Choi Sung-kook : the king of stickers

By Li Lin Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-25 22:13:01

Recently, Choi Sung-kook's popularity grew even further in China when his face was deployed as part of a recent "sticker war." Photo: Courtesy of Choi Sung-kook

Forty-six-year-old actor Choi Sung-kook may just be South Korea's best-known star in China - but not for what you might expect. It isn't his goofy good looks nor his roles in big-budget rom-coms like Sex is Zero 2 (2007) and Oh! My God (2006) that have earned him fame, but something much more mundane: stickers.

Stickers, or gifs as they're known in the West, are used widely as a kind of live-action emoticon among Chinese net users, injecting a bit of levity into online chats or WeChat conversations. Choi first rocketed to sticker stardom around 2007, when a scene from the comedy Mr Kim vs Mr Kim vs Mr Kim (2007) featuring Choi laughing was turned into a gif that spread across the internet like wildfire.

It's no wonder why it proved so popular; in the gif, Choi - who's dressed up as a kung fu master, one of the three "Mr Kims" featured in the movie - looks positively cartoonish. In the scene, he's just defeated a little boy in a video game by secretly kicking away the boy's stool out from under him, and is now laughing in triumph, his mouth opened wide, revealing two rows of perfectly white teeth, his eyebrows slanted down in smug triumph. He soon became known by his character's name in the film: Mr Kim.


Samples of Choi Sung-kook stickers Photos: Sina Weibo

The gif quickly spread across South Korea, Japan and China, and soon Choi became a full-fledged meme, as Chinese netizens generated sticker after sticker featuring his face (often on a cartoon panda's head) with different jokes and captions written below.

Sticker fame translated into real fame last September, when Choi opened an account on Chinese social media site Sina Weibo, quickly attracting more than 450,000 followers. Recently, his popularity grew even further when his face was deployed as part of a recent "sticker war" that Chinese mainland netizens waged against the Facebook pages of several Taiwanese media organizations for their support of recent statements endorsing Taiwanese independence.

The sticker war started around 7 pm on January 20, when members of LiYi, the biggest forum on search engine giant Baidu's online community Tieba, began attempted to paralyze the Facebook pages of well-known news sites like Set News and Apple Daily by spamming them with stickers - many of them of Choi's laughing face. Although Choi himself had nothing to do with the sticker war, a number of Chinese netizens ended up commenting on his Sina Weibo, jokingly praising him as "a hero safeguarding China's integrity."

Of course, Choi is more than just a sticker star. A professional actor and comedian, Choi developed an interest in acting from a young age and studying drama at Seoul University of the Arts in the 1990s and launching his career in 1995.

Recently, Choi has been acting more in China, giving his fans more than a laughing face to know him by. The actor recently gave an exclusive interview to Metropolitan in which he expressed his opinions on his career and "sticker stardom" in China.

Choi Sung-kook and one of his favorite stickers Photo: Courtesy of Choi Sung-kook

Mr Kim's Q & A

Metropolitan: When did you find out that you were popular on Chinese social media?

Not very long ago. One of my friends, a South Korean student now studying in China, told me that I was quite popular there, and I was surprised. I doubt that I am that popular though.

Metropolitan: How did you feel when you saw your face made into so many funny stickers?

When you love someone, you make him or her into stickers. That's what Chinese young people do now. They care about me, so they use my face. I feel happy, really.

Metropolitan: You are a professional actor, but you gained popularity from funny stickers. What do you think about that?

Of course, I would have liked to gain fame through my work and my professionalism. But I am still thankful for everyone who has noticed me and loves me.

Metropolitan: Do you practice making facial expressions or do any special exercises?

Actually, I don't practice making facial expressions, and I never force an expression when I'm acting. They are all natural and in the moment. I love acting; I love my career as an actor, and I really enjoy it.

Metropolitan: Outside of acting, how would you describe yourself?

I like to be alone when I have free time. To tell you the truth, I am an introvert and not funny at all in front of strangers. However, when I'm with like-minded friends who I click with, I am funny and laugh a lot.

