The Korean name Kang means stream, river, something fluid. That the sublime name would 27 years later also stand for a hit-maker within a streaming platform, did the parents probably not have in mind. In any case does Song Kang have something captivating about him, not just within Netflix. Inga Griese was there to meet him.
Song FROM Seoul
A freezing cold, sunny morning, as it’s often the case in Seoul in February. Meanwhile, night falls in the studio, with a huge tarpaulin with a photo on it of the hip Sinchon district. We rejected the idea of photographing the actor Song Kang directly there. Because it’s really cold at night, and especially because he’s such a „hottie“ that it’s likely to set off a pretty loud „Love Alarm“ among his fans, as the Netflix series is called, with which the soon-to-be 28-year-old got catapulted into the Hallyu star orbit in 2019, where he e has been doing his film rounds as a fixed star ever since (including „Sweet Home,“ „Nevertheless,“ „Navillera,“ currently: „Forecasting Love and Weather“). But early fame is one thing, in real life, as far as a fashion shoot can be called that, the Prada messenger is down-to-earth, polite, funny, curious and on point when being photographed. He gets right to work when it comes to watering the tarpaulin on the floor for the puddle effect. Sure, he has a changing room to himself, confidants and managers around him, discretion and shame are not airs and graces in Korea. But to greet him, he jumps up immediately from his makeup chair and bows. He is tall, surprisingly muscular and a little shy, which will vanish later.
Inga Griese: How do you choose your roles? You have a rather atypical approach, it seems.
Song Kang: First I look at the plot, then the character, to see if I really fit it and can bring out its charm. And I also think about whether I’m going to enjoy it. Success is not the main thing, for me, when I’m working, it’s important that I’m happy. Because I don’t want to get tired of them. Navillera, for example, was really a difficult role for me, but I found joy in it.
In Navillera, you play, without a double, a ballet dancer who struggles with himself, but then finds fulfilment in enabling an old man’s lifelong dream and teaching him to dance. In the end, both of them are on stage together for a touching performance, and you become a big star. What made you happy in the process?
It was a difficult challenge to learn ballet, but I thought it was a good opportunity. When I put myself in Chaerok’s shoes, I could really relate to his feelings. I would like to try a role like that again.
Terry-Towelling-Hoodie and Pants: Prada
Do you still dance?
No. It’s too demanding, I do Pilates now.
With your height, dancing was probably difficult.
Yes, but because I have long arms and legs, I may have looked more elegant than I actually am. (laughs)
In your new Netflix series „Forecasting Love and Weather“ you don’t have to be athletic, you play a manic meterologist.
He’s a very naive and funny character, but when it comes to weather, he gets very, very serious.
Weather’s a wonderful all-round topic, for example, if you don’t know what to talk about with the person sitting next to you at dinner, the weather is always on the agenda.
I’m not much of an entertainer. If I don’t feel comfortable, I just persist in that awkward situation. (He pushes his arms together and lowers his head). I don’t try to pass water or ask if it tastes good, for example, to lighten the mood.
The series Love Alarm was a big hit, it’s about technology affiliation and the conflicts caused by a new app that notifies people when someone nearby has romantic feelings for them. There were 1200 competitors for the lead role, what does casting like that feel like?
At the end of the line, I just thought, ‚Okay, I’ll audition and go home.‘ When I was in 10th place, I got extremely nervous, had a whole swarm of butterflies in my stomach. But I tried to control myself and focus on the role, its charm. When I actually walked into the room, the nervousness was gone.
I read that the producer said you were chosen for your innocent and sentimental impression. Do you like to be seen that way?
He is right in a way. I don’t feel pressure to show different aspects of myself. I think of my happiness as my first priority.
Perhaps that’s why you’re so beloved, sometimes very vociferously. How do you deal with the popularity?
Some people might be very stressed by their popularity, but I’m a total homebody anyway; I love to stay at home, enjoy the smallest things, read, and sometimes Youtube. But if I ever go out or eat out, I realize I’m being watched. For that reason alone, I try not to stand out by wearing clothes that pop out too much. Whereas I’m always grateful for my popularity.
You are a brand ambassador for Prada. When do you dress up?
For script readings or meetings.
Even at home, just like that?
Good idea. I’m going to try it today with all the Prada looks.
How would you describe your personal style?
It depends. Sometimes I feel like figure-hugging clothes and sometimes I like oversized. Sometimes I like it formal, sometimes casual. For example, if I like a character in a series, I follow his style. But usually I just go to the gym, so I often wear sportswear.
Song Kang’s sequin suit, against the backdrop of Sinchon, is from the Korean brand Lemeteque, popular with boy bands, which carries as its slogan: „Our clothes are for those who strive for freedom.“
Interest in fashion and branding has changed fundamentally over the past 20 years, both generally and commercially. What’s striking is that more and more Korean actors are no longer just signed on as regional ambassadors but as global ambassadors by major luxury brands. Is that also a sign of how seriously they are now taken?
