By Yip Wai Yee,
The Straits Times,
Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014
That man you saw walking down the streets of Taipei? You could almost swear he was top South Korean star Kim Soo Hyun. Look closer, however - and it is actually Taiwanese model Zach Lu.
Lu, who bears a striking resemblance to the My Love From The Star actor, has been making waves in the media recently.
Riding on the overwhelming popularity of the Korean hit series, which has taken East Asia by storm, the 25-year-old model has been making good money in Taiwan from public appearances, as well as print and TV commercials, as a Kim lookalike.
To date, Lu has appeared in TV and print advertisements for ice cream, pay-TV packages, a chia seed drink and mobile phone games. His fee is about NT$100,000 (S$4,166) to NT$150,000 for each commercial.
Public appearances net him NT$60,000 to NT$70,000 an hour. Just three months ago, he was leading a more mundane life as an insurance agent, making an average of NT$20,000 to NT$30,000 a month.
"Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I'm in this business now," he tells SundayLife! in Mandarin over the telephone from Taipei, sounding genuinely in awe.
"But I guess I'm starting to get used to the idea. I'm starting to accept the fact that, wow, I actually have fans and people are actually interested in hiring me for event and commercial appearances," he adds. "All because of Professor Do Min Joon."
Do Min Joon is the name of the character that Kim plays in My Love From The Star, an alien who works as a university professor.
At 1.81m tall (Kim is 1.8m), Lu has single eyelids, a high nose bridge and a floppy hair fringe - all features that the Korean star possesses. He was discovered in late February while walking through a Taipei subway station with some friends.
Mr Travis Lai, an artist manager with artist and modelling agency Emi Fashion, noticed Lu's good looks and resemblance to Kim, and approached him. Lu recalls: "He kept asking me to leave my contact details. At first, I wasn't really keen, so I walked away.
"But he was so earnest that he caught up with me again shortly after and kept trying to talk me into it." Eventually, Lu decided to take up Mr Lai's offer to take some pictures for a modelling card.
"The artist manager then helped him secure an appearance on variety show Treasure Island. "And everything just started happening from there," says Lu.
Lu may look a lot like Kim but his appeal is more than that, says Mr Lai, adding: "There are not many models on the market with single eyelids. Zach has a very sincere, friendly and nice-guy vibe about him. I think that sets him apart from other models."
Lu signed a full-time artist contract with the company in March. He now works in insurance only part-time, servicing the accounts of friends.
He says with a laugh: "After my appearance on the show, a lot of people suddenly wanted me to be their insurance agent. They all wanted to meet the insurance agent who looks like Kim Soo Hyun."
It was not until last month, however, that fame truly found him, when his TV commercial for major telco Chunghwa Telecom aired.
In the advertisement to sell a special pay-TV drama package, he is seen dressed in a sleek black suit and accompanied by a female model who looks like Kim's co-star Gianna Jun.
The pair pose side by side, akin to how the Korean stars appear on the drama's poster.
"That ad had quite a lot of exposure and people found the likenesses quite fun, so people started to wonder who the people in the ad were," says Lu, who is the eldest of three children.
His father is a construction worker and his mother a restaurant waitress. A flurry of commercial and appearance gigs flooded in soon after, so much so, he says, that he is now booked out until October. His fee has also nearly tripled since March, he adds.
Looking ahead, he hopes to be able to make more of a mark as himself, rather than as "the Kim Soo Hyun lookalike".
That already seems to be underway. Lu, whose official Facebook page has over 4,300 "likes", says fans send him encouraging messages on social media every day.
They also mail pictures of him to his modelling agency to ask for autographs. His popularity with female fans led his girlfriend of eight years, a department store floor manager, to be "quite jealous at first", he says.
He adds cheerily: "She was rather worried about all the female attention. She'd wonder where I had gone when she couldn't find me at home at night sometimes because I was busy at work. But I've explained everything to her and we've worked it out now."
Recently, he finished filming a five-episode web series, in which he plays a geeky university student. The series, titled Tongling Paidang (Psychic Partners in Mandarin), will launch online in China and Taiwan at the end of the month.
Discussions are ongoing for him to act in various TV dramas in Taiwan in the future.
He says with a laugh: "My Love From The Star is very popular now, but these fads come and go. I hope there's something about myself that people will find attractive. Maybe my sunshine boy-persona or my warm smile?"