By JERMYN CHOW
He is a heartthrob who sets hearts aflutter in Asia and has nabbed numerous lucrative endorsement deals. But for now, all Kim Jeong Hoon can think of is sleep.
Despite all the perks that come with fame, the poor chap has hardly had any shuteye for the past month, averaging no more than three hours a night.
And the weariness is apparent when the Korean star ambles into a room overlooking the skyline of Kangnam, Seoul, almost an hour after the appointed time.
Kim Jeong Hoon’s star is set to soar further with the release of his first solo album, Five Stella Nights.“Chesonghamnida,” says the lanky actor as he bows slightly, acknowledging his own tardiness. Chesonghamnida is Korean for “sorry”.
You give the 26-year-old the once-over, trying to find some semblance of South Korea’s 10th most beautiful man (according to a recent online poll by youths done in the country) in the person before you.
What you see is no dashing hunk but a young man of delicate frame who looks knackered and who covers half his pale, but otherwise flawless, face with a baseball cap.
Even as you try to establish eye contact, his eyes say something else: exhaustion.
Our translator explains that the actor had been held up at the hospital where he was seeking a panacea for insomnia, which has plagued him for the past week.
“I don’t know why I just cannot sleep. Maybe I’m used to not sleeping much when filming Princess Hours,” he explains.
Indeed, while filming the hit drama early last year, he was clocking 15 hours a day, seven days a week.
Even now, there is no respite, as he goes into overdrive in the recording studios to prepare for the launch of his new Japanese album soon.
To top it all, he has to cope with his university studies.
Such is the current lifestyle of Kim, who shot to regional fame after starring in the comic book-based romantic drama Princess Hours.
In South Korea, the show was a bona fide hit, achieving ratings of more than 30% viewership. A show is considered a mega-hit once it hits 25% viewership, such as dramas Jewel in the Palace and My Lovely Sam Soon.
How popular is he now? A couple of trips to Taipei in the last few months also saw “tens of thousands of girls” following him everywhere he went, say Taiwanese newspapers.
Though Kim relishes being associated with the popular show, he makes it clear that he is not as magnanimous as his on-screen persona
Though Kirn relishes being associated with the popular show, he makes it clear that he is not as magnanimous as his on-screen persona Lee Yul, a prince who wants to succeed the throne in a fantasy constitutional monarchy Korea.
The actor confesses to being prone to “mood swings” and says he is “not as kind-hearted and soft as Yul”.
But he does share something in common with the ambitious prince in that he “wants to do well and always seeks new opportunities”, he adds.
For sure, he has impressive academic credentials.
The book-smart chap topped an examination in 1999 and was admitted to the nation’s top institution, Seoul National University, to study dentistry.
Some fan sites even peg his IQ score at 146, just four points shy of scientist Albert Einstein’s. And guess what, Lee’s pet subjects are physics and mathematics.
Unfortunately, juggling acting and singing in the now defunct boyband UN (United N-Generation) had taken a toll on his studies.
He dropped out of Seoul National University to pursue acting and Japanese in Chung-Ang University, where he is now in his final year.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision as dentistry turned out to be quite different from what I had expected,” he chuckles, flashing that trademark impish grin that has captivated women fans.
“I was getting bored of it.”
Having proved his acting chops in Princess Hours, he now wants to showcase his singing prowess.
His star is set to rise further with the release of his solo album, Five Stella Nights, in Japan soon, which he is releasing under the moniker John Hoon.
Not surprisingly, he will be singing – in Japanese – about love and heartbreak.
But what about this man-boy’s love life?
His lips part to form a wry smile as he shakes his head, before uttering in a smattering of English: “Too tired ... I just want to sleep now. No time for girlfriends.”
Still, he is kind enough to let on that he had to give up his affections for a girl he fancied two years ago, after finding out that an older friend of his liked her first.
“It’s only the right thing to do. Like what you see in the drama, we have to respect our elders. We are still quite traditional,” he laments.
So is he currently looking for a companion, you ask?
He bites his nails, fiddles with his cap, revealing a little more of his face, before he says with a laugh: “I’m happy hanging out with many of my good friends who are girls.”
Perhaps such humility is the reason this unassuming chap was recently voted the most “prince-like Korean actor” in a poll in China, beating co-star Joo Ji Hoon and the auntie-killer, Bae Yong Jun.
Sadly, his astronomical rise also means that Princess Hours fans will not be seeing him in the second season of the highly-rated drama.
He and his three co-stars – Joo, Yoon Eun Hye and Song Ji Hyo – will not return to the show because they have other work commitments.
Still, despite his busy schedule, the actor apparently makes time for his hobby, manga.
Talking about his pet subject, he becomes very animated. He sits up straight and asks you for your favourite characters.
Even though you confess you are no manga fan, he attempts to pique your interest, rattling on about his favourite titles such as Taiyo Matsumoto’s Ping Pong.
The comics have helped him in his career, he declares, as from them “I pick up a few tips on how to better express myself”.
For the first time in our 40-minute chat, he leans forward, looks you in the eye and says: “I just want to seize the moment. Why think about the future? When I was four, I wanted to be a physics laboratory researcher and look at what I’m doing now.” – The Straits Times Singapore / Asia News Network