Yes, my senior colleagues tell me that it wasn’t like that before. Streaming services have made these global hits possible, and I’m really grateful to be part of this renaissance of K-content.
You have many millions of followers on Instagram alone. Does that flatter you?
Since I already spend most of my time at home because of the pandemic, I don’t feel my popularity directly. I can communicate with my fans through social media. I’m happy about that, but I don’t fancy myself too much.
Do you still have friends from your childhood? Is it getting complicated to have a private life?
I have five or six really close friends from before. I haven’t seen them in two or three years, but we always talk on the phone. They give me a different kind of energy than the friends I made at work. When something needs comforting,
I always go to them.
What does it do to you when popularity sets in early?
The only thing that has changed is my field of vision. That I need to learn more from older actors to get ahead. I like to listen to their advice on what kind of attitude I should have as a good actor, what manners, what’s right and what’s wrong.
Actors have sort of a toolbox that you work with, it fills up with experience. If we were to look in your box, what do you find?
I’m not sure I even have a toolbox, but I try not to dwell in the past, but to be in the present. So I try to be aware of everything in my daily life. When I’m talking to a person, I often make a note of the way they speak or the accent they have, and later I can use that when I play other characters. That’s true the other way around, too, by the way. What I feel when I’m acting, I can also use in real life.
For example, how did you prepare for the role as a meterologist? Did you watch the weather report every evening?
I wasn’t familiar with many terms, so I watched a lot of documentaries to acquire a basic knowledge. But I also have a question for you: I’ve heard that in Europe, even if you’re waiting for the traffic light to turn green, you can say to a stranger, „The weather is nice today, isn’t it?“ Is that really the case? What is it about the weather in Europe?
It’s a favorite topic. So this Netflix series will probably be pretty successful. Weather and love always goes. Speaking of which, winter in Seoul is lovely, yes, freezing cold but very sunny.
I think I would love Germany, because I’m a big fan of cloudy weather.
In Korean series, it always rains before it gets really romantic, and the couple finally kisses under the umbrella.
True, it’s probably because of the cozy atmosphere that a rainy day or a snowy day creates.
In Nevertheless, the art teacher tells the main character Nabi that she can go to America, but Korea is the best place for a Korean to live. In that context, that wasn’t very nice, but what do you think: Is it true?
I definitely enjoy traveling. But the cultural differences and the language barrier are definitely a reason why Koreans feel most comfortable in Korea. Even for me, it’s always like coming back for a hug when my home country, my friends, and the food I’m familiar with are waiting for me.
Do you know how to cook?
I can make kimchi stew and ramyeon.
Ramyeon, that’s the noodles that are part of the towing ritual for lovers, right?
Haha. Ramyeon is convenient and everyone loves it. What kind of food would that be in Germany?
Possibly here it’s more like, „Are you coming for another drink?“ We also say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but for Germans we eat to live, whereas my Korean friend once said that Koreans live to eat.
Sometimes I have to follow a strict diet for my role because otherwise my face might look chubby on screen. But I’m really happy when I can eat something delicious.
In Nevertheless, you look very good and like to flirt without wanting to commit. Is that also true of yourself?
No, I’m rather the exact opposite of Jae-eon, because I’m shy. I’m not into new things, but prefer to stay in my comfort zone and hang out with friends I know and feel comfortable with.
Besides the many historical series, and the „dramas“, Korean horror and zombie movies are very successful. It is said that you read horror stories for relaxation. What is appealing about that? The fictional alternative to the real horror?
I read a lot for relaxation, but different genres, including horror and crime. A horror scene electrifies me, I then also cringe at the thought of what if something like in the book could happen to me. But thrillers are scarier to me because they have something realistic about them. And yes, there is really good Korean zombie, horror, and mystery content, but there are other genres that Korea is really good at. Have you seen „Sweet Home?“
Yes, the first two episodes. Mainly, in preparation for our conversation, because you got a lot of praise for it. It’s tough stuff.
You actually wanted to be an architect or furniture designer. Do you now design film characters instead?
It’s fifty-fifty. Fifty percent of the character comes from myself, who I already am, the other half of me designs the character. I think I can only be a character that is related to myself.
Are you a difficult character?
It depends on how you look at it. In one respect I am perhaps similar to the Germans: I like to question. For example, if someone asks me to do this or that, I want to know ‚Why?“ first.
Do you want to be an actor forever?
I try to do my best in the moment, find happiness and be humble in that moment. I used to aim for success in the future, but then when I don’t achieve something I set out to do, I get a lot of stress. So now I prefer to live more in the moment.