Awkward and unnatural? Scarlet Heart star IU takes criticism in her stride

IU plays a modern woman who time-travels back to the Goryeo Dynasty in the South Korean remake of the hit Chinese drama Scarlet Heart.
IU plays a modern woman who time-travels back to the Goryeo Dynasty in the South Korean remake of the hit Chinese drama Scarlet Heart. PHOTO: ONE

South Korean singer-actress IU says she prefers a partner who is serious, but has a sense of humour

Neither of the handsome princes in South Korean period drama Scarlet Heart played by Lee Joon Ki and Kang Ha Neul appeals to the show's leading lady.

Actress IU, 23, prioritises other qualities in a man than winning looks.

"I prefer someone who is not overly good-looking. If he's too good-looking, I would feel that he doesn't belong to me," she says.

Listing down the attributes of her ideal man in an e-mail interview, she adds that she wants a guy who is serious, yet has a sense of humour. He should also know "how and when to cheer others up".

IU, whose real name is Lee Ji Eun, could be describing her real-life beau, 34-year-old singer Chang Kiha. Their relationship came to light after paparazzi shots of the couple were published last year. Shortly after that, she admitted she is dating the singer who fronts indie rock band Kiha & The Faces.

In fact, the stage name she has chosen for herself suggests an inclination towards dating musicians. "IU", she says, means "you and I can become one through music".

The singer-actress' latest project is Scarlet Heart, the South Korean remake of the hit Chinese drama of the same name, in which she plays a modern woman who time-travels back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The series is airing here on cable channel One.

Scarlet Heart is going head to head with another historical drama, Love In The Moonlight, in the same time slot in South Korea. It has been getting 6 to 7 per cent viewership, losing to Moonlight's 20 per cent.

In Singapore, it is the reverse - Scarlet Heart's ratings are more than three times those of Moonlight, according to Kantar Media Singapore, a media monitoring agency.

IU says she found it challenging to take on the beloved role played by Chinese actress Liu Shi Shi in the original version.

"I had many questions running through my head, like how similar should my character be, in comparison to the original show," she says, acknowledging that comparisons are inevitable.

"I told myself I'd need to go in with an open heart and mind."

So far, Scarlet Heart viewers have criticised her acting as awkward and unnatural.

She takes it on the chin, saying: "I do think that feedback and criticism are important. They help me to grow professionally and as a person."

Having made her show business debut as a singer at age 16, she is no stranger to intense scrutiny and brickbats. As a solo singer, a rarity in the K-pop scene filled with girl groups, she also has no band mates to share the scrutiny with.

Her breezy hits Good Day (2010) and You And I (2011) showcase her impressive vocal range and she parlayed her chart success into a career in television, nabbing roles in high-school drama Dream High (2011) and television station drama Producers (2015).

While good-looking male co-stars are not new to IU, Scarlet Heart fans, presumably female, have expressed envy at her being surrounded by so many of them in one show, including Lee, 34, and Kang, 26, and boyband EXO's Baekhyun, 24.

One netizen commented: "IU must have saved the country in her previous life."

Maybe it is because she is spoken for, or does not want to incite greater jealousy among viewers, but IU says she was treated as one of the dudes and did not receive "special treatment" .

"Everyone was caring towards one another. It was great working with all of them. They were like elder brothers and would take turns to take care of me."

In any case, the young starlet is no starry-eyed romantic.

"Work definitely comes first. I expect the same of my ideal other half too."

• Scarlet Heart airs on One (StarHub TV Channel 124, 820 and 823; Singtel TV Channel 513 and 604) on Mondays and Tuesdays at 9pm. The Scarlet Heart marathon of 11 back-to-back episodes will be aired on Oct 2 from 12.45pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Not too good-looking, please'. Print Edition | Subscribe