FRANCE - Frenchman Fabien Yoon, 27, got his first taste of acting on Korean TV in the 2008 melodrama East Of Eden opposite a huge star, actor Song Seung Heon.
"I got a call from the casting director asking if I could do a scene with a few lines in English. I didn't know who was my co-star till I turned up at the filming site the next day and realised it was actor Song Seung Heon. He's huge in Korea," he tells Life! in a telephone interview from Seoul.
"Song Seung Heon's lines were in English. He came to me and said he wanted to practise his English lines and he was like, 'Please help me'. My friends were like, 'Wow, you're acting with Song Seung Heon'," says Yoon, whose boyish good looks had friends goading him to try modelling and acting while he was attending a Korean language course at Ehwa Women's University in Seoul.
His love affair with all things Korean started with taekwondo, which he took up at the age of five. He eventually made it to the French national team.
Although he injured a ligament in his right knee at the age of 18 and had to give up his dreams of competing in the Olympics, his passion for the martial art-cum-sport and Korean culture never waned and he embarked on a backpacking trip around South Korea in 2007.
"I was really passionate about taekwondo and I got into Korean culture, watched the movies and listened to the music. I really wanted to visit Korea, so I saved up for a three-month trip. I liked it so much that I ended up staying for four months," adds Yoon, who prefers to use his adopted Korean surname instead of his real family name, Corbineau, while he is in South Korea.
After the backpacking trip, he returned to the country the following year and has been living there ever since.
The East Of Eden acting stint, which he did to earn pocket money, prompted him to seriously consider a career in showbusiness. In 2009, he took lessons at an acting school in Korea for 2½ years.
"I was obsessed with learning Korean. I was working on improving my Korean 12 hours a day. I was taking classes in the morning, in the afternoon I was learning vocabulary. I went to acting school at night to fix my pronunciation. I hung out only with Korean people. I was practising my Korean all the time," he says.
His hard work has paid off - he has snagged hosting and acting gigs on TV dramas and variety shows in both English and Korean.
His "real acting debut" was a meatier Korean-speaking role as a doctor in the period drama Jejungwon (2010) and he subsequently appeared in time-travel medical drama Dr Jin (2012, opposite Song once again), and in the new Korean movie Fashion King (2014). Currently, he has five regular TV shows on his plate, including music show Mnet Music Video Commentary, MBC reality TV show I Live Alone and three food and cooking programmes.
But it was his recent guest appearance on the hit game show Running Man, alongside Ghanaian entertainer Sam Okyere, that increased his international fanbase.
"When I walked on the streets in Korea, usually only the Koreans recognised me. After I went on Running Man, I was recognised by fans from Hong Kong, Vietnam and Malaysia.
"When I went back to Paris at the end of August, people recognised me. They tell me that they follow me on Facebook and watch my shows on YouTube. That was crazy. It motivates me to work hard."
He appreciates Korean women too.
The bachelor, who dated a Korean woman before, says: "I like the way Korean girls take care of their appearance and are feminine."
This article was first published on November 6, 2014.
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