Do Kyung-soo: How The K-Pop Star Became An Acting Phenomenon

It’s no real rarity for a K-Pop star to transition into acting in some capacity. From ZE:A’s Yim Si-wan to 2PM’s Lee Jun-ho, there’s a long list of performers who have made the switch, whether permanently or otherwise, from the stage to the screen. For a select few it works wonders, with actors like the aforementioned two seamlessly drifting into a new profession with few hiccups, and shedding the potential baggage of being viewed as a “singer who acts.” Instead, they make a name for themselves in a new light, and become versatile performers well-regarded and respected in both of their vocations.

With Doh Kyung-soo (occasionally written as Do), though, this success feels almost transcendental in nature. A worldwide phenomenon as part of EXO and a prominent, in-demand actor following a string of successful roles, Doh has demonstrated that it doesn’t have to just be one or the other and has excelled triumphantly as a result. With 16 acting awards to his name thus far – including coveted Best New Actor successes at both the Baeksang Arts Awards and the Blue Dragon Film Awards – there’s no slowing the 28-year-old down either, with his post-military return to the big screen irrefutably anticipated.

But, unlike some K-Pop idols who are thrust straight into leading parts, Doh began with a humble guest role in the 2012 drama To The Beautiful You. It was hardly anything to get excited about, nor was it a sign of things to come – after all, the role was literally depicting EXO performing at a party – but it did, in the wonderful thing of hindsight, leave an interesting breadcrumb for what was to ultimately come.

From there came the 28-year-old’s first substantial role, assuming the part of Han Kang-woo in the acclaimed 2014 drama It’s Okay, That’s Love. It was a surprisingly impactful role, perhaps given the youthful inexperience of the actor, but one that produced manifold results, with Doh giving a light, palatable gravitas to the optimistic Kang-woo. Youthfully innocent despite the beatings that occur in his private life, the boyish-looking, then-21-year-old pop star had the perfect build for the depiction and delivered on the surface-level promise by giving a mature, powerfully precocious performance.

Following that was the dynamic actor’s first stint on the big screen in Cart, a socio-political film chock full of poignance. Doh portrays Tae-young, a student, and although it’s a rather bit-part role for the actor, he still managed to garner attention for his true-to-life, decidedly bleak character interpretation and understated qualities. The singer also participated in the OST here, taking the reins on the rousing pop ballad “Crying Out.” It’s a mature track that slowly plods along with resonant vocals, before a soaring string-section climax becomes a firm, affecting punctuation mark in the film, and shows more evidence of the multifaceted nature that encompasses Doh.

But if what came before were low-key, rather grounded roles for the up-and-comer, what would follow shortly definitively put the actor on a path to stardom, and separated him from many of his peers. Unafraid of delving into sinisterism, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, moving towards affecting, heartfelt vehemence, the mid-10s’ became a period in which Doh’s acting stock skyrocketed, and in turn, his admirers grew larger and larger.

The first example of this newfound confidence and chameleon-like adaptability was in Hello Monster, in which the 28-year-old played the brooding, younger version of the serial-killer Lee Jun-yung. Blurring the lines between pity and pure contempt, there was a palpable depth to the performance throughout the actor’s short stint on the show, and it’s a robust testament to Doh’s ability that the tragic Jun-yung became as captivating and enigmatic as he was.

Yet, for as great as the depiction of Lee Jun-yung proved to be, it was soon topped by a leading role in the hit film My Annoying Brother in which the EXO member played the blind Paralympic prospect Go Doo-young. Here, instead of lingering in a grey area between an unforgivable villain and a mentally troubled man who warrants ephemeral sympathy, Doh goes full-throttle into unabating charisma, giving a tactful performance as a young man who has lost more than he can most likely ever gain, and a gifted athlete who battles with stereotypes and politically incorrect jibes (sometimes self-inflicted) to reach the top of his profession.

Again, the boyband charm and conventional attractiveness which suffuses the actor’s work does wonders in helping to achieve the audience’s compassion, but it takes away from the raw, soul-stirring emotion imbued by the rising star throughout the film if one focuses purely on such superficial elements. There’s a reason Doh won four awards for his accomplishments, and it’s certainly not just because his general handsomeness befits the hooky angle of a young man’s tragic life and appeals to a broad audience. Instead, it’s the sensitivity omnipresent in each scene, the vibrant chemistry with co-star Jo Jung-suk, and the unconcealed sentiments behind the uplifting message buried underneath the misfortune.

Fortunately for Doh Kyung-soo, the momentum didn’t soon slow down either. After his huge success followed title roles in the drama Positive Physique, as well as in the big-screen black comedy-thriller Room 7. Both demonstrated a balanced consistency and further earmarked EXO’s vocal powerhouse as someone who will be ever-present in the homes and cinemas both domestically and internationally going forward.

