, plays a character similar to his own. He said the hardest part about acting in the drama is pretending that he doesn't speak much Korean. In reality, he is already quite fluent in conversational Korean, having learned through self-study and practicing speaking with Koreans.
Even though he is already fluent himself, he is still working hard to improve. He is also taking acting lessons to improve his craft. "I won't say I'm an actor yet. I can't speak Korean well. But I really like it and I want to become an actor. I am not satisfied, so I am always trying to act better and work hard", Quintart said.
His clean-cut good looks, friendly demeanor and youthful enthusiasm for Korean culture have earned him many fans. His first reaction when he found out he had a fan club on the Internet? "Whoa", he recalled, with a laugh. "This is so much fun for me to meet a lot of new people. It is a good experience to go abroad like this. I'm very thankful for Korea. I am happy to see Korea is becoming more and more open".