MVP: Rating the Stars

It was a mid-spring evening of two years ago when, while looking at a show discussing possible draft picks on NBA TV, I got the crazy idea of doing something similar for the Korean TV industry: why not pick the best young prospects out of the immense acting pool the country is blessed with, as if I was trying to build a “team” out of it? I never realized that such a seemingly throwaway post (and its MVP “sister,” which took the same idea and extended it to more established stars) would quickly become the most popular on The Vault, moving people to wonder what lied beyond that elusive Top 100 – and if by chance any of their favourite stars were ever going to make it, or if not why they were excluded.

The point I was trying to make is that it takes more than popularity and good looks to make a mark in this industry – in the sense that your legacy will go beyond a few years or even a decade of fleeting stardom. The real legends, those you remember even decades after their death, need more than a pretty face and a few star vehicles to their name; they need that pathos and flair that comes with great acting, the dedication to hone their craft, the good fortune and acumen of meeting and choosing the best projects. That is why I divided their assessment as performers into four categories (rated from 1 to 100).

They were, and still are, as follows:

  • RAW TALENT (abbreviated as R): being blessed with innate thespian talent is something only a selected few can hope for, and even then a lot of it might be made of intangibles that are not that easy to pick up at first sight. It can mean emoting with sincerity that penetrates the screen; adding a touch of vitality to characters that would be flat without; adding vulnerability or strength that helps something trapped in the confines of a page gain flesh and blood. It can, of course, just mean having above average diction and versatility, and the ability to master your craft much faster than your peers. But having talent in an industry which will often only vy for looks and marketability can be a double-edged sword, as the disappointing career paths of people like Lee Da-Hae and Lee Cheon-Hee painfully prove.
  • FUNDAMENTALS (F): technique, essentially. And thankfully this can be taught, and be learned. Diction, cadence, facial expression, how to act with your entire body instead of merely contorting your eyebrows (sorry man, I just can’t help it!), you name it. What’s strange about fundamentals is that an excess of them can actually be counterproductive, as people like Kim Gang-Woo and Ji Chang-Wook show: they’re technically well above average, but their lackluster talent makes sure that everything they do looks and feels mechanical, manufactured, lacking sincerity. Which is why having talent alongside technique is so important: a poor actor can become good through hard work and dedication just like Park Si-Yeon and Kim Min-Hee did. But someone without raw talent will never become great. Never.
  • STAR POWER (S): this is a bit trickier to explain. There are several things that can make someone a star, a lot of which might be nothing they made a conscious effort to achieve. It can be the marketing machine behind you, minimizing your shortcomings and only taking advantage of the few strengths you have – CF queens like Jeon Ji-Hyun and Kim Tae-Hee would probably still score 100 in this particular category. It can be that dreaded “telegenic” factor (which, mind you, doesn’t simply mean having a pretty face, or else nearly everyone on Korean TV would be a star), making sure the masses will even accept poor acting. It can be charisma, screen presence – something you’d generally associate with raw talent, but which I put in this category because there will be great actors without the slightest hint of charisma (think Jeon Ye-Seo) and incredibly charismatic people who can’t act to save their lives (it’s… the eyebrow effect!). Having low star power doesn’t mean you lack anything as an actor, it just means you’ll likely last longer but your star will not shine as brightly. It means your choice of projects will be more eclectic, limited in scope, perhaps more interesting. But you’ll likely never become a headliner.
  • UPSIDE POTENTIAL (U): you don’t necessarily need talent to progress, as the aforementioned ladies’s improvement (blessed to have met people like Noh Hee-Kyung and Jung Ha-Yeon) has shown. But there are actually people of great talent who regress as they age (Kim So-Yeon seems to sadly fit the bill, not to mention Lee Da-Hae), and talentless actors who don’t even try, simply because stardom is enough for them (Yoon Eun-Hye and Yoo Seung-Ho would be the biggest culprits). The only way for an actor to improve is to actually choose projects that will test his acting skills enough to jumpstart that change, so this is also a sort of “career choice” evaluation. Naturally, child actors will have higher potential than someone ten years their senior — ten years that could have been spent wasting time with fluff that does nothing but conceal real talent, for instance.

Now, the system is still more or less the same, but there is a big change: I have now conflated the MVP and the Draft and turned them into an all-encompassing Top 100 list divided into two: a simple age distinction, which for now and the foreseeable future will be at 35 years of age. That's generally when an actor finds his full maturation, and has had enough years to thrive and flourish past what his potential suggested. Gone are the limits for upside potential actors in the MVP had to be limited to, as age and declining upside will naturally take care of that (so should anyone go against the current and still show potential at 60, the lack of limitations will account for that). Also gone is the rule that anyone would be disqualified from the Draft the moment he starred as a lead in a drama. This is open to every single actor in Korea.

