[O2/Cover story] Yoo Ah In: “The Hongbyeokseo who endlessly persists exposing the world’s problems; that is youth.”
KBS’s ‘Sungkyunkwan Scandal’ ‘Guh-ro Ache’ Syndrome: Yoo Ah In
Yoo Ah In (age 24), the actor with whom we met on the set of KBS’s ‘Sungkyunkwan Scandal’ in Gyeonggi-do’s Hwaseong, said himself that he talks a lot. The words he spilled in one hour filled 9 pages worth of A4-sized paper [T/N: A4-paper is skinner and longer than US letter-sized paper, and holds slightly more words per page]. And yet nothing was spit out lightly or thoughtlessly. Unlike typical celebrities who reflexively respond to questions with ready-made answers, he must organize his thoughts before opening his mouth. He who said “I became an actor because I had a lot to express” is an actor with many thoughts and many words to say.
> “Hongbyeokseo, who endlessly persists in exposing the world’s problems: that is youth.”
Q. You seem to have gotten thinner.
YAI: I lost about 5kg. I think I’m still losing weight.
Q. Most of the filming is outdoors in the countryside–I heard you all are suffering because of the cold weather.
YAI: Munkyung [T/N: name of a city] is really cold but it’s not deathly cold. If you stick on hot packs it’s bearable.
Q. Moon Jaeshin can be described in one word as ‘beastly man.’ Does this appeal to you?
YAI: I think he’s more of a boy than a man. He’s not a man who has completely found himself; he’s a boy who is undergoing many rapid changes as is typical of his age.
Q. It’s become known that after being cast as ‘beastly man’ Jaeshin, you went tanning and went to an action school.
YAI: (Laughter) The tanning and the action school seem to stand out but it actually wasn’t that big of a deal. I just tanned enough to get a big darker and worked out just to enough to tone my body [without making it strangely big]. For viewers, of course, the outward changes are the most obvious which is why I think they have been saying those kinds of things…
His words fade and he is silent for a moment. He flashes his trademark eye-smile. “Why is it that I want to say it’s not a big deal?” he says quietly. In actuality, stories about how he had suffered while tanning or gotten hurt while at the action school could, when drawn out, fully fill ten minutes. [But] to him [YAI], this did not appear to be a crutch on which he would lean. The tightly-packed questions I had prepared [suddenly] seemed embarrassing. So instead of a standard interview, I decided to try having a conversation with him.
Q. Are you saying that you made more of an effort [to transform] your inner self than your outer appearance?
YAI: When many people have said that I have transformed or changed through Moon Jaeshin, it’s laughable if I say ‘Nothing about me has changed,’ isn’t it? But in truth, there really hasn’t been any big changes. It’s merely that I have taken out one of the many colors [of myself] that I have. That’s why a different color came out [in Jaeshin]. In the future, too, I will always be able to take and out and show different appearances. Rather than ‘Look at this, I have transformed well,’ I want to have the appeal of ‘I have all of these different [sides].’ That means that as long as my outer appearance is readied, I can take out and show [a different side of me] at any moment.
Q. You have taken on a variety of different roles in the past–does this mean that all of these [characters] were part of Ah In-ssi’s inner self?
YAI: Yes. My acting philosophy is to enlarge what I have [inside of me] through the character. On a fundamental level, I don’t think I could [take a role] that isn’t already a part of me. In SKKS, I am showing you Um Hong Shik [T/N: YAI’s real name] through the shell of Moon Jaeshin .
Yoo Ah In debuted in 2003 in the youthful drama ‘Banolim‘ as Okrim (played by Go Ara)’s boyfriend. He has also appeared in the movies ‘Shim’s Family,’ ‘Boys of Tomorrow,’ ‘Antique Bakery,’ and the dramas ‘Strongest Chilwoo‘ and ‘Man Who Can’t Get Married.’
Q. If that’s the case, who is the Ah In-ssi you are showing us through Jaeshin?
YAI: Of course, there’s the masculine and rough side. Falling short, sadness. These days, a major connection [I have with Jaeshin] is through the Hongbyeokseo. Jaeshin puts on a black mask every night and shoots arrows with red messages into the doors of the houses of powerful men. As Lee Jungmoo (Seonjoon’s father, played by Kim Kap Soo)’s lines say, he is a young man with the foolishness to think he change the world with words. Reading those lines made me realize that Jaeshin is really similar to me. I feel like this was a role I had to do. I’m someone who talks a lot about youth this, youth that, and so I’m thankful that I could take a role that properly shows what youth is.
Hongbyeokseo are writings on red paper that criticize the state of society. It has been pointed out that the red messages only bring up problems without offering alternative solutions. But Yoo Ah In thought differently.
YAI: That’s what youth is. If Jaeshin knew what the solutions were, he would be the Prime Minister or the Left Minister. Most people live without any consciousness that there are problems at all. I think the work of pointing out that problems even exist is plenty valuable in its own right. Though it’s a dilemma of the young, I still can’t help but think that we should still persist in pointing out problems where they exist. If you do that, you will [at least] become closer to the answer.
In Episode 14, Jaeshin says the reason he scatters these red messages is, “If I don’t do even this, I won’t be able to stand it,” and “Because I have to in order to live.” For Yoo Ah In, who tweeted, “The 21st century’s Um Hong Shik is the 18th century’s Hongbyeokseo” [the character of Jaeshin] is one with whose heart he genuinely connects.
YAI: It’s not a logical thought process of revealing society’s problems in order to get people to react and solve the problem. It’s just that he is so aware of and obsessed with these problems that if he doesn’t do at least this, he will be so frustrated he can’t live.
