The balancing act of Daniel Henney

I have to admit this. After watching Shangai Call more times than I care to admit and Seducing Mr Perfect even more times if that were possible, there are no ways around it: I am in love with Daniel Henney. Ok, he IS good and athletic looking. But there is more to it than that. He can actually act. You really get hurt when he bullies, sad for him when he thinks his love interest is with someone else. And no, I am not biased. He is the wounded beast whose pain you would love to kiss better in the South Korean romcom Seducing Mr Perfect. His dramatic and deep self-assured cynicism so perfectly balances out with the comedy, awkwardness and inappropriateness of his female co-star’s character. Both their performances, the casting and the script writer should just be congratulated. It is so easy to see that in spite of their apparent differences, they are the same person, the same vision, the same optimism. One is disguised to avoid pain and one candidly is just out there: one coin, two sides.

For a long time, I thought I loved only the movies. I did and I do. But it is his performances, his believability that I seek in revisiting the scripts. For a girl like me who is an optimist, oscellating between its (Daniel Henney’s character) cynicism and its (Uhm Jung-hwa’s character in the movie) candidness, I totally relate. Beyond this film, I relate with the different aspects that each of his characters represents: as much in Seducing Mr Perfect spoken about just before as in Shangai Call. The latter grabs me as the foreigner in all the lands I live in, my adopted land, my birth land, my roots land. I am some aspects of him in his bosses’ offices in Shangai Call, just seen as a generic racial stereotype that can serve their purposes, with the bait of a promotion.

I wanted at some point to make up for my possibly missing out on another stereotype, that of the civilised growing teenage lack of. I would meet the expectations in my own home, deprived as I was, from the space whilst growinng up. I could now plaster posters of my huge crush. I even went through photos of him, where he cannot help but be more gorgeous than the previous. But I found none that told me a story that was more than the self-assuredness brought by a piece of labelled clothing and a handsome hanger (handsome face and handsome body). It is a lot already I must admit, but none of what I seek.

I then thought I love the stories he starred in and the characters he played. Even that irresponsible boss in One Night Surprise, a player who does not take his reponsibilities, is so real with a hint of a smile at the corner of the story telling. Even more so, his performance in My Father. Agent Zero, although grossly underdeveloped in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and underused still manages to make his presence felt and to insert humour and assurance in the little space of time he is slipped in. He gives Big Hero 6’s Tadashi Hamada the energy of his character’s enthusiasm towards his creations at the same time as that big brother tone. These roles are so real. These are not about claiming awards. They are simply about speaking on behalf of one or many who had that experience: without patronising, condescending, clicheing… And I watch those stories in other movies and don’t love them as much, in spite of great casting,  acting and great script. It is Mr Henney. He has something that I identify with more than anyone I have seen on film.

It is funny though, I am not Asian in spite of my fascination for the continent. I am not handsome or particularly into the artifice of appearance, in spite of my ability to appreciate it and my letting myself go into feasting my eyes there. I am not into models, actors or being a fan of a person. I am more into appreciating a special output when it appeals to me (so I can like a film and an interpretation and not really have to see another because the actor is in it). My childhood long behind me, this is the first time in my life that I actually am a fan of a human being.

I asked myself why. He is handsome, granted. But so are many other actors, models, actor-models, so is Idris Elba for goodness sake and as much as I have liked his movies and seeing his face, it has stopped there. Daniel Henney is talented but so are a lot of movie stars, the least not being Meryl Streep and Whoopy Goldberg who I will definitely crown there. Yet I will not as easily watch a film just because they are in it. In spite of sharing a genre, a sex, I do not identify with them as much as I do with Daniel Henney.

I don’t understand. I mean it does not bother me as such because I believe that the whole origin (Asia vs Africa), nationality (American vs French), language (US English versus Bristish English), fashion (elegant vs casual), creative outlet (Movie vs Music) is just a contextual and superficial medium needed by the crawlingly superficial times we still live in. So what is it, and in effect, is it being in love?

There are blurred lines between being in love and being grateful. As cultural specimen, we are often expected to play a role not because of our artistry, but because our race needs representation and we happen to be available. Our Unique selling Point can quickly become what we have not chosen to be (albeit being proud or whatever positive qualifier is most correct here, to be it) as opposed to what we have worked and chosen to be. We sometimes feel like we are filling someone else’s gaps rather than creating our own space, our own destiny. I have gone through this when I was expected to create so-called world music, or R&B or Gospel. I discovered in the echoes of the industry crowd a preference for my voice to be a vehicle for love and other drugs songs.

There is that dilemma in the choices that Daniel Henney makes in his roles. But being able to find a balance between who he is and the role the world wants him to play is an acrobatics challenge that he showcases can be done.

First published on https://tikiblack.com/blog/daniel-henney/