And of course I have “invited” stars from the film world who have never acted on TV, such as Ahn Sung-Gi and Song Kang-Ho, just to make the list more complete. Which is to say that these are the best pound-for-pound, role-for-role, line-for-line 100 actors in Korea.

At least for now. Tomorrow might be another story.

NOTE: Before you send me tons of e-mails to the tune of "where is star X on the list," simply keep checking the constantly growing database of actors, as everyone will have his MVP score at the bottom of his career profile. Want to see one? Check Lee Min-Ho.

VETERANS

  1. 하정우 (Ha Jung-Woo) - 1978 (37) – R98, F88, S97, U73 [AVG 89.0]
  2. 전도연 (Jeon Do-Yeon) - 1973 (42) – R95, F94, S90, U65 [AVG 86.0]
  3. 황정민 (Hwang Jung-Min) - 1970 (45) – R94, F92, S92, U60 [AVG 84.5]
  4. 최민식 (Choi Min-Shik) - 1962 (53) – R95, F88, S90, U60 [AVG 83.2]
  5. 송강호 (Song Kang-Ho) - 1967 (48) – R96, F82, S99, U55 [AVG 83.0]
  6. 한석규 (Han Suk-Gyu) – 1964 (51) – R82, F90, S85, U68 [AVG 81.2]
  7. 김윤석 (Kim Yoon-Seok) – 1968 (47) – R90, F79, S93, U59 [AVG 80.2]
  8. 조재현 (Jo Jae-Hyun) – 1965 (50) – R86, F87, S88, U60 [AVG 80.2]
  9. 박근형 (Park Geun-Hyung) - 1940 (75) – R91, F98, S81, U50 [AVG 80.0]
  10. 김영철 (Kim Young-Cheol) – 1953 (62) – R86, F95, S88, U50 [AVG 79.7]
  11. 장혁 (Jang Hyuk) – 1976 (39) – R73, F72, S96, U78 [AVG 79.7]
  12. 공효진 (Gong Hyo-Jin) - 1980 (35) – R89, F85, S78, U56 [AVG 79.5]
  13. 조진웅 (Jo Jin-Woong) – 1976 (39) – R85, F80, S79, U70 [AVG 78.5]
  14. 손현주 (Son Hyun-Joo) – 1965 (50) – R88, F89, S76, U60 [AVG 78.2]
  15. 채시라 (Chae Si-Ra) – 1968 (47) – R87, F87, S84, U55 [AVG 78.2]
  16. 최민수 (Choi Min-Soo) – 1962 (53) – R90, F66, S96, U60 [AVG 78.0]
  17. 윤제문 (Yoon Je-Moon) – 1970 (45) – R81, F80, S88, U60 [AVG 77.2]
  18. 이성민 (Lee Seong-Min) – 1968 (47) – R86, F80, S82, U60 [AVG 77.0]
  19. 이선균 (Lee Seon-Gyun) – 1975 (40) – R80, F85, S75, U68 [AVG 77.0]
  20. 신은경 (Shin Eun-Kyung) – 1973 (42) – R80, F80, S81, U67 [AVG 77.0]
  21. 신하균 (Shin Ha-Gyun) – 1974 (41) – R83, F80, S78, U67 [AVG 77.0]