No surprise then, that in due time Doh was signed to be a part of the cash-cow Along With the Gods franchise, playing the role of Private Won Dong-yeon. It was a step into a more mainstream direction for the actor, but nonetheless, an intriguing move as Doh’s character supplemented the main plot seamlessly and cemented his versatile acting chops. Soon after that came more awards, along with a leading role in the period romance drama 100 Days My Prince (oh, and even more accolades). Playing the amnesiac crown prince, Doh balances comedy and sincerity near flawlessly throughout the 16-episode run, something a chunk of shows of a similar ilk fail to land as successfully.

But, despite all the successes, standout lead roles, show-stealing supporting efforts and no-doubt a room filled with awards, Doh’s biggest performance to date came just before his mandatory military enlistment in the uplifting Swing Kids, an international breakout success centred around a tap-dancing team formed in a prisoner-of-war camp. It has an idiosyncratic appeal, focusing primarily on the art of tap-dancing rather than the intense political angle that bristles under the surface, but also excels in its adept character development. For Doh, it’s a sure-fire proving of his grand talents, with his portrayal of the North-Korean soldier Roh Ki-soo everything from affecting to borderline euphoric. Seeing his love of tap develop is touching, and his bully-like persona giving way to a rugged warmth is, for as cookie-cutter as it sounds, genuinely impactful. It warranted the steadfast praise it received and came at a time in which, with a two-year forced break from the entertainment industry looming, giving audiences something to remember Doh by.

Even the military didn’t deter the 28-year-old, though. Eagle-eyed admirers would have caught the actor in the military musical Return: The Promise of the Day, which allowed Doh to expand his acting chops into something that intertwines perfectly with his concurrent music career. It was another strong, considered performance, and one that precisely encompassed the weight of the plot, but also the emotive nature of the music involved just as succinctly.

Since returning from his mandatory military enlistment in late January, two big-screen projects have been confirmed. Both a part in the sci-fi flick The Moon and a leading role in the remake of the famous Taiwanese music drama Secret. It’s obvious that the world will be watching the actor’s next steps with a pronounced interest and with an expectation that, in following what has come before it, the upcoming roles will deliver on the hype with consummate flair.”

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    1. This was such a nice and detailed analysis of Kyungsoo’s acting career and as mentioned in the article itself, Kyungsoo is 1 of the rare idol and actor who has achieved best in both fields, I am really looking forward to his upcoming projects and his much awaited solo album

  2. Nothing is done half-baked by this individual. He delivers his 100% with whatever he does, really talented.

  3. Исключительно гениальный актер, я за ним слежу 2015года ,увидела в фильме “Раздражающий брат ” и найдя его кпоп и услышав его вокал я был так порожает кг талантом

    1. Thank you for you reliable and beautiful article about our Kyungsoo. He’s a such talented artist out there. I hope he’ll have more recognition for his acting outside ASIA

  4. The thing with Kyungsoo is that his roles are so diverse and vibrant, that it is hard to look away. I haven’t finished watching his other acting projects, but the ones I’ve seen made long lasting impression of how he is building his career : longevity and with passion. He keeps on surprising us and I am excited on how Kyungsoo will keep us on our toes.

  5. Doh Kyungsoo is indeed multi-talented person. He is good at singing, acting, tap-dancing cooking and etc. I’m so proud of him.

  6. This is such a good read article! I am happy everyone recognizes him other than beinh a Kpop idol.

  7. thank you for the well-researched article! some write-ups fail to mention his other works and awards, but here is almost a whole list of his filmography with mini-reviews to boot. Perhaps next time you may also include His Director’s Cut Award Best New Actor at the end of 2018. It was ver special because as the name implies, it’s an award given by Directors and it was even made more special when his past directors presented it to him. Also, I’d like to mention that he is also the main voice actor for Korean animation, The Underdog. It is my strong opinion that his work in Swing Kids was mostly underappreciated come Awards season. It was an amazing piece of work, his best for now. I hope he’ll do even greater in his coming movies! Thank you again for such an article!

  8. This was such a good article. It’s really well written and focuses on the most important parts of his acting career, well done.

  9. As a fan of Doh Kyungsoo or D.O., it was such a rewarding feeling whenever I hear compliments and acknowledgements from other people. D.O. is so worthy of all the credits that you had mentioned. I am so proud and so elated with the contents of your article. It just showed that I idolize the right person of extraordinary qualities. I will be keeping an eye and continue to support him on every project that he makes and hopefully you will continue to support him as well. Thank you for these heartfelt article and I also wish you a happy life so that you continue to bring positivity and good vibes to people like me who finds joy in admiring an actor who gives good inspiration.

  10. i’m a big fan of actor Doh Kyungsoo and ofc kpop idol D.O. can’t wait to his upcoming project as both.

  11. Thanks for this well written article, I’m sure it was exciting writing about Doo as it was to read this.

  12. Do Kyungsoo is indeed an amazing actor and idol which is a rarity in these times. The hardwork and dedication he devoted to these crafts is inspiring and I hope there will be more like him in thw future geneation! God bless kyungsoo!

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