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EXCLUSIVE: Korean Superstar Hyun Bin In His First-Ever Philippine Digital Cover

In this interview with Metro.Style, the seasoned actor talks about the phenomenal success of K-Drama "Crash Landing on You," his co-star Son Ye-jin, and his thoughts about the COVID-19 pandemic

Three months have passed since K-Drama Crash Landing on You (CLOY) ended with Hyun Bin as Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok and Son Ye-Jin as Yoon Se-ri, but one can still feel the historic impact it has had on Hallyu (Korean wave). What started out as ripples quickly turned into tidal waves that came crashing over every Filipino K-Drama fan with all their might. The show’s far-reaching influence has penetrated different aspects of these people’s lives—from the way they dress up and do their hair and makeup to what they eat and drink and the music they listen to, even right down to the idea of growing a plant and saying 10 nice words to it every day!  


Son Ye-jin as Yoon Se-ri and Hyun Bin as Ri Jeong-hyeok in "Crash Landing on You" | Photo from Netflix
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The so-called “Titas of Manila” (in Korean, they’re the ahjummas of this world) have found a pastime, creating group chats where fangirling is very much welcome. Even the not-so-techy, casual social media users have turned into content-hungry netizens, ready to devour photos and videos that are related to CLOY and its stars with a double-tap, a quick click on the like button, or a long-press for a heart emoji.    


For many Filipinos, CLOY sparked their fascination for K-Dramas, but it raised the bar too. After re-watching the series for the nth time, many of these fans still find themselves asking, “How do I move on from this?” The obsession is real, and the struggle to find the next binge-worthy series is realer. The feeling seems to be mutual even for Korean viewers themselves, as CLOY is now the highest-rated tvN drama ever and the third highest-rated drama in Korean cable TV history, with its finale episode’s nationwide rating recorded at 21.683%. As of this writing, CLOY remains in the top 10 shows on Netflix in the Philippines as well. 


At the center of it all is 37-year-old Hyun Bin—also known as Kim Tae-pyung in real life and Capt. Ri Jeong-hyeok in the widely popular CLOY—who has marked a milestone in his 17-year-long career. For old K-Drama fans, his latest series is just further proof of his talent, versatility, and on-screen charm. But for new K-Drama fans, CLOY became a gateway to the Hyun Bin fandom, satiating their yearning for him by binge-watching his past movies and TV shows, including his iconic K-Dramas My Lovely Sam Soon (2005), Secret Garden (2010), and Hyde Jekyll, Me (2015).  


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The “warmth and innocence” of Capt. Ri 

In CLOY, Hyun Bin’s character is a captain of the North Korean army, and is a member of the North Korean elite who comes from a powerful political family. He is well respected by his colleagues and subordinates, and adored by his neighbors (a.k.a. the ahjummas in his village). On the surface, he’s the stoic kind, expressionless even in a lighthearted moment. He stays true to his principles. But when he meets Yoon Se-ri (portrayed by Son Ye-jin), a South Korean heiress who accidentally crash-lands in North Korea after a paragliding accident, the all-too-serious, quiet, and reserved Capt. Ri opens up little by little, revealing a softer and more endearing side to him. It’s an aspect of his personality that he has shown during the phase of his life as a piano prodigy and a student training to be a concert pianist in Switzerland, but one that has been left hidden in the corners of his heart because of a tragic loss. Then comes Se-ri, and all the sappy sentiments, romantic gestures, and unashamed vulnerability he never realized he can project break down the emotional floodgates that push them to drift closer to, rather than apart from, each other.


“All the characters I've played so far have a different meaning to me. But Ri Jeong-hyeok in Crash Landing on You had more warmth and innocence, compared to the characters I had previously played. So, I think it was a bit more special in terms of expressing the role,” the Korean superstar tells Metro.Style in his signature deep and manly voice. 


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During the press conference for CLOY, Hyun Bin mentioned that he and Ri Jeong-hyeok are about 60 percent similar in terms of personality. Like his character, admittedly, he’s also not the talkative and expressive type.  


“There’s a little bit of me in every single character I have played,” he tells Netflix’s The Swoon. “When it comes to Ri Jeong-hyeok, a part of him that reminds me of my real self is how he does his job quietly yet diligently while looking after his own people. I think that’s pretty similar to me.” Just as Ri Jeong-hyeok is reserved, Hyun Bin also has a mysterious layer that makes him even more interesting and more attractive.   


Prior to CLOY, Hyun Bin’s projects were all action-packed. He did films like 2017’s Confidential Assignment and The Swindlers, 2018’s The Negotiation and Rampant, as well as the 2018 K-Drama Memories of the Alhambra. He had been meaning to take a break from this level of intensity and mellow out with a light and fun romantic drama, so CLOY landed on his lap at the perfect time (and with the perfect leading lady, as you will read more on later). Still, what’s a Hyun Bin character without a bit of action? His latest series made sure to offer a bit of that, too, used sparingly but interspersed thoughtfully throughout the 16-episode drama.     


