The Great Kim Myung-min




 By Eve Berliner


















By Eve Berliner




In a transmutation of infinite mystery, he seeps into the interior of the character and disappears into its burning essence.  He is the mind.  He is the body.  He is the history.  He is Beethoven in the guise of Maestro Kang, his hair flying in the wind, the majesty upon him.  He is Jang Joon-hyuk, the brilliant surgeon, relentless, amoral, the genius with the heart of ice and arrogance who leaves you haunted and weeping.  He is the beautiful young man, Jong-woo, brave and ironic, stricken by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in a state of dying as he falls deeply in love .


He devours the character and the character devours him.  He is brutal to himself, going to the precipice in pursuit of the truth of the character, turning himself into a skeleton, emaciated and weakened, starving himself to the edge of life, disintegrating as the disease ate at him, consumed him,  a 45-pound loss, suffering as Jong-woo, being Jong-woo.


Deep complex characters.


And when it is time to let it go, he plunges into the abyss.  Something is lost from him. Something that was buried in the deep of him.


Kim Myung-min, among the great actors of the world.


In South Korea, at the top of the ethereal mountain.


* * *


He struggled in obscurity for years, anonymous bit parts, amateur stage roles, faceless appearances in the world of Korean television drama, until the accumulation of despair overtook him and he made the dreaded decision to abandon acting and relocate to New Zealand -- give up on it, give up.  He would take his pregnant young wife by the hand and open an electronics business in New Zealand. 


There had been high hopes. In 1996, he won the Sixth Annual Seoul Broadcasting System [SBS] Talent Contest, competing against 400 aspiring performers. In 2000, he was acclaimed Best New Actor and declared a “promising new face.”  His 2001 debut as a lead actor in the dark suspense film, Sorum, drew attention and praise. Once again he was named Best New Actor.


And yet, like a shadow, he returned to obscurity, disappeared off the radar; going nowhere.  The terminal blow was the motorcycle stunt accident for the film, Stuntman, an acrobatic ride that resulted in a four month hospitalization, smashed legs, surgeries, pain and thoughts of letting go the dream.  The year 2004 was a bottomless pit.     


It was to be the strange confluence of destiny in the darkest hour, the beautiful birth of his son, Jae-ha and the simultaneous coming of the Immortal Admiral Yi Soon Shin, who arose out of the mist, the role that would transform his destiny, the true birth of his life as an actor.  He viewed it as a gift from his son.


It was an epic role.  Admiral Yi Soon Shin, heroic legend of Korean history who was victorious against the ferocious Japanese invaders, died at the Battle of Noryang on December 16, 1598, mortally wounded by a single bullet.  


His dying words:  “The battle is at its height.  Beat the war drums!  Do not announce my death.”


Kim Myung-min’s performance was of such power, so gripping, so intense, so deeply embedded in the blood and soul of the nation, that he was immediately elevated to the realms of artistic greatness.  The year-long KBS television drama would run for 104 episodes.


Here is Kim Myung-min’s emotional Acceptance Speech when he was bestowed the Grand Prize of Acting, The 2005 Daesang Award:


“Playing the great Admiral Yi Soon Shin was the biggest blessing in my life.  Dear Admiral, you gave me such mental anguish but now you give me this great award.  You are truly great.  I thank the Lord for bringing me Yi Soon Shin and encouraging me to restart my life…


“I’m truly appreciative of my great senior actors.  They helped me when I made frantic attempts to mimic Yi Soon Shin.  They covered my hollow performance.  To our dear extra actors, thank you for giving your best shot even though you were playing minor roles…They had suffered in the battlefield filming

locations for one and a half years. Fighting with the extreme hot-cold weather.  I love all of you.


“I feel grateful to my wife who had taken care of Jae-ha for about one and a half years. I love you so much.  I promise that I’ll not act only for myself.  Thank you.”


* * *


The ensuing years have produced works of extraordinary power:  Beethoven Virus, a masterpiece.  White Tower, a masterpiece.  Closer to Heaven, a masterpiece.


