Cover Story: Ryeoun on why he loves Hong Kong, his passion for cinema and picking the right roles

The K-drama star is back in Hong Kong and enjoying the good life at Island Shangri-La. He tells Zaneta Cheng why he loves to come here, what he does to relax and where he hopes to take his career next

Ryeoun’s second trip to Hong Kong is met with even more fanfare than his last, as reruns of Twinkling Watermelon and The Secret Romantic Guesthouse add ever more admirers to an already hefty list. The brand event that has brought him back to the city has led to an entire intersection being blocked off for the hundreds of fans who are queued up and waiting for their leading man. When he pulls up to the venue and steps out of the car, they shout his name and wave posters and flowers as he walks up to the entrance.

White pinstripe jacket _ Celine; Black tank top _ Zegna

The Korean actor debuted six years ago and has recently made his way onto K-drama audience radars through two exceptional performances. Success, thankfully, hasn’t changed him. He seems sincerely glad to see his fans. “Hearing my name called out in Korean was so cute. My name isn’t easy to pronounce,” he says. “My fans were cheerful and kind, and that they took the time to be there made me very happy. I really hope I get to visit again and communicate more with them in the future.”

Forest green trench coat, green silk shirt, navy trousers and black buckle shoes _ Burberry

First on Ryeoun’s agenda during his stay at Island Shangri-La is dim sum. “It’s a shame that it always seems to be a short trip,” the 26-year-old says. “But I do always enjoy my time here thanks to the warm welcome from everyone I meet. Every time I come, I feel Hong Kong’s vibrant energy. I also order dim sum as soon as I arrive at the hotel. It’s delicious and there is such a variety of options – it’s fun to pick and choose what to eat.”

Brown patterned three-piece suit _ Gucci

Based on this knowledge our cover shoot is stocked with the star’s favourites. Silver carts holding steaming Chinese baskets of piping hot buns with translucent skins are on hand against scenes of bamboo forests and mountain-scapes that wallpaper the hotel’s newly renovated The Shangri-La Suite. Ryeoun is with us after a full day’s work already and the xiao mai and har gao are what keep him going as we toil away from late afternoon into the early evening. It’s clear he’s tired, yet shot after shot he delivers without the attitude that successful young stars tend to develop after some time in the limelight.

Periwinkle sequin shirt and embellished denim jeans _ Loewe

The work has been coming in after his popularity skyrocketed thanks to his work on the small screen. “I’ve just finished filming Weak Hero Class 2, a Netflix series where I portray a character that showcases a completely different side of me and I’m looking forward to sharing that with everyone,” Ryeoun says. “My character is a skilled fighter, so I practised martial arts quite a lot and really studied the different physical techniques in detail. I think it might be fun to pick up boxing as a hobby.”

Black satin tuxedo jacket _ Dolce&Gabbana; Periwinkle sequin shirt and embellished denim jeans _ Loewe

The actor really seems to be a living example of the age-old adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Between picking up hobbies on set, he also says, “I watch movies without thinking too much to help me de-stress. I love movie marathons. I can watch up to seven or eight films in one day.” Perhaps it’s because the self-professed homebody is as much a consumer of that which he takes part in producing that he has seen his stardom rise so smoothly.

Brown patterned three-piece suit _ Gucci

Ryeoun says his work exposes him to different worlds. “With each project, I encounter various people and environments. I wouldn’t say that my acting skills evolve,” he explains. “But what I would say is that I learn new ways of being, new attitudes and methods during rehearsals and pre-production preparation, and that’s where I think I begin to make gradual progress.”

Oxblood shirt-jacket and blue trousers _ Louis Vuitton; Black tank top _ Zegna; Black leather shoes _ Saint Laurent; (Stylist’s own scarf)

One such influence is actor Yoo Soo-bin, a co-star in his most recent series Weak Hero Class 2, whom Ryeoun calls out when asked whether there’s an actor who has had a particular influence on his career. “This is a question that I think I might answer differently each time depending on the moment I’m in. Currently, I’d say that the actor Yoo Soo-bin would be such an inspiration. We worked together on a previous project and I learned a lot from him. We had many very sincere discussions about the project, its characters and just life in general, which really made an impact on me.”

Ryeoun plays Park Hoo-min in Weak Hero Class 2. It’s the second instalment of a popular drama series based on the webcomic “Yakhanyoungwoong”, which tells the story of a new student who bands together with other students to overturn a group of bullies who run riot.

Lately, after such a physical role, Ryeoun’s interest has been turning to other genres. “I’m still very interested in solo action and romance roles. I would love to take on such roles if the opportunity arises,” he says. “Recently, I’ve been watching films and shows in the comedy genre so I think it might be fun to take on a role in a comedy in the future.”

Choosing projects is a skill the young actor has slowly been practising. “It’s always a thoughtful decision, but the most important aspect that I consider is whether it’s a character that I can successfully portray or if it’s a role I am eager to challenge myself with,” he says.

Brown patterned three-piece suit _ Gucci

On top of this, Ryeoun can name another actor he’d jump at the opportunity to partner with – “Park Hae-il. I would really like to meet him and learn from him on set. I hope I get to work with him some day.”

Perhaps what’s so refreshing about Ryeoun is that he’s sincerely just himself. It becomes more evident when we wrap up our shoot and make our way to Petrus, the hotel’s French fine-dining restaurant, for dinner. In more casual clothing, we’re eating and drinking – and even though we do need translation, he’s easy to chat with.

Brown patterned three-piece suit _ Gucci

Because his flight back to Seoul is scheduled for the next morning, I ask what else he wants to do in Hong Kong that he’ll have to leave for next time. “Yeah, my schedule was honestly pretty tight so I mostly stayed in the hotel,” he says. “If I come back again, I’d like to really walk around the city and soak in Hong Kong’s unique atmosphere. I like walking because I get to explore all the different alleys, get a real feel for what life is like from the energy on the street and I’d really like to just walk into any one of the restaurants that catches my eye.”

White pinstripe jacket _ Celine; Black tank top _ Zegna.

Until then, the actor plans to fly back home for a summer of camping, driving and relaxing in his off-time. Being himself and staying himself seems to come easily to him despite the publicity. He credits this to his #legends – his parents. “Everything they’ve shown me has been a model for how I live my life. They’ve guided me with endless support rather than words of instruction and for this, they’ll always be my legends.”

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