Byeon Woo-seok is new Global Benchsetter

Published May 28, 2021, 9:00 AM

by AA Patawaran

The Record of Youth star and headliner in upcoming Korean remake of Chinese drama Soul Mate joins Bench’s list of idol-worthy international endorsers

THE NEW GLOBAL BENCHSETTER Byeon Woo-seok in Bench Body, Bench Active, and Bench, photographed on location in Seoul, South Korea

I was on Zoom with K-drama star Byeon Woo-seok and, as if that wasn’t enough to leave me starstruck, I was on Zoom with him while I was in thrall over his Netflix series Record of Youth, where he plays one of the principal roles alongside Park Bo-gum, Park So-dam, and Kwon Soo-hyun. OK, every single actor in that series is a star, at least to me, especially Park Bo-gum’s father and Byeon Woo-seok’s mother, and in performing their roles to the hilt, they make Bo-gum and Woo-seok’s stars shine even brighter.

I must admit I’m new to K-drama, which I only started watching last year with Crash Landing on You. Before that, my Korean film appreciation was limited to zombie films like Kingdom and Train to Busan. Not a romcom fan, either, until I watched what I think are my best three so far, Start-Up, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, and—the latest of my discoveries—Record of Youth, in which Byeon Woo-seok sensitively portrays an aspiring actor dealing with all the challenges of coming of age or coming to his own, such as those imposed by his family, friends, love interests, self-doubt, envy, jealousy, on top of the unreasonable demands of celebrity.

In Record of Youth, Woo-seok plays Hae-hyo, a role that pretty much mimics his own life, a model-turned-actor, except that Woo-seok relates more to Park Bo-gum’s character Hye-jun, Hae-hyo’s friend since childhood, also a model-turned-actor who makes his mark without the help of an influential, helicopter mother or an affluent family, who provides him with a Plan B in case his dreams fall through. Unlike Hae-hyo’s, Hye-jun’s family could not support his life’s choice, leaving him to juggle odd jobs while in search of a break in the movies and on television.

BESTIES Byeon Woo-seok with the Record of Youth co-stars Park Bo-gum and Kwon Soo-hyun

Just like Hae-hyo, Woo-seok first debuted as a model, landing his first bit role in Dear My Friends. His minor appearance in that 2016 K-drama soon earned him heftier roles in such TV series as Live Up to Your Name, Search: WWW, and Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency, as well as celebrity cameos in powerhouse series like Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo.

Woo-seok is serious about acting. Although he likes doing romcoms to bring comfort to viewers, he aspires for roles that would test his mettle in the performance art, and for that he keeps an eye out for psychological dramas or fantasy or thrillers.

But I got to talk to Woo-seok on Zoom because he has officially joined Bench’s list of global Benchsetters, a list that has included world-acclaimed personalities like Chinese actor Dylan Wang, K-pop idol group TWICE, Crash Landing on You star Hyun Bin, Boys Over Flowers Best Actor Lee Min-ho, and American actor and Twilight star Taylor Lautner, among many others.

Woo-Seok has been handpicked to join this list for embodying the healthy and active lifestyle that the Bench Body and Bench Active lines are championing among the youth, but as with every other Globe Benchsetter, he has been chosen for his many other idol-worthy attributes.

“He is a good fit for Bench Body and Bench Active because he embodies a man of our times—accomplished in his own field yet able to balance his life with an active and healthy lifestyle,” said Ben Chan, the visionary behind the hugely successful homegrown lifestyle brand Bench in the Philippines. “We had a small chat and he is such a humble guy. He seems like a very happy person. He always has a smile and seems spontaneous. Nothing rehearsed, which I like. He’s very sincere. I also loved Record of Youth, but I have yet to meet him in person (because of all these travel restrictions).”

Speaking of the pandemic, over Zoom, in a one-on-one, I asked Woo-seok about his pandemic experience. He answered readily, without any trace of dismissing the subject like a fly perched on the rim of a milk tea cup, but also without dwelling on the subject.

SCREEN TIME OF YOUTH Byeon Woo-seok with the author on their virtual tête-à-tête

“In my alone time, I’m the type of person who heals by watching a movie, reading a book, or going through my script, but it is getting a little difficult because this Covid is lasting too long.” he said. “In this time of crisis, instead of giving advice, I want to encourage people that this difficult period will one day pass. We will be able to overcome this. So, instead of spending this time depressed, I think it would be better to use this time to pursue one’s hobbies and interests.”

In my alone time, I’m the type of person who heals by watching a movie, reading a book, or going through my script. Instead of spending this time depressed, I think it would be better to use this time to pursue one’s hobbies and interests.

—Byeon Woo-seok

As Ben has also observed, Woo-seok does not dwell in helplessness, always looking for ways to improve the situation, no matter how hard it seems to stay positive. Based on our conversation, he seems bright and light, a buoyant spirit, unburdened by troubles, even though he doesn’t deny them.

In his personal style, Woo-seok seems to prefer freedom of movement. “In photoshoots, I often wear fit or tight clothes, but in my daily life, I usually wear casual and comfortable clothes,” he said when I asked if he had a say in the styling of his characters in his films. His wardrobe is simple. At a party, he is in most cases in a suit, a jacket over a shirt if the dress code is not too formal. “When I’m alone at home, I usually just wear undergarments,” he intimates. “Then when my friends come over, I put on something like pants and a sweater. I like casual the most.”

Even in Record of Youth, despite the complexities involved in this tale of difficult friendships, complicated family ties, and the quest for self-realization, Woo-seok has been able to exude this serious-but-not-too-serious vibe, which allows him to play true to his character, whether in a color-blocked designer blazer or in a pair of pajama wide pants or in a sleeveless tee, which he wears a lot of in his many scenes doing Pilates or anything active.  

MY RIVAL IS MY BEST FRIEND Byeon Woo-seok and Park Bo-gum playing characters that are just like them in real life, models turning into actors

What does it mean to Woo-seok that he is joining the roster of international endorsers at Bench, who have all been handpicked for their impact on the youth, their professional caliber, and their personal lifestyles?

“First, I am very thankful to Bench for choosing me as an endorser from Korea. I think Bench style is very stylish and beautifully executed. When I tried the outfits, they were very relaxed and casual,” he said, adding that he enjoyed the fit and the style and how comfortable Bench fashion was.

Woo-seok is no stranger to the Philippines. “He’s been to Boracay before, so I’m sure some Filipinos have met him before us,” Ben told me. But I asked Woo-seok anyway what he had to say to his Filipino fans.

Before answering, Woo-seok looked at me and smiled, pointing at the wall behind me. “First, I want to tell you, AA, that you came out great in the photo behind you,” he said. It took me a second to realize he was referring to a pop portrait done of me by acclaimed portraitist Rupert Jacinto, which hung on the wall in my Zoom room. I said thank you awkwardly, surprised at how quickly he turned the tables on me. And then he looked straight into the camera and gave his message to the Filipino K-drama fans.

“Thank you so much for loving and supporting a person like me,” he said. “I will show more sides of me through my upcoming film Soul Mate and more to come, so I hope to have your support!”