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Actor Oh Dal-su flashes an eerie smile. Oh earned fame as a scene stealer in the award-winning 2003 mystery thriller "Old Boy." / Korea Times file
By Park Si-soo
They are neither protagonists nor directors. A few even have "critical flaws" in their looks: a beer belly, poor teeth or just plain ugly.
Without them, however, it's doubtful how many Korean TV dramas or films were or will be able to meet viewers' ever increasing expectations.
They are collectively called "scene stealers," a cinematic term referring to a supporting performer in a dram, film or play, who by impressive acting draws most of the audience's attention, often away from the leading performers.
Perhaps, no one would raise objections to claim Shin Sung-rok was a scene stealer in the hit drama "My Love From the Star."
He stole the heart of numerous viewers for his striking handsomeness, which later was constantly compared to a dog emoticon on Korea's messenger service Kakao talk. But his villain role gave the drama a new dimension by constantly threatening the fragile romance of its two leading actors, Kim Soo-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun.
"I think nobody could play this role better than Shin," Kim Shin-young, a fan of the drama said. "His low and thick voice perfectly matched scenes of him talking eerily stone-faced."
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Actor Shin Sung-rok gives his trademark cold-eyed gaze in this photo from SBS TV drama "My Love From the Star." His flawless performances as a villain in the drama have him well recognized.
Last week, Shin appeared on a popular talk show "Taxi" and revealed he initially refused to take the role.
"It was the first role I was asked to take after fulfilling the military duty," he said. "I wanted to return to the small screen with a positive role, so I turned down the offer. Later I was told that my fellow actor Park Hae-jin took the offer. Surprisingly, the offer came to me again only two weeks before the airing of the drama's first episode. I took it and appeared from the fourth episode. I think I was very lucky."
'Learn from mistakes'
Other actors recognized as scene stealers recently include Ma Dong-suk, Oh Dal-su, Go Chang-suk, Kim Jung-tae, Sung Dong-il, Yu Hae-jin, Cho Sung-ah, Kwak Do-won and Song Sae-byeok.
Critics say behind their stable and impressive acting are years of experience in numerous plays or musicals. Most of them are in their 40s.
"Actors learn from mistakes. Many veteran supporting actors, called scene stealers, normally have experience of more than 10 years," said Kim Hwan-young, a culture critic. "Leading roles tend to be reserved for handsome/pretty young stars to catch people's attention, while supporting roles are given to experienced actors because they are necessary to keep a story going forward smoothly."
Oh Dal-su earned fame with the award-winning 2003 mystery thriller "Old Boy," in which he portrayed a cold-hearted manager of an illegal private detention center at which he brutally tortures the protagonist played by Choi Min-sik. He has appeared in more than 60 films, many of which including "The Attorney" (2013), "Miracle in Cell No.7" (2012), and "The Thieves" (2012) were smash hits at the domestic box office. Simply put, his presence means half of the success of a movie.
"I trust my feeling," he was quoted as saying in an interview in January last year. "After reading some pages of the ‘Miracle in Cell No.7' script, I felt I should take this." Oh is a high school graduate and has no experience of receiving acting education at school, but he polished up his acting skills by appearing in numerous plays in the ‘90s. "I just like acting," he said.
Ma Dong-suk won the "Scene Stealer Prize" at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival last year.
In 2013 alone, he acted in eight films. His roles varied ranging from a weak-minded soldier to an aggressive journalist, a terminally ill patient, and an airport staffer.
"He is one of a handful of creditable actors," Kim said. "He played various roles last year, but never let down his fans and other viewers, which means no matter what kind of role he assumes, people can comfortably watch his acting. That's a great advantage."
News reports have it that Ma has received a flurry of calls from film directors from the beginning of the year, indicating that he will be as prolific as last year.
His first film for this year is "Kundo: Age of the Rampant" that will be released in July. The film is led by two young heartthrob actors Kang Dong-won and Ha Jung-woo with Ma playing a supporting role named "Chunbo."
Here are up and coming actors who are pushing themselves hard to seize the covetous title.
Actress Yoo In-young recently grabbed public attention for her impressive acting as the armed guard of a politically ambitious princess, played by actress Ha Ji-won, in MBC TV's epic drama "Gi-hwang-woo."
Actor Song Jae-rim has joined the competition. Making his name known to the public in 2012 through the MBC TV drama "The Moon Embracing the Sun," he acts in KBS TV's ongoing weekday drama as a warmhearted ruler of a criminal syndicate in China's Dandong area.
Middle-aged actress Huh Jin, who was popular in the 1970s, partially restored her past glory with a supporting role in the SBS TV drama "A Woman Who Marries Three Times," which ended on Sunday.