Among his greatest creations, Maestro Kang Gun Woo, [Beethoven Virus], world-renowned conductor; blistering, sharp, autocratic; fearsome detonations, cruel verbal assaults …and yet…and yet, a figure of supreme elegance and beauty, a rhapsodic conductor, the orchestra swept under his power, his magnetic spell.


Something there in the loneliness of him, old scar of childhood, old hurt deep in the heart ensconced by a hard, magnificent shell, the beautiful hidden vulnerability there in the eyes, in the slight breaking of the voice, the pain within.


The Maestro walks with immense grace accompanied by his great companion Thoven, his large, utterly beautiful collie dog floating along beside him, as if out of a dream.  And as Kang Mae [Maestro Kang] lies down exhausted on his bed late one evening, gulps a handful of pills, slips on his black sleeping mask, and falls into a deep, impenetrable slumber, he is unaware that the open bottle of sleeping pills has fallen on to the ground and Thoven is devouring them.


He awakens to Thoven’s lifeless body sprawled on the floor.


Distraught, frantic, he is beside himself with shock and grief. 


In the end, Thoven’s life is saved by a viola player/veterinarian in the orchestra.


“Thoven, my poor Thoven, what you went through,” the Maestro cries out.  On the floor, holding, cradling Thoven in his arms, sobbing, burying his face in her luxuriant white fur, “Thoven, my poor Thoven.”


* * *


So many incredible scenes.


The concert of the imagination in the field.  The wind softly blowing, fraqrance of flowers. 






“Like a dream,” the conductor utters. 


And he is lost into the music, the orchestra transported, Gabriel’s Oboe on the wind.


* * *


The erotic scene, Closer to Heaven, the stricken Jong Woo now a paraplegic, his body, but not his senses, failing him, the lovemaking so extraordinary, so rich, so deeply intimate and honest, beautifully suggestive, shadows on a wall – their act of love transcending the tragic to the sublime, their true love more powerful than inexorable death.

* * *


The fire scene, Lord of the Dramas.  Anthony Kim, ruthless, selfish, despised television producer, king of the industry, as portrayed by Kim Myung-min.


And it is Anthony who, in an astounding revelation of character, runs into a raging inferno of a fire that has erupted on the set to save the pathetic old actor who several minutes earlier had been fired for disrupting filming with his tubercular coughing. Anthony emerges from the flames with the old man in his arms. The cast, transfixed, breaks into cheers.


* * *


The first concert of the orchestra, Beethoven Virus. And what passes almost mystically between Kang Mae and Ru-mi, the first violinist, during that glorius opening concert, a nameless connection, deep and inchoate, unbeknownst to him, taking him unawares, as he pulls her through a hearing crisis during the performance – his eyes, his voice suffused: “Hey Gamecock, look at me, Stay with me. More softly.  Slow,” he murmurs.


An inner struggle over Ru-mi. Battling with himself. Talking to himself:


“That time why did you have to do that to me.  However bad the loneliness.  I was already used to bearing with it…And suddenly when someone comforts me...”


At drama’s end, the Maestro is offered the position of lead conductor of the esteemed Munich Philharmonic. 


At his goodbye with Ru-mi, he suddenly grabs her arm, removes his own ring, and places it in the palm of her hand, closes her hand over it. . She clutches it, places it on her ring finger.


“It’s not the time yet but the time is coming.  I know it.  I can’t run forever,” he says. “I know that.”


And walks off into the distance, his beloved Thoven by his side.





* * *   



The drama, White Tower, among the greatest of his creations, Dr. Jang Joon-hyuk, chief of surgery, driven by untamable ambition and the lure of challenge, his mind, his scalpel, his forceps, his daring – these, his surgical weapons. Arrogant, brilliant, slicing mind, imperious, obsessive, many enemies, but always commanding the highest respect as the physician, always striving, reaching for the next pinnacle.


The young interns idolize him: 


“How can we be like you?”


“Don’t rest and fight to the end. Then you will get what you want,” he responds.


Dr. Lee Joo-wan, his former professor, predecessor as chief, adversary:


“Pride is the path to destruction and arrogance will make you fall,” he remarks tellingly.


The surgery scenes are riveting, high-wire performances by Dr. Jang filled with tension.The never-before-attempted triple transplantation of liver, pancreas, and kidney, in a patient riddled with cancer, the rich American medical director’s wife.


