Don't love me just because I'm beautiful, is the tune South Korean heart-throb Song Seung Heon seems to be singing. When he was in his 20s, he almost exclusively played suave leading-man roles in dreamy K-dramas, including his breakout part in the iconic weepy series Autumn In My Heart (2000).
Now 37, the actor feels straitjacketed.
"As I progressed in my acting career, I felt confined by my image. I thought it would be great to move beyond my usual roles. As I was looking for such an opportunity, I came across the script for Obsessed," he says, referring to his latest movie that is as much a romantic thriller as an erotic one.
Obsessed, which is rated R21 here, sees him playing a married Vietnam War hero who returns home to 1960s South Korea and falls in love with his subordinate's wife. The actor, who was in town last week to promote the movie, also has his first bedroom scene in his 18-year show business career in this film.
In an interview with Life!, he says: "Initially, I didn't know that there were intimate scenes. I really liked how one man sacrificed so much to love a woman. That's actually what attracted me the most. When the bed scene came up, I thought, 'Why not?'. I was prepared to take it on."
That last sentence is an understatement. Fans of his dramas would be hard-pressed to name a drama in which he does not take off his clothes, often to ruminate and brood in the shower (because, naturally, that is where men do their serious thinking).
But in the movie, the muscular actor shows off more than his toned abs that fans are used to seeing in K-dramas - he does the full monty in steamy sex scenes.
To keep his already sculpted physique in shape during filming, Song went on a strict diet that was high in protein and packed with greens. As a result, he says, "I've never been hungrier on a filming set".
The movie was a hit among South Korean audiences, topping the country's box-office chart when it opened in May. In Singapore, all 400 tickets to the gala premiere at Golden Village VivoCity last Friday were sold out.
While Song says he is game for more variety in future roles - anything from comic to villainous characters, as long as they are different from his dashing image in romantic K-dramas such as My Princess (2011) and Summer Scent (2003) - his fans and producers do not look like they are of the same opinion.
He will be flying to China to shoot a movie based on the Chinese novel Third Love by an author who goes by the pseudonym Freely Walking Andrea. Song will once again play a romantic hero - a rich man's son who falls in love with a lawyer, played by Chinese actress Liu Yifei.
Neither were his fans convinced by the risque sex scenes in Obsessed - to them, he was still the dashing male lead. He says: "After they watched the movie, they realised the movie was more than the sensual scenes in the movie. It was really about the heartbreaking love story."
The subject matter of the movie got the reserved Song to shed some light on his love history, wistfully recalling how it was "love at first sight" for him and his high-school sweetheart.
"When I first saw her in high school, I felt like I was struck by lightning. At that moment, silence enveloped the both of us. It felt like only the two of us were there," says the bachelor, who is not known to be dating anyone at the moment.
"I think a lot about my first love because it was such an impactful one. I hope I can fall in love like that again." For now, he is counting on the love from his legions of fans.
Hailing from the first generation of South Korean idols who kickstarted the Hallyu, or Korean wave, in the early 2000s, the seasoned actor admits he does worry about his popularity dwindling one day.
Song, who catapulted to fame along with his Autumn In My Heart co-stars Song Hye Kyo and Won Bin, says: "Looking back at my career, I think I took my job for granted, the fact that I could do what I love and my fans just came along with it. "Now, I know that an actor cannot survive without fans. I have this job because there is somebody who is looking forward to seeing me on screen.
"Without any fans, I'm not so sure where I would be. I've learnt to appreciate the support and love of my fans."
This article was first published on July 30, 2014.
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