[W Korea March Interview Part 3] Yoo Ah In to A Critic: “A movie is not a brawl, and acting is not an audition”
This is Yoo Ah In’s special interview with ‘W’ magazine, March 2017 issue. He became the twin cover for ‘W’ Korea’s 12th anniversary special issue with Song Hye Kyo.
See part 2 here
Here’s part 3 or the last part, translated by our Sassy Translator of the Yoo Ah In International Fans Community and edited by our dear Korean friend Passerby 😀
[Man We Love Part 3]
There’s also the movie promotional phrase “an unrivaled acting performance”, which pops up in promotions all the time. However, a movie is not a brawl, and acting is not an audition.
In the following question, the journalist asks Yoo Ah In about a scathing critique written by the director and writer Jung Song Il. He was born in 1959. His filmography consists of the movie “Cafe Noir” in 2009, and the documentary “Night and Fog in Zona” in 2015 . His article on Yoo Ah In was published on the 29th of February, 2016 in GQ magazine. The article is titled “What do you think of Yoo Ah In?”
[Passerby’s personal notes (1): Before you read the article, you have to know Jung Sung Il is a much renowned critic of the older generation in Korea. It seems that he has some kind of prejudice against younger generation actors in the first place. So, the fact itself that he wrote an article exclusively focusing on a young actor of 30-year-old was considered as exceptional in Korea. And that proves Yoo Ah In is an outstanding actor among peers. Jung said his article would be “a disappointing story”. That means he knew most readers would not agree with him and his opinion is different from most other critics who poured compliments on Yoo Ah In.]
The writer starts his article with the following lines, “Let me start with a disappointing story for you. So far, I don’t think that Yoo Ah In is a good actor. There are secrets that only directors know. First, anyone can play a villain. Second, sobbing scenes that seem like a big deal in front of the camera are actually no big deal at all [they are not moving in reality to the directors]. I just feel bad for the actor”.
Then he basically goes in disapproving of Yoo Ah In’s acting and works choices as a whole. He thinks that Yoo Ah In challenges himself by playing with actors who are older and more experienced than him, and yet he loses each and every time.
In “Wandeugi” (“Punch”), the critic thinks that Kim Yoon Seok shone, while Yoo Ah In was like a losing boxing fighter who still has hope at each boxing round despite his constant defeats. The only time he praises Yoo Ah In was for his acting in “Secret Love Affair” with Kim Hee Ae. He thinks that he showed a different kind of acting for the first time, and that he overshadowed Kim Hee Ae. He thinks that Yoo Ah In was the one in control of the scenes in this work. And even with “Secret Love Affair”, the single work where he seemed to approve of Yoo Ah In, he didn’t write a glowing praise. He just thinks that Yoo Ah In got better here.
Afterwards, the writer thinks that Yoo Ah In’s comeback to the movies with “Veteran” was strange. He thinks that Yoo Ah In was again too “immersed into himself”. The critic uses a lot of boxing figures of speech. He thinks of Yoo Ah In as an actor who views his work as a boxing ring, and that there’s nothing spectacular about his acting. He says that in “Veteran”, Yoo Ah In’s one-to-one fight was with Hwang Jung Min, who happens to be a smart actor who knows when to really act, and when to play, “unlike Yoo Ah In”. The critic also disapproves of Veteran’s director and his favorite genre (police stories). He thinks that Yoo Ah In struggled when he acted as a villain. He criticizes his exaggerated facial expressions (which were done intentionally for comic purposes).
The critic then moves to “Sado” (“The Throne”), which he thinks of as the worst thing that Yoo Ah In has ever done. According to the critic (paraphrased): “Yoo Ah In fell into the trap of ‘over-acting’ because he was working in front of the great Song Kang Ho. Yoo Ah In was attempting with his over-acting to reach to Kang Ho’s level, but he failed. Unfortunately, Yoo Ah In doesn’t stand a chance against Song Kang Ho. He’s constantly calculating trying to be sly and win over his opponents. I didn’t feel any sorrow in the Prince Sado. And Yoo Ah In’s acting when he was ordered to lock himself in the rice box can almost be described as a kid trying to be cute.”
The critic has more thoughts about “Six Flying Dragons” too, but he said that he ran out of space. He thinks that Yoo Ah In’s narcissistic and uncontrolled acting will be always a problem. A problem that only Yoo Ah In himself can solve.
[Passerby’s personal notes (2): I don’t want to be harsh on him but he has been never successful as a director. His works were considered ‘artistic’/difficult/even ‘pedantic’. In a word: boring. He has a strict and narrow taste of his own. He boldly said “anyone can play a villain” — That is the stupidest thing to say. By only checking out the interview of Ryu Seung Wan about Yoo Ah In’s Jo Tae Oh, we would know Jung’s words are total bullshit. By the way, Ryu is one of the most successful directors in Korea, both in score and quality. Jung said, “There are secrets that only directors know.” I’m sure Korea’s representative directors such as Ryu Seung Wan, Lee Joon Ik, Choi Dong Hoon, Na Hong Jin, Kwak Kyung Taek, Min Kyu Dong, Lee Chang Dong, etc, are not included to those “directors”.