The incredible triple organ transplant is Dr. Jang’s peak and his undoing. 


In the intoxication of his achievement, he neglects a lesser patient who dies in the aftermath of a misdiagnosis of complications, after successful surgery.  Dismissive of the patient’s deteriorating condition, his ambition blinds him to his duty.


His patient pays the price and he pays the price as well.


The family of the deceased launches a medical malpractice suit against Dr. Jang Joon-hyuk and the hospital.  An excruciating, protracted legal hearing is undertaken, and Dr. Jang is found guilty of malpractice. 


The toll it takes on him is Draconian.


He is stricken with a sudden, vicious, aggressive cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, a rare malignancy of the bile duct.


The death scene, an unspeakable sorrow, as if your own loved one was dying, everyone weeping, no matter how loved or hated he was, treacheries between these doctors, jealousies, they are all weeping.  His father-in-law, his child-like wife, his closest friend, Dr. Choi, his loyal interns, and even Dr. Lee, who had stepped in to perform the final high risk surgery in an attempt to save his life, only to discover that the metastasis was everywhere and inoperable.  Dr. Lee wiping his eyes with grief.


His last spoken words raspy and barely audible:


“My surgery is a success. 


“It isn’t me. 


“I didn’t do anything wrong.  It isn’t me. 


“Scalpel”… moving his hand in a surgical maneuver…


“Dying.  I’m going to wake up.  I’m going….”



* * *


“I watched it at home and felt like it was me who had actually died.  I sat there empty-headed until late at night.  He may have been viewed as a villain but many times I cried for him in my heart.  That may be why I’ve found it so hard to forget about him.”

        Kim Myung-min



White Tower, the fall Shakespearean.


              * * *



The deaths.  The doctor’s death.  The death of Jong-woo.  The death of the Immortal Admiral.


Haunting.  Wrenching. 


Three of the four protagonists die, another one goes blind  [Anthony Kim].  Only one happy ending, Bad Family,  a 2006 gem, a wonderful riot, sentimental, ingenious, wacky and endearing little fantasy, Kim Myung-min portraying a lovable thug. [ex-thug], with his thug street accent, his crazy walk, his shyness. A great gift for comedy.  And they all live happily ever after.


       * * *


The Drama Awards that have been bestowed upon Kim Myung-min are too vast to enumerate. 


But among them:


2009:  30th Blue Dragon Film Awards: Best Leading Actor, Closer to Heaven; 46th Daejong Film Awards: Best Leading Actor, Closer to Heaven; 45th Paek Sang Arts Awards: Best Television Actor, Beethoven Virus; 2008: MBC Drama Awards: Grand Prize, Beethoven Virus; 3rd Korea Drama Festival:  Awards, Best Actor in Television Drama, Beethoven Virus; MBC Drama Award Awards: Best Television Grand Prize, Beethoven Virus; Grand Prize, Daesang Drama Award, Beethoven Virus; 2007: Paek Sang Arts Awards, Best Television Actor, White Tower; 20th Grimae Awards: Best Actor, White Tower; Paek Sang Awards for Best Actor, White Tower; 2006: SBS Drama Awards: PD Award, Bad Family; 2005: Grand Prize, 2005 Daesang Award , Immortal Admiral Yi Soon Shin;18th Grimae Awards: Best Actor Immoral Admiral Yi Soon-shin; KBS Drama Awards: Grand Prize, Immortal Admiral Yi Soon-shin.


* * *



In closing, the wildly improbable happened to this most serious actor, Kim Myung-min, with the airing of those 18 episodes of “Beethoven Virus” to the South Korean public on MBC-Television in 2008 and 9.

Maestro Kang became a pop culture phenomenon!  A sensation.  The scowl, the half-lip curling with contempt, smirking with self-conceit and nastiness, fodder for late night television comedians.  And on a cold January afternoon, thousands of young screaming girls, enthralled with him, descended on his small table at his first fan signing, the girls in a state of chaos and ecstasy, Kim Myung-min in a state of disbelief, laughing to himself, shaking his head at the quiet amazement of it all. 









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