Im Yoon-ah seems a natural for the role of Sa-rang, the hardworking but ever optimistic hotel employee in the SLL Korean drama King The Land. The actress, known simply as Yoona, is also a member of the bubbly k-pop group Girls Generation. While she’s generally known for her bright and cheerful roles, her last drama role—as the devoted wife of a murder suspect in Big Mouth—was so dark that playing a radiant character like Sa-rang seemed even more attractive.
“Since my last work, Big Mouth, was noir, I knew I wanted to do something lighter and brighter for the viewers,” said Yoona. “In particular, I was fascinated by Sa-rang‘s brilliant and responsible sides when it comes to her work, in addition to her bright, sensible and lovely sides. I thought many people would like her if I portrayed Sa-rang well.”
One skill Sa-rang learns in her career at the prestigious King Hotel is to smile brightly no matter how annoying the customers are. The customer is always right. So is the management. Even when they are wrong. Although Sa-rang is generally a kind and upbeat person, there are many occasions where she has to smile even though she’s not happy. Recently her hard-earned accomplishments and new love life are giving her more reasons to smile.
“I think you could see Sa-rang, who manages a smile with an effort under any circumstance, and her friends, who understand and console each other, moving forward,” said Yoona. “You could see them finding what ‘smile’ and ‘happiness’ really mean in the story. I wish that kind of part gives viewers empathy and consolation.”
One development making Sa-rang happier is her relationship with Gu-won, the heir of the hotel chain, played by actor and 2PM member Lee Jun-ho aka Junho. The two singer-actors have known each other for years and in 2021-2022 co-hosted the Korean music show Gayo Daejejeon. They have a lot in common coming from k-pop backgrounds and having successfully transitioned to acting.
“I was so glad since it was our first time working in the same drama as an actor,” said Yoona. “I think Gu-won is a character that changes the most through the entire drama and only actor Junho can do a wide range of acting that expresses one’s diversity. As I imagined, he did it professionally, which helped me perform pleasantly and comfortably. I reckon that what matters in a romcom is the chemistry between the two protagonists, so, in that sense, our opinions accorded with each other’s, and he was helpful. It was also comfortable in communication and acting for preparing scenes with him.”
The actors’ chemistry in this rom-com was so appealing that their love scenes generated dating rumors, which both actors’ agencies flatly denied. They are just friends.
Meanwhile, the characters they play do fall in love, but face many obstacles. They have to keep their relationship secret from his chaebol family, who will likely object, and also from friends and fellow employees. Gu-won’s sister makes life difficult for him at the hotel, afraid of losing power.
‘King the Land may not be the kind of dynamic drama that unfolds conflict and crisis,” said Yoona. “But as it colorfully depicts cute and charming episodes, I hope viewers enjoy those points. It would be good to find pleasure and fun in the romance of Gu-won and Sa-rang that deepens with each episode and in the ‘tiki-taka’ or chemistry of the siblings.”
After her debut with Girls Generation, Yoona starred in several dramas notably You Are My Destiny, which earned her the Best New Actress awards at the 23rd KBS Drama Awards and the 45th Baeksang Arts Awards. She is also known for her roles in Love Rain, Prime Minister & I, The K2, The King in Love and Hush. Her films include Confidential Assignment, Exit and Confidential Assignment 2. She still performs with Girls Generation, which released their seventh album Forever 1 in 2022.
“I take any kind of experience as a good foundation for me,” she said. “I tend to believe that everything happens for a reason and try to make the best of a given situation. So, each time I finish a work, one by one I feel like I’m building my sense of accomplishment. Though process matters, when the outcome is just as good, I guess I can take it as an achievement. In addition, I feel a great sense of accomplishment when my fans are delighted with me.”
The SLL drama airs on Netflix