Sky Castle

Kim Dong-hee and Jo Byung-gyu: The Television Twins Destined For A-List Status

To those who have seen the record-breaking South Korean television drama SKY Castle, the names Kim Dong-hee and Jo Byung-gyu are instantly recognisable. After all, their depictions as the fresh-faced, decidedly personable Cha twins quickly garnered the attention of viewers and saw the pair swiftly earmarked as ones to watch in a highly competitive industry.

It’s easy to see why, too. Despite the dark, occasionally unforgivingly visceral plot lines of SKY Castle, Kim and Jo brought a palpable warmness to the screen. And, together with their mother (played by the experienced hand Yoon Se-ah), often offered a comfortable diversion from the unrelentingly strict lives of the remainder of the ensemble, including their pyramid-obsessed, consumingly regimented father.

Since their stint as the buoyant brothers of the Sky Castle neighbourhood, it’s been a constant tale of upward trajectories for both Kim and Jo, putting them on a direct path to preserved stardom. Yet, despite their ineffable chemistry as kindred siblings, the “monster rookies” are going about their routes to success in starkly different ways. But, as the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome, and there’s no doubt that despite the evident distinctions, both actors are finding themselves on a fast-track to steadfast fame.

For Kim Dong-hee, the younger of the two, this meant dabbling in tenebrosity. In Itaewon Class, the 21-year-old plays the shy-guy-turned-smarmy-second-son-of-a-CEO-turned-back-into-an-anxious-young-adult, his first step into a more consequential, mature role. It did bring with it some criticism, though, with many saying that Kim’s conventionally attractive appearance and soft-natured voice meant he was unable to appear believable on-screen.

However, he soon proved his doubters wrong with a leading role in Netflix’s Extracurricular in which he played the high-school pimp Oh Ji-soo, a portrayal which has defined the young upstart’s career to date. Shaving off the well-groomed juvenility in favour of a rawer, considered approach, Kim shone throughout his stint in the 10-episode series, bringing to his performance a dependable sense of angst which astutely strayed away from the needlessly excessive. Furthermore, it helped solidify the 21-year-old’s stock in the industry, with his successful step into a more advanced part bringing with it manifold results, in turn stiffening claims of rich potential for the actor.

Now, Kim Dong-hee finds himself moving away from the small screen and into the realm of cinema. Season of You and Me, set for release sometime this year, documents the life of the late singer-songwriter Yoo Jae-ha and sees the up-and-comer thrust into a demanding role once more, affording ample chance to showcase a nuanced, complex performance befitting of the adored musician. Add to that a confirmed role in the upcoming feature Ghost, an espionage thriller set in the Japanese colonisation period of Korean history, and it’s clear that the next twelve months will be just as intriguing as the 18-or-so which preceded it for Kim Dong-hee. At the age of 21, he’s already an established name. And with smart casting choices and a penchant for perceptively strong performances, it’s easy to see why the novice performer finds himself on an accelerated road to undeniable prominence.

On the other hand, despite his SKY Castle co-star preferring mature, idiosyncratically constructed parts, Jo Byung-gyu has drifted towards the unwaveringly quirky as his signature style. Notably, Jo played the spunky Han Jae-hee in Hot Stove League, a young employee of a baseball team who is accused of getting a job through nepotism but is in fact a relentless, hard worker and someone who values his job greatly. His brilliantly quirky yet surprisingly grounded performance earned the 24-year-old a Best New Actor award at the 28th SBS Drama Awards, marking a significant step-up from supporting roles in He Is Psychometric and the second and third seasons of Arthdal Chronicles.

Most prominently for the young actor, though, came in his second award-winning role, a leading part in The Uncanny Counter as the spirit hunter So Mun. Electrifyingly charismatic, Jo was a delight on the screen across the 16-episode run, with fans investing in everything from backstory to, well, his forehead. It’s a testament to how far the actor has come, and will continue to go (season 2 has been confined for next year in between a myriad of other projects for the 24-year-old), and shows that sometimes the even the more “out there” of genre choices pays back more than its fair share of dividends.

It’s obvious that Kim Dong-hee and Jo Byung-gyu have more than just cliché “bright” futures in the Korean entertainment industry. Although both have gone about their business in different ways — one dark, mature and intrinsically humane in their performances whilst the other drifts into the outlandishly brilliant — the duo find themselves at near enough the same stage on a path that so many desire to even briefly step foot on. If they can continue honing their acting skills whilst persistently taking on exciting, fresh roles which steer clear of the tropes which often ripple through Korean dramas, there’s no reason why, in a few more years, the pair of young thespians aren’t close to being bonafide A-listers.

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