  22. 고현정 (Go Hyun-Jung) – 1971 (44) – R82, F82, S85, U70 [AVG 77.0]
  23. 안성기 (Ahn Sung-Gi) – 1952 (63) – R77, F90, S90, U50 [AVG 76.7]
  24. 오만석 (Oh Man-Seok) - 1975 (40) – R90, F89, S66, U62 [AVG 76.7]
  25. 류승룡 (Ryu Seung-Ryong) – 1970 (45) – R82, F81, S84, U60 [AVG 76.7]
  26. 박해일 (Park Hae-Il) – 1977 (38) – R79, F78, S80, U70 [AVG 76.7]
  27. 김명민 (Kim Myung-Min) - 1972 (43) – R79, F92, S85, U50 [AVG 76.5]
  28. 조정석 (Jo Jung-Seok) – 1980 (35) – R82, F80, S73, U70 [AVG 76.2]
  29. 임수정 (Im Soo-Jung) – 1979 (36) – R78, F79, S82, U65 [AVG 76.0]
  30. 이천희 (Lee Cheon-Hee) – 1979 (36) – R81, F80, S73, U70 [AVG 76.0]
  31. 김응수 (Kim Eung-Soo) – 1961 (54) – R88, F87, S68, U60 [AVG 75.7]
  32. 김희애 (Kim Hee-Ae) - 1967 (48) – R79, F86, S80, U58 [AVG 75.7]
  33. 김갑수 (Kim Gap-Soo) – 1957 (58) – R79, F90, S82, U50 [AVG 75.2]
  34. 김혜자 (Kim Hye-Ja) – 1941 (74) – R78, F82, S90, U50 [AVG 75.0]
  35. 이미숙 (Lee Mi-Sook) – 1960 (55) – R84, F84, S80, U50 [AVG 74.5]
  36. 김소연 (Kim So-Yeon) – 1980 (35) – R72, F78, S78, U70 [AVG 74.5]
  37. 엄기준 (Eom Gi-Joon) – 1976 (39) – R87, F85, S60, U65 [AVG 74.2]
  38. 손병호 (Son Byung-Ho) – 1962 (53) – R77, F87, S72, U60 [AVG 74.0]
  39. 김영애 (Kim Young-Ae) – 1951 (64) – R81, F84, S80, U50 [AVG 73.7]
  40. 전광렬 (Jeon Gwang-Ryeol) – 1960 (55) – R85, F85, S75, U50 [AVG 73.7]
  41. 박용우 (Park Yong-Woo) – 1971 (44) – R74, F80, S72, U69 [AVG 73.7]
  42. 엄태웅 (Eom Tae-Woong) – 1974 (41) – R86, F63, S78, U67 [AVG 73.5]
  43. 성동일 (Seong Dong-Il) – 1967 (48) – R72, F80, S81, U60 [AVG 73.2]
  44. 정보석 (Jung Bo-Seok) – 1962 (53) – R77, F89, S70, U57 [AVG 73.2]
  45. 곽도원 (Kwak Do-Won) - 1974 (41) – R71, F80, S72, U70 [AVG 73.2]
  46. 윤여정 (Yoon Yeo-Jung) – 1947 (68) – R85, F80, S77, U50 [AVG 73.0]
  47. 장현성 (Jang Hyun-Sung) – 1970 (45) – R72, F90, S70, U60 [AVG 73.0]
  48. 설경구 (Seol Gyeong-Gu) – 1968 (47) – R80, F70, S84, U55 [AVG 72.2]
  49. 이경영 (Lee Gyeong-Young) – 1960 (55) – R82, F82, S75, U50 [AVG 72.2]
  50. 최명길 (Choi Myung-Gil) – 1962 (53) – R76, F85, S71, U57 [AVG 72.2]