To make his character convincing, Hyun Bin studied the North Korean dialect for two and a half months. He also learned how to play the piano. And since Capt. Ri was Se-ri’s knight in shining armor, Hyun Bin had to make sure he was physically fit to execute the action scenes as realistically as possible. He says, “My character had to protect Se-ri, so I wanted to look dependable so I worked out to gain muscles. And I’ve been continuously working out to maintain my shape.”


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The BinJin magic

That Hyun Bin is a huge part of the list of reasons behind CLOY’s phenomenal success is an obvious fact. No doubt his acting skills are impressive, and his being a perfect match to the mold writer Park Ji-eun has carved out for his character sealed the deal. He’s got every defining feature that helped make the portrayal more compelling: That charismatic gaze, that prominent jawline that adds to his masculinity, those dimples you see with his timid smile, and those broad shoulders from which his military uniform hangs ever so perfectly.  


Then, of course, there are those other factors that contributed to the show’s success: The unique and interesting plot, the amazing cast members, the stunning locations, the impressive cinematography, and the relaxing OST.


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All these are great, but Hyun Bin acknowledges that there couldn’t have been a more perfect choice for the character of Yoon Se-ri than Son Ye-jin. The actress has been dubbed as the “Queen of Melodrama,” considering the number of projects she has done in that genre, but Son Ye-jin off-cam is one fun-loving lady, and that manifested in her on-screen persona for CLOY.   


“Son Ye-jin is a good partner to me. I’ve seen and learned a lot more as an actor in working together [with her]. She has a lot of ideas and makes me inspired. I’m having fun filming and that’s the biggest difference from The Negotiation,” he says.


The action crime thriller film The Negotiation is the first project Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin starred in together. It features Hyun Bin as an arms dealer for an international crime organization and a hostage taker, while Son Ye-jin is a crisis negotiator for the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency who is tasked to solve the hostage situation and find out the motive behind it.  


In the film, the two actors didn’t actually shoot together because for the most part, they were just talking to each via their laptop screens, save for one scene towards the latter part. In an interview, Son Ye-jin says, “There are a few opportunities for actors to work together again. But it’s meant to be in a sense. Since there was no same scene in the movie Negotiation, it’s hard to say we worked together.”


For this reason, Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin expressed their interest in starring in another project where they could actually film with each other. After all, acting is reacting, and being across each other in a scene draws out deeper and more captivating emotions.


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On why he enjoyed working with Son Ye-jin, Hyun bin tells us, “After filming the movie The Negotiation with Ms. Ye-jin in the past, I thought that it would be great if I would be filming with her in a different genre like romantic comedy or melodrama. Well, the time to film together came early, so I think this was one of the things that I liked. The chance to synchronize our act came early.”


It was a delightful experience overall, knowing they’re compatible with each other and that the rhythms of their acting are on the same wavelength.  The cast of CLOY filmed for about six or seven months. It was a significant amount of time for Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin to really get to know each other as actors and as individuals.


“Based on my observation as an actor, she had a huge passion for acting. She was also an actress who had the interpretation and various ideas about the scenes. That was somehow astonishing to me as an actor, and it stimulated me where various things were learned from her. I think this is what I like about acting with her,” Hyun Bin adds.    


The two stars’ extremely likable characters in CLOY earned them nominations at the upcoming 56th Baeksang Arts Awards, which is considered as the “Oscars of Korea.” The palpable chemistry between the two was too strong, in fact, that it broke through screens, gripping people’s hearts in ways the stars themselves didn’t quite expect. 


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The international reception

No statistics are needed to prove how much Filipinos love K-Dramas and Korean films. But perhaps, to paint a clearer picture, imagine the countless K-Dramas that have been acquired in the Philippines via top broadcasting companies such as ABS-CBN’s Channel 2 which aired Hyun Bin’s Hyde Jekyll, Me


Every actor wants nothing but the best results for their project. But even when they’re 100 percent confident with their final output, high ratings, award nominations, and great reviews from critics and viewers alike are huge credits any actor would be thrilled to be surprised with.  


When Hyun Bin learned how well CLOY did, he admitted he was “very surprised with the reports.” He shares, “Although the language of North Korea and South Korea is similar, there are many different points in terms of words and things, so there was a question about how viewers in Korea would feel and accept it. I am now surprised and curious about how the viewers in the world feel, and if they are liking it. Nevertheless, I thank the viewers for being positive about Crash Landing on You, and I also thank the viewers for loving the K-Drama.”


