Well-timed transition from television to movies
So, the one obvious common strategy between these three -who, as far as I know, are also friends- is that they started with television. Dramas are a good way to gain popularity, raise the level of offers you get and generally get noticed. All three gentlemen started with them and gained recognition, or rather fame, through them. But television is a good way to pigeonhole ones self.
If you stick around long enough and in the same kinds of roles that bring success (the chaebol and/or hot guy), you are in danger of being offered only those in the future and missing the chance to skip to movies, an industry far superior in quality and diversity than television, in Korea.
Kang Ji Hwan, a great actor who seemed to get offered "the rich kooky looker" roles lately
These three were smart about it. They got their success and then "leveled up". Drama is good for gaining momentum, but if you've done hugely successful roles, there is the pressure of keeping that up. Netizens and fangirls won't take anything less. It's immense pressure for young handsome male actors and losing that popularity, becoming yesterday's news and not being able to give them one hit after the other is a common way for a career in television to decline.
The smart call made by Kang, Won and Gong was to try and expand from there before they fell into that loop of television acting. A loop for handsome young men with "special" audience.
The article mentions how they went from the image of a "good and cool son" to more diverse characters, which aren't about their fashion, hairstyles and how hot they are. All three are very handsome men. There's no denying that.
But as I've mentioned sometimes about Kang Dong Won, and it applies to the others as well, they do not take roles to show off their looks, but their skills. Won Bin made the start, Kang Dong Won followed and Gong Yoo is now going for it as well.
Shifting from "son" to "father" figure
The trio made their breakthrough in their 20's, but they are now all in their next decade. Although a son is always a son, being in movies and now being older and more mature, they have the chance to escape that image once in a while. They are now able to play a "father" role; the role of someone who could have his own family and protect it.
Both actors portray people protecting children they care for, who need their help
Won Bin's famous "Ahjussi" was about a man striving to protect the only type of family he had left. Gong Yoo is now starring in "The Crucible" and it was mentioned how Kang Dong Won played a father in "Secret Reunion". However, the film wasn't really about his role as a father so I disagree on this point. He has yet to go for a proper "father" role.
Being the youngest of the three, that is not really a disadvantage, neither is there a "must play father" rule for success, but as the article mentions, women are suckers for a man who loves children and a father/child relationship in a movie is a good way to move audiences in general.
Kang is the more "kooky" one out of the three, in the sense that he's played quite peculiar and unique characters so maybe a more mainstream "dad" role hasn't yet been offered to him or requested by him.
Focusing on more than romantic roles
And that would be by the usual definition of a romantic role. Hot guy meets hot girl and they are hot together. You know, the rom-com type of romance such actors usually start with. Emotions and love aren't just about romance and they are not just about conventional romance.
Romantic comedy is a popular genre in television because of the young and romantic audience. They can project themselves in the role of the beautiful heroine and enjoy the romance. But as they have drifted away from "that hot guy" image, these three are also not limited to this anymore.
"Secret Reunion" was a buddy movie on two men who come to love each other like brothers and friends. Gong Yoo is now playing a fatherly figure and someone fighting to help victims of abuse. Won Bin has played a brother and a son with an intellectual disability.
Romance is the beginning of love between lovers, but love has many forms
That may or may not be because of personal preference (Kang Dong Won has said he hates romance), but not getting stuck with romance even though it sells is a bold move and one has to be smart about it and capable of it. Other genres are more challenging.
The point here is, these three men are among the most popular of their age group in South Korea. They manage to land big roles next to very talented co-stars, gaining valuable skill, experience and prestige within the movie industry. They are professional.
They work hard to fit the needs of the character they are portraying and to fit the work itself. As an actor, the best way to promote your image is to be serious about your work and do your best for it. Flaunting your looks can only take you so far and they know it.
With hard work and common sense, smart moves and a good head on their shoulders, these men can be valued actors for many years to come. They have charisma, skills and the levelheadedness to be good at what they do and use their charms wisely.
Original article at Osen Korea
Article at the Chinese Chosun
Pictures found through Google, Osen and Hancinema.