The most annoying thing is he considers ‘acting’ as some kind of competition or an audition to be picked up/chosen by a director, or as some kind of strategy to stand out. Jung also doesn’t know the kind of acting Ah In showed in “Secret Love Affair” is the very Ah In’s signature type of acting which we call ‘생활 연기’ (meaning: the most naturalistic acting to the point that we can’t distinguish whether it is acting or just his real life). In addition, it seems that Jung wanted to be distinguished among movie critics by becoming the only one to say “NO” about Yoo Ah In’s acting when everyone else says “YES”. It was no secret that the anti-netizens of Yoo Ah In were thrilled with his article back then.]
[Sassy Translator’s personal notes: I believe that the critic simply doesn’t enjoy Yoo Ah In’s acting. He obviously has more appreciation for older actors, as if he feels more comfortable watching the kind of acting to which he’s more accustomed. He basically renders Yoo Ah In to a fool for choosing works with seniors. In fact, he called him a fool in his article. He thinks that Yoo Ah In is always trying to prove himself with the challenges he takes. But the critic views Yoo Ah In’s ambition in an extremely negative light. He thinks that Yoo Ah In’s movie choices are akin to picking boxing fight partners. He just tries viciously to win the fight, yet he always loses to his more experienced co-stars. He thinks of his passionate realistic acting as “over-acting”. I reckon because he’s used to the more traditional acting techniques that Korean actors have always used? I believe that he’s unable to get and enjoy Yoo Ah In’s acting because it’s so new to him? Because it’s so fresh and hasn’t been done before?!
It’s needless to say that the majority of Korean movie critics don’t have this point of view regarding Yoo Ah In. Instead, they think of him as an acting god, whose talent is unrivaled. They wrote so highly of his acting in “Wandeugi”. It was the work which made them realize that this young man is in fact a serious actor. Regarding “Sado” in particular, most of the critics have written that Yoo Ah In has outshined Song Kang Ho, who is rightfully widely loved and admired as Korea’s number one actor. Critics always express how Yoo Ah In manages to surprise them in each and every work. And in their reviews of “Sado”, a common phrase has been used among critics, and that is: they felt that Yoo Ah In’s soul was flying out of his body in the movie, just like Prince Sado.
The article is filled to the brim with adjectives that shouldn’t be used with an actor of Yoo Ah In’s caliber. As a fan of Yoo Ah In, I felt as if the writer was talking about a lousy actor who doesn’t deserve the love and accolades for his acting. It seriously felt as if he was talking about someone else, not Yoo Ah In. The writer seems to be deluded with his own judgment and unable to tell the difference between genius acting and ham acting. Not only he finds Yoo Ah In’s acting “lacking”, but he also thinks that the difference in acting prowess when Ah In stands alongside older actors is jarring! The tone of the article felt rather personal and disparaging. It’s as if the writer is not just bothered by Yoo Ah In’s acting style, but he’s also annoyed that Ah In dares to act alongside seniors. It’s as if he wants him to stay within his “lane” and only act with his peers.
Yoo Ah In’s answer shows that he totally understands that. And he minced no words in his response to the writer, all while being very respectful. It’s good to realize that Yoo Ah In is not shaken because of such a critique. In fact, he seems to understand where the writer’s point of view is coming from. He also seems very confident about his acting and his worth as an actor. And I find that so reassuring and admirable.]
Q: Did you read the critique that the critic Jung Song Il wrote about your acting? He wrote that you are an actor who is like a boxer, always picking opponents who are much stronger than you, like Kim Yoon Seok, Hwang Jung Min, and Kim Hee Ae, in order to break and smash them [to win the match], and to learn stuff from them and become stronger.