Testament to his groundbreaking popularity in the Philippines is the major endorsement deal he just sealed with leading telecommunications and mobile services provider Smart Communications. Smart dropped a TVC teaser on the evening of May 27, and netizens went crazy and couldn’t contain their excitement. The 9-second-long teaser showed a man walking towards a sports car, one side of his face peeking as he enters his luxury ride. The caption read, “The Captain is coming. Watch out for the big RiVeal.” We need not be eagle-eyed to notice that it’s Hyun Bin a.k.a. Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok we were seeing. Smart Communications Chairman Manny V. Pangilinan confirmed it himself via his Twitter account. Within minutes of uploading, this piece of awesome news went viral, proving that he indeed has a special place in Filipino viewers’ hearts. Two days after they uploaded the teaser, Smart surprised everyone by “RiVeal-ing” their commercial with Hyun Bin, which highlights their latest “game-changing” offering. The video is concluded and punctuated with a short statement in Filipino, delivered with his signature swoon-worthy smile—a voice-over asks him, “How do you know about this Giga Life?” He then answers,  “Simple, Smart ako.”


Yesterday, June 1, Smart had a bunch of other surprises related to this Korean superstar. The brand held a digital press conference, wherein they talked about how the collaboration with Hyun Bin came about and how their commercial was shot despite the COVID-19 pandemic. They also shared a behind-the-scenes footage from their photo and commercial shoots with him. At the online event, the executives from Smart also confirmed what everyone was wondering about: will they be flying in Hyun Bin to Manila? Their answer is “definitely!” As to when, that’s what’s not definite yet, considering the global health crisis. But when the time comes that it’s safe to travel again, we’re sure Hyun Bin will waste no time in scheduling a trip to Manila, because he himself can’t wait to meet his Filipino fans. 


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His thoughts on COVID-19

CLOY wrapped up production at a time when the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is plaguing the world. The unprecedented health crisis has been having debilitating effects on people, changing life as we know it every single day. Cities have been put on lockdown, and people are mandated to be under quarantine in their own homes. During such a challenging time, people have chosen to keep a positive attitude and stay hopeful. They’ve found ways to be productive and to entertain themselves, and one thing that has served as an escape for many of them is binge-watching K-Dramas


The top choice for many? CLOY! Even for just a bit, it has taken their minds off the ongoing pandemic outside. It’s been a nice counterbalance to all the pensive moments of reflection people have had a lot of these days. Hyun Bin is one of the first Korean celebrities who made a significant donation to assist COVID-19 relief efforts. According to reports, he secretly donated 200 million won to help stop the spread of the deadly virus in South Korea.  


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Life under quarantine at home has been a major change for people the world over, but Hyun Bin, he’s always been the type to prefer staying indoors. Every time he finishes his work, he looks forward to going home and having a glass of beer. In a past interview with The Swoon, he says, “I’ve been really into having a glass of beer when I get home after work. I like trying out different kinds of beer, but more than that, it feels like I can wrap up the day with a glass of beer.”  


There’s one small thing he admits to feeling a bit uncomfortable with now, he shares, “I do feel uncomfortable when exercising since I am exercising while wearing a mask.” But since the expert advice is to always wear a mask to stay protected, he doesn’t have qualms about doing what he’s told. 


In times like this, when people everywhere have to deal with wave after wave of changes, even a Korean superstar like Hyun Bin is not exempt from feeling anxious about the situation. He reveals that what really makes him doubly uncomfortable now is the anxiety caused by COVID-19. He says, “I hope these anxieties will be gone soon, and I think COVID-19 was a chance to remind me of the importance of everyday life. I just hope to make my daily life comfortable and return to the way it used to be.”


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Now that he’s made aware of how much Filipinos love him, Hyun Bin expressed his desire to meet his Pinoy fans soon, grateful beyond words for their interest in him. “If there will be an opportunity and time, I hope to have a chance to meet and communicate with the fans from the Philippines,” he says. 


While his Filipino fans hold on to that promise, they can take comfort in the fact that Hyun Bin is working on an upcoming action film called Bargaining that revolves around a kidnapping incident in the Middle East and the attempted rescue of the kidnapping victims. In February, his management, VAST Entertainment, released a statement, saying, “Bargaining will soon be filming on location abroad. Through this upcoming movie, Hyun Bin will be showcasing a new kind of impressive acting that will be entirely different from his last project.”   



In the meantime, take your Hyun Bin fandom to the next level by watching or re-watching Crash Landing on You and all of his past movies and TV shows. Now, let us tell you this: It seems there’s no cure for the hangover of this kind. Just grab some kimchi, homemade ramyun, chicken and beer, pour over coffee, or more soju—they’re all the food and drinks watching CLOY made us crave!


Anyway, we know you don’t mind staying under his spell.  


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Watch our exclusive video interview with Hyun Bin below:


Special thanks to VAST Entertainment