Choi Jin Hyuk may be the commonly assumed male lead in The Last Empress but it is undeniable that Shin Sung Rok is the one who stole the show, at least to me, in his impressive portrayal of the psychotic Emperor with hints of vulnerability.
While Choi Jin Hyuk’s portrayal of Na Wang Shik often sees him looking brooding and at times anguished (doesn’t help that he seemed to have gotten a botox job lately rendering his facial expressions quite stiff), Shin Sung Rok’s rendition of the Lee Hyuk has many more layers , making him a more delightful and interesting character to watch.
The Emperor, Lee Hyuk is erratic, violent, cold-blooded ,suspicious but also lonely with occasional glimpses of a soft side. Granted, this is already a complex character to begin with, so naturally it is an eye-catching role, however Shin Sung Rok really gave this character life and made this otherwise hateable villain kind of endearing at times.
Versatile Actor who can handle villainous role with a comedic touch with ease
Shin Sung Rok is often casted in villainous roles and he definitely excels in it, giving such characters an unpredictable edge that made them appear dangerous, like an explosive bomb ready to go off any time at a small trigger and capable of scary actions when that happens. In fact Shin Sung Rok is so good with such antagonist characters that I can’t quite imagine him in a good character role.
This explains why i was all the more impressed when he started to add in comedic touches to his Lee Hyuk character, illustrated when he was jealous of the relationship between Na Wang Shik and Sunny Oh and when he is secretly indulging in ready-made cheap coffee that he usually scoffs at etc.
The Cruel Emperor actually has a cute side?!
Unbelievably, he made a murderous character who kills carelessly and who by right should be hated by all, a cute and endearing one!
I always find comedic characters harder to pull off, and for Shin Sung Rok to be able to add a comedic spin to a villainous role effortlessly, i’m totally sold.
I find myself looking forward to scenes of the Emperor falling for Sunny Oh and trying to make himself loveable to her in a clumsy fashion, while denying his feelings to himself.
Lee Hyuk may be rash with a psychotic side but we do see occasional flashes of vulnerability and insecurity, which Shin Sung Rok displayed naturally, making us the viewers feel for him and wonder if he could have a chance at redemption?
The Last Empress is a fantastic watch, in part due to the delightful antagonists,however contrary to Elijah Lee’s sometimes over the top acting for Min Yura, i think Shin Sung Rok has better control over his acting such that he doesn’t overact and the end result is just nice.