Yoo's golden year before army hiatus
TO SAY the year has been kind to Yoo Ah In is quite an understatement. With two major box office hits landing back-to-back these two months in South Korea, he is undoubtedly the star of the summer.
Although the 29-year-old actor has long been a familiar face to the public, thanks to his successful appearance on TV shows like Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Yoo had not been able to make a strong impression in the film market since his 2011 film Punch.
Then came Veteran, which boasts respected director Ryoo Seung Wan and stars such as actors Hwang Jung Min, Yoo Hae Jin and Oh Dal Soo. The role of the deranged corporate heir Cho Tae Oh in Veteran allowed Yoo to move from his troubled-yet-good-hearted teen image and move on to more mature, darker fare.
"I mostly played the good guy until now," he said at a press conference ahead of the release of Veteran. "When I got the role of Cho Tae Oh, I thought to myself, 'it's finally come'."
Yoo made his debut through the drama Sharp in 2003 as a teen star forging a romance with actress Go A Ra, but he made his first big mark as the scruffy Gul Oh in the 2010 hit drama Sungkyunkwan Scandal alongside Park Yoo Chun.
The following year, he got his big break in cinema with Punch as a rebellious high schooler opposite Kim Yoon Seok, and was promptly cast in a similar hard-knock role in the 2013 film Tough As Iron.
In last year's drama Secret Love Affair, Yoo was able to show a different side to him - a pure, innocent soul who falls into a dangerous affair with his teacher (played by Kim Hee Ae). But he was still trapped in the "troubled youth" phase, playing roles that were much younger than his actual age.
Yoo's unconventional image was strengthened by his willingness to make his social, artistic, and philosophical interests public. His Twitter feed is famous - perhaps infamous - for its stream of philosophical and critical political statements, and he is the director of a "complex creative space" called Studio Concrete in Hannam-dong, Seoul, which he created with a group of seven artists of various specialities.
Creating a villainous character was a challenge, but in August's Veteran, the megalomaniacal character Tae Oh hit a home run. And a month later, with Veteran still going strong at the South Korean box office with over 12 million tickets sold as of Tuesday, Yoo appeared again on the big screen in The Throne. This time, he was the tragic crown prince Sado, driven mad by his father King Yeongjo (played by Song Kang Ho) who eventually starves him to death, locked in a rice chest.
"(Cho Tae Oh and Sado) may both be mad, but they are different people in different circumstances," said Yoo at a press conference for The Throne. "Tae Oh is just a sociopath. Sado is a young man who gets to that point because of his sorrow, frustration, and resentment at never being appreciated or welcomed for who he was."
That performance also resonated with moviegoers, who bought 1.8 million tickets at the box office on the opening weekend of The Throne.
Yoo will be stepping out of the spotlight to fulfil his mandatory military service after his current drama Six Flying Dragons, and the question still remains whether he will be able to hold up a hit film on his own without all-star ensembles like those in Veteran or The Throne.
But for now, this year's performances have shown his potential for a strong comeback after military service.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK