Ma Dong-seok, a burly actor who bears a striking resemblance to a grizzly bear, is quickly taking the Korean film industry by storm.
Ma, who also sometimes goes by his English name, Don Lee, has proved himself to be a rising star of Korean cinema since his breakout role in the 2016 action thriller Train to Busan.
He is big, muscular, and not someone you would describe as conventionally handsome.
In Korea’s perfectly composed entertainment industry (just think about the latest hotshot boasting beautiful skin, gorgeous Photoshopped looks and a slim physique to match), Ma is an outlier, an asterisk and an exception to the rule.
Since he first stepped onto the screen in Train to Busan as Sang-hwa, a dedicated father-to-be who risks his life to get his pregnant wife and the rest of the surviving pack of passengers away from a zombie apocalypse and towards safety, he has been recognised as a major hit with the crowds.
He has certainly kept himself busy since then, with a series of successful projects.
They include a leading role in Champion (released in May in Korea, and now playing on screens in Hong Kong), to a surprise cameo in the hit film, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (released in Korea last December), which delighted audiences and hinted at his starring role in the forthcoming sequel.
Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days – which opens in Hong Kong on August 9 – will be quickly followed by Wonderful Ghost (opening on September 26 in Korea).
In the Along with the Gods sequel, he plays Sung Joo-shin, a guardian angel-like character, who has mysterious ties to the grim reapers of the underworld.
The biggest question though, however, is whether Ma can continue his string his successes to build his own empire – or whether he’s set to be remembered as a one-hit wonder.
With acting roles that emphasise his comedic timing paired with bulging muscles, one can’t help but wonder if Ma is the South Korean version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Pressure 360 degrees. Gonna be days where you feel no one fully grasps the pressures to deliver that are on your shoulders. I get it and I live it daily. We gotta have empathy for those around us. Bring em in close to you... and slap some reality on this face. Kidding. Chat with em and have real, open dialogue about what you feel they’re missing. Then the important B side to this whole thing is make sure you’re understanding them and all the pressures they’re under too. We’re all on this crazy, treadmill of life with no stop button so let’s have an amazing ride - together. And crush a fluckin’ cheat meal today. I know I am.
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You certainly can’t deny the similarities: they’re both big men with big muscles and even bigger fan appeal.
Yet whether he can emulate Johnson’s phenomenal success – that’s a whole different question.
Before we make up our minds, here are four reasons why the comparison might just be a deserved one.
They’re both pretty jacked up
We present to you, exhibit A:
And exhibit B:
The Murph was a beast of a workout today. Honored and humbled to pay respects to Lt. Mike Murphy and all of our brave fallen. Your service and sacrifice will never be forgotten. #MemorialDay #TheMurph #IronParadise (mahalo @johnkrasinski for the motivation)
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We leave the case to you, dear reader, and your meticulous eye for detail.
They’ve both got great comedic sense
Impeccable comedic timing can’t be denied.
Whether it’s the Rock knowing when to smirk just the right way, or Ma rolling his eyes at the right time, they’ve both mastered the art of comedy without being comedians themselves.
Happy Birthday @kevinhart4real from the only two real friends you have. @rawsonthurber, the man who directed the best performance of your career in CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE and the big, brown, bald tattooed man who you will always refer to simply as DADDY. We love ya brotha. Happy Birthday. Go fuck yourself.
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They both draw in the crowds
Ma has shown off his bankable side with hits such as Train to Busan and the two 2017 films The Outlaws and The Bros.
Train to Busan attracted an audience of more than 10 million people, making it one of Korea’s top 10 most successful films.
His latest comedy, Champion, was seen by 1.1 million people in Korea, which is a smaller – but not an embarrassingly low – figure.
However, the film Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, is expected to do better. The first in the series, Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds, was seen by a staggering 13.6 million people.
Dwayne Johnson’s latest offering, the action film Skyscraper, has raked in US$257 million worldwide so far.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle brought in US$404.5 million in the United States, a quarter of which was earned over the opening weekend.
Globally, it made US$950.8 million.
While some of his other films may not have performed as well as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (which will have its own sequel set to be released in 2019), you can’t deny the dude is a golden-egg-laying goose.
Leading man or team player? They can do both
Remember Skyscraper? That film rode entirely on Johnson’s muscular shoulders. Same thing for Champion, which was carried solely by Ma’s beefy arms.
While they do well as leading men, they perform just as well – maybe even better – when cast in an ensemble.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle boasted a stellar cast made up of Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan, each playing to the strengths of each other. And don’t forget other films such as Get Smart (alongside Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell) and Fast & Furious.
For Ma, Train to Busan showed off his skills alongside veteran actors such as Gong Yoo and K-pop star-turned actress Ahn So-hee, formerly of girl group Wonder Girls.
In Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, Ma will be starring alongside Ha Jung-woo, Lee Jung-jae, Kim Dong-wook and K-pop star-actor Do Kyung-soo of popular boy band EXO.