Metropolitan: What are your faovirte films that you've acted in??

In terms of films, Sex Is Zero 2 (2007), Romantic Assassin (2003), Short Time (2005), Oh! My God1 and 2 (2006 and 2009), Mr Kim vs Mr Kim vs Mr Kim (2007), Underground Rendezvous (2007), and Life is Beautiful (2008). TV dramas: My Big Family (2002), Oh La La Couple (2012), Endless Love (2014). I am most satisfied with the two Oh! My God movies, and I strongly recommend them to my Chinese fans.

Metropolitan: You are a successful comedian. How do you understand comedy, and what kind of movies would you like to do in the future?

Actually, I prefer acting in romantic films more, but maybe I'm better suited to comedic roles. I will not give up though. I will audition for different roles in the future.

Metropolitan: What is your favorite movie and your favorite comedy?

My favorite movie is Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996), a love story based in Hong Kong and starring Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai. And my favorite comedy is The Truman Show (1998) starring Jim Carrey.

Metropolitan: What iare your 2016 resolutions and career plans? Anything related to China?

I plan to develop closer ties with China, Chinese Net users and film and TV audiences. In 2016, I will shoot two movies and three period TV shows in China and attend some events as a special guest, like the ACG (Animation, Comic and Game) Spring Festival Gala in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province on January 23.

Metropolitan: Do you think of yourself more as a serious actor or an "idol type"?

I'd say "handsome" describes me better than "good actor."

Metropolitan: How do you make your signature laughing face?

First, slant your eyebrows, then open your mouth really wide and laugh loudly. Remember that even though you are laughing, you have to blend a tinge of sadness in with your emotions.

Metropolitan: Do you use stickers when chatting? Do you use the stickers of your own face?

I didn't use stickers before, but I will try to use them from now on, and I will definitely use ones of my face.

Metropolitan: What are you looking for in a wife?

The more feminine and the more beautiful, the better.

The Chinese view of Mr Kim

Li Mingyi, 25, IT worker: 

I have no idea what's the real name and identity of the people depicted on the stickers, including Mr Kim. I have made over 1,000 stickers using his image alone. Last week, when the Facebook sticker war broke out, I made over 200 stickers specially for the war and shared them in a QQ online chat group themed sticker making. Among the stickers created, over half were made using Mr Kim's face.

I founded the group two years ago. In the beginning, there were less than 50 members, but now I have 1,422 members. Last week the number of people applying to join the QQ group tripled to over 50 per day. They are all "soldiers" who come to my place for "ammunition."

Du Xiang, 19, university student:

I am a loyal fan of Mr Kim and other people whose faces I use to make stickers. I see their faces every day, even more than my girlfriend and my parents. But last week I was "hurt" by them during the Facebook sticker war.

Because of a tip-off from Taiwanese Net users, my Facebook account was banned temporarily. Days ago, I had a chance to lift the ban by doing an online verification. Facebook chose some photos from my Facebook friends' albums and disrupted the order. I had to match my friends' identity with their photos, but all of the photos the system chose were stickers they uploaded recently! How could I recognize them! So, my account was banned permanently, and I am sad. 

Zhang Wenlong, 22, amateur film reviewer:

I have long been a fan of Choi Sung-kook since I first watched his movies. I think his comedies are all black humor, which reflect the small potatoes' struggle at the bottom of the South Korean society. The movie Sex Is Zero (2007) is often viewed as an x-rated movie. It makes you laugh, but at the same time, it can break your heart and make you think.

Song Tingting, 32, artist:

I know about Choi Sung-kook, and I use his stickers, but only the cute and funny ones. I think Choi's laughing face is kind of in line with the wishes of the public's aesthetic for pop culture. I admire the creative ideas of the sticker makers and respect their work. 

But there are also some vulgar stickers with insulting words and erotic words on them. In my opinion, these stickers have no creative value or shining points, are in poor taste and do harm to the popular aesthetics. I also think it (vulgar and insulting text) disrespects the people depicted on the stickers, including Choi.

Choi Sung-kook, a South Korean actor Photo: Courtesy of Choi Sung-kook

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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