Yoo Ah In: Of course I read it, because I want to see a full-fledged/genuine evaluation of my acting. So I heard about it and immediately looked it up. That type of criticism also gives me a good opportunity to look cool when I share it with others [T/N: Yoo Ah In is obviously being sarcastic here]. However, the article is “hu-dang” [T/N: “hu-dang” is a Korean slang. When it’s used to describe a written piece, it means: an article which seems intelligent and accurate, but it’s actually weak and full of mistakes and misunderstandings]. It’s very narrow-minded/prejudiced. I wish that you would write my words as they are [verbatim], because I want to hold a discussion with him through this interview. Borrowing his boxing analogy, I’ve never been beaten. I only think that I hit my opponents so hard that they were surprised/shocked. And this critique is not the only thing that I have issues with. There’s also the movie promotional phrase “an unrivaled acting performance”, which pops up in promotions all the time. However, a movie is not a brawl, and acting is not an audition [T/N: Yoo Ah In disagrees with how the writer described his movies choices as as a brawl ring which Yoo Ah In strives to win. He disagrees with how the writer described his acting style as “a mere attempt to show how good of an actor he is”, making Ah In’s acting sound like an acting auditions, where actors try their hardest in order to win the role]. I don’t think that looking at the matter from such a perspective is sophisticated/refined at all. Furthermore, actors cannot have such calculations, intentions and designs when choosing a movie. There are not enough opportunities given for an actor in his twenties in order for me to live with such schemes. I’ve opted for works that are rather exciting and interesting. And I think that doing this made me grow. Taste-wise, I didn’t like to be in cheerful and funny romantic comedies at all. With those facts in mind, and for an actor in his twenties, isn’t it natural that the only remaining option is to work with sunbaes? And while I was working with them, I observed, learned from, and studied them a lot. I want to act so well. I want to act while further agonizing over what good acting actually is. Of course, my acting may not have been worthy of being described as “classical acting” by his own standards. Nevertheless, I think that what is called “good acting” can be viewed within the era and the specific period of time in which the acting performance took place [T/N: this can be considered as Yoo Ah In’s assessment of the writer’s whole article. What Yoo Ah In is saying: he thinks that the standards of good acting do change from one generation to another. What was deemed as great acting 30 years ago, for example, can be considered wooden and unrealistic now. And what’s considered natural and realistic now can be considered messy and uncontrolled by the measures of acting decades ago]. I think that what is called ‘acting’ should have the elements of variability, contemporary feel, and awareness of the time [‘acting’ shouldn’t look obsolete/shouldn’t use acting styles that don’t mesh well with the current viewing generations]. And I try at least to act while grasping those elements, and thoroughly feeling them with all my senses.
I am also a feminist, since all of us wish for equality. So, whoever wishes for a world -where he/she is not marginalized, prosecuted, nor hurt because of his/her own features/attributes- is in fact a feminist by choice.
Q: You became the cover model of the first ever ‘Man’ edition for W magazine. What type of a man can be considered “cool” in your opinion?
Yoo Ah In: The manliest man is the one who is the most humane, and most true to himself. The same goes for the most feminine woman. The person who knows and seeks to find him/herself is a charming man/woman. We are all different individuals. And while I’m focusing on that clear distinction amongst us, I also hope that we can be united as one. I hope that we won’t be divided and fighting each other on the basis of being left or right [left wing, right wing/liberal, conservative], color, or region. I hope that we don’t draw lines amongst us pushing the people to become embroiled in a shameful fight. I am also a feminist, since all of us wish for equality. So, whoever wishes for a world -where he/she is not marginalized, prosecuted, nor hurt because of his/her own features/attributes- is in fact a feminist by choice. Right now, I think that our society is on the path towards progress, but it’s suffering from a fever in the process of doing so. [Yoo Ah In to the people:] If your objective of informing others that you are right is making the world better, I wish that you too would have more tolerance towards others. We also have to be concerned about inflicting violence on those who have committed violence against others (*). It would be wonderful if we didn’t use our own beliefs as swords [against each other]. If we were to punish everyone who did wrong or made a mistake with the death sentence, there will be no one left in this world. [T/N: we are all humans, and we are all prone to making mistakes. Therefore, we should be embracing each other without any prejudices or self-righteousness.]
[*Sassy Translator’s notes: he means that we should put an end to the vicious cycle of violence. He thinks that inflicting violence on violent people is not the answer. People shouldn’t take justice into their own hands. Instead, they should seek the legal and peaceful approach.]
[*Passerby’s notes: Here, violence is meant both physically and verbally. And yes, I think he’s worried about the vicious cycle of violence, and that includes the violence of those who has a ‘right/just’ cause with ‘right/just’ intention. He is wary of their self-righteousness and absolute faith in their good will. But violence on the ‘bad’ people cannot be justified. He is very critical about extremists. This should be viewed in relation to the complex situation of Korean politics. But overall, his point is: “Let’s have tolerance towards each other and respect the difference of thoughts among us. Difference is not wrong”].
Q: You seem to be cold and angry with the world, yet you’re not giving up your warm belief in people.
Yoo Ah In: Don’t we all pursue some ideals of our own?! During that process, we are willing to make mistakes and be forgiving. We also seek for what’s better, know how to repent, and know what shame is. I think that such things are all part of the human nature. I am neither a politician nor an activist, but I’d like to share this conversation as a person, and also as an artist looking into the world.
Q: [The journalist is joking here] So are you saying that you are a meddlesome person to the extent that you are even worrying about world peace?
Yoo Ah In: That’s correct. When I was blowing out my birthday cake candle most recently, that was exactly my wish. World peace.
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