UNDER 35

  1. 김유정 (Kim Yoo-Jung) – 1999 (16) – R88, F89, S85, U90 [AVG 88.0]
  2. 손예진 (Son Ye-Jin) - 1982 (33) – R92, F90, S90, U79 [AVG 87.8]
  3. 송중기 (Song Joong-Gi) - 1985 (30) – R82, F95, S90, U81 [AVG 87.0]
  4. 여진구 (Yeo Jin-Gu) – 1997 (18) – R87, F88, S82, U87 [AVG 86.0]
  5. 심은경 (Shim Eun-Kyung) – 1994 (21) – R92, F90, S75, S86 [AVG 85.7]
  6. 한예리 (Han Ye-Ri) – 1984 (31) – R90, F88, S70, U92 [AVG 85.0]
  7. 김고은 (Kim Go-Eun) – 1991 (24) – R82, F77, S86, U90 [AVG 83.7]
  8. 김소현 (Kim So-Hyun) – 1999 (16) – R76, F78, S90, U86 [AVG 82.5]
  9. 박은빈 (Park Eun-Bin) – 1992 (23) – R76, F81, S85, U85 [AVG 81.7]
  10. 문근영 (Moon Geun-Young) - 1987 (28) – R88, F80, S78, U80 [AVG 81.5]
  11. 정유미 (Jung Yoo-Mi) - 1983 (32) – R82, F79, S77, U85 [AVG 80.7]
  12. 서현진 (Seo Hyun-Jin) – 1985 (30) – R85, F81, S71, U85 [AVG 80.5]
  13. 정우 (Jung Woo) - 1981 (34) – R82, F85, S75, U76 [AVG 79.5]
  14. 강한나 (Kang Han-Na) – 1989 (26) – R80, F81, S66, U89 [AVG 79.0]
  15. 서지혜 (Seo Ji-Hye) – 1984 (31) – R85, F70, S72, U86 [AVG 78.2]
  16. 노영학 (Noh Young-Hak) – 1993 (22) – R78, F77, S74, U84 [AVG 78.2]
  17. 홍아름 (Hong Ah-Reum) – 1989 (26) – R79, F82, S73, U78 [AVG 78.0]
  18. 강민아 (Kang Min-Ah) – 1997 (18) – R78, F71, S70, U89 [AVG 77.0]
  19. 주민하 (Ju Min-Ha) – 1986 (29) – R80, F81, S68, U78 [AVG 76.7]
  20. 신다은 (Shin Da-Eun) – 1987 (28) – R80, F82, S67, U78 [AVG 76.7]
  21. 서신애 (Seo Shin-Ae) – 1998 (17) – R81, F83, S67, U75 [AVG 76.5]
  22. 김향기 (Kim Hyang-Gi) – 2000 (15) – R79, F74, S74, U78 [AVG 76.2]
  23. 박예진 (Park Ye-Jin) – 1981 (34) – R82, F80, S77, U66 [AVG 76.2]
  24. 진지희 (Jin Ji-Hee) – 1999 (16) – R75, F78, S68, U83 [AVG 76.0]
  25. 김래원 (Kim Rae-Won) - 1981 (34) – R75, F74, S80, U74 [AVG 75.7]
  26. 김옥빈 (Kim Ok-Bin) – 1987 (28) – R73, F70, S84, U75 [AVG 75.5]
  27. 박보영 (Park Bo-Young) – 1990 (25) – R72, F75, S80, U80 [AVG 75.5]
  28. 홍수현 (Hong Su-Hyeon) – 1981 (34) – R74, F79, S74, U75 [AVG 75.5]
  29. 현빈 (Hyun Bin) – 1982 (33) – R71, F70, S86, U74 [AVG 75.2]
  30. 천우희 (Cheon Woo-Hee) – 1987 (28) – R80, F71, S75, U75 [AVG 75.2]
  31. 김소은 (Kim So-Eun) – 1989 (26) – R71, F75, S77, U78 [AVG 75.2]
  32. 이다해 (Lee Da-Hae) – 1984 (31) – R84, F84, S77, U55 [AVG 75.0]
  33. 문채원 (Moon Chae-Won) – 1986 (29) – R68, F71, S83, U78 [AVG 75.0]
  34. 남지현 (Nam Ji-Hyun) – 1995 (20) – R75, F65, S80, U80 [AVG 75.0]
  35. 김민정 (Kim Min-Jung) – 1982 (33) – R82, F80, S76, U62 [AVG 75.0]
  36. 이하늬 (Lee Honey) – 1983 (32) – R77, F75, S74, U73 [AVG 74.7]
  37. 김무열 (Kim Mu-Yeol) – 1982 (33) – R76, F72, S68, U83 [AVG 74.7]
  38. 주다영 (Ju Da-Young) – 1995 (20) – R74, F72, S75, U78 [AVG 74.7]
  39. 김새론 (Kim Sae-Ron) – 2000 (15) – R81, F73, S67, U77 [AVG 74.5]
  40. 임주환 (Im Joo-Hwan) – 1982 (33) – R74, F80, S68, U75 [AVG 74.2]
  41. 이영유 (Lee Young-Yoo) – 1998 (17) – R80, R80, S68, U69 [AVG 74.2]
  42. 정경호 (Jung Kyung-Ho) – 1983 (32) – R72, F76, S76, U72 [AVG 74.0]
  43. 이미도 (Lee Mi-Do) – 1982 (33) – R74, F75, S70, U76 [AVG 73.7]
  44. 이윤지 (Lee Yoon-Ji) – 1984 (31) – R77, F75, S70, U72 [AVG 73.5]
  45. 이세영 (Lee Se-Young) – 1992 (23) – R72, F73, S73, U76 [AVG 73.5]
  46. 박정민 (Park Jung-Min) – 1987 (28) – R74, F75, S67, U76 [AVG 73.0]
  47. 임주은 (Im Ju-Eun) – 1988 (27) – R75, F70, S71, U76 [AVG 73.0]
  48. 백진희 (Baek Jin-Hee) – 1990 (25) – R74, F70, S72, U74 [AVG 72.5]
  49. 김민서 (Kim Min-Seo) – 1984 (31) – R72, F73, S72, U73 [AVG 72.5]
  50. 이유영 (Lee Yoo-Young) – 1989 (26) – R74, F73, S62, U80 [AVG 72.2]
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