Q. Is that what you think of youth?
YAI: I don’t think it’s as much my personal thoughts so much as the actual face of youth. Though he is caught up in problems everywhere, the solutions don’t exist no matter where he looks, which frustrates him…. I think that most youth are like this. I’m actually the kind of person who is closer to the solutions. I have tried for a long time to find [the solutions] and am pretty smart, and on the flip side of my confusion I also tend to be logical.
Q. Have you passed that stage [of not having answers to the problems you expose]?
YAI: i think I have gathered [my thoughts] and transferred it into action, to an extent. In the past, I was like a messy and discorganized room, but now I have found a place for everything and have placed the books in the bookshelf. I think I have steadily transferred my life to the action phase, but my consciousness is sometimes still confused and scattered. Because if you live as if you know the answers, it’s no fun and you could fall behind.
He added, “Being confused is a difficult thing, but I would still like to be confused,” carefully pronouncing each syllable with strength and precision.
> “Even if they make a SKKS Season 2, I would not participate”
Q. You have had revealing scenes because of the role of Jaeshin.
YAI: Hahaha. Right? When I get the outline [for the next episode], I no longer have any clothes on my top half. This isn’t right. That’s very much a commercial beastly man [T/N: that is, for sale]. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to appeal [to viewers] with a six-pack; what I don’t like is the idea that ‘I must take off my clothes because I am beastly-man Moon Jaeshin.’ Continuing to do it because it worked once is the lazy way out and it’s no fun. I’m already fed up with it. My company has been saying, let’s try wearing some clothes now. Hahaha.
Q. There is a huge number of fans who say they have ‘Guh-ro Ache.’ Do you feel your popularity?
YAI: I make an effort to feel it. I read people’s reactions [to my acting] often, and if they like it I feel like flying. In the beginning, I would pay attention to whatever anyone pointed out about my acting. Nowadays, I read good [reactions] more often and listen more closely to people who cheer me on. I am usually the kind of person who [cynically] thinks ‘How long can popularity last, anyway’ but when I thought about it more, I wondered if I really had to be that way. Now if people applaud me, I am be happy and enjoy it, and if [my popularity falls], I can comfortably think, ‘Well, it’s over.’
After participating in ‘Banolim‘ he was so popular he fan cafe members numbered 150,000, but afterward Yoo Ah In gave an interview and said, ‘Popularity disappeared and only the constraints [of popularity] remained.’ I was curious as to whether he could fully enjoy his current popularity.
YAI: If people like me, I like it; if [my popularity] ends, it ends. Either way, I am still here, in the same exact place. Some days make me happy and excited, and then other days it subsides and even if I leave, it’s a place to which I can comfortably say ‘goodbye’… it’s the same for not only popularity or work, but also love. I think that’s just my disposition. Of course, if there are good things, positive things, it would be good if I made an effort to keep them, but if it doesn’t work out then I try to just be comfortable with [what happens].
Q. I feel like you have a lot of affection for Jaeshin. When the drama ends, don’t you think you’ll suffer from withdrawal?
YAI: You’re right. It is like that. (Silence) Because I am pouring myself out through Jaeshin and letting things go, I think I will feel relieved/unburdened [once the role is over]. I also think that my fans see Yoo Ah In through Jaeshin and can look at [the real] me a bit more comfortably. Even when the drama finishes, Jaeshin’s color will show strongly in how I live my life. Until I meet a new character who pulls a different side of me to the surface, that’s how I will have to live.
Q. As the drama approaches its middle part, fans are asking for a second season. It doesn’t seem impossible, as the original novel ‘Lives of Sungkyunkwan Scholars’ has a sequel titled ‘Lives of Kyujanggak Government Officials.’ If a second season is produced, would you consider participating?
Before his answer came a groan. After thinking for a long time he replied.
YAI: If it took place in about 2 years, I would very seriously consider it then.
Q. If you had to decide now?
YAI: (Silence) I don’t want to do it.
His expression has darkened. I asked him why, and he began thinking again.
YAI: Because how I think of SKKS right now, Jaeshin’s finish line is already decided. [What happens] after that point is a whole new question.
Q. Do you think you will be able to say everything you want to as Jaeshin?
Q. Then won’t you feel regretful?
“I don’t think I have to borrow only Jaeshin’s mouth. I will speak through other characters, writings, or other ways,” said he before adopting a blank expression. After another silence, he said quietly and as if to himself, “But still it’s regretful.”
YAI: While it’s happening, you don’t really know how thankful you are. Will I have [another] opportunity to speak this much again. I am telling my own story through Moon Jaeshin’s voice, but I think about whether I will have the opportunity to have this kind of voice again.
[O2/Cover story] Yoo Ah In “I trust that the non-mainstream can become the mainstream”
> “I trust that the non-mainstream can become the mainstream”
Q. After you finish this drama, are you planning to rest? Or are you going to go straight into your next project?
YAI: I’m currently thinking about it. This is the time when I should be working a lot, but when I don’t have time to myself I feel like I will die. I feel like I will disappear. So (during filming in the countryside) even when there is a little bit of time, I come back to my house in Seoul. I am desperate for time to be myself in my house, in my space. So I’m very seriously thinking about whether I should go straight into another project, or if I should go back to my space and take some time for myself.
Q. Ah In-ssi, on the one hand you seem to be the kind of person who is well-matched to be an actor, but on the other hand I wonder how you will make a living as an actor.
He explained that he would answer with “slight bragging and the assumption of some narcissism” as he flashed an eye-smile.
YAI: Someone on Twitter wrote ‘Yoo Ah In-ssi’s non-mainstream feel is really wonderful but when ‘SKKS’ is over I’m afraid that feeling will disappear.’ Hmm.. what’s mainstream and what’s non-mainstream isn’t absolute. If the general public is mainstream, and what’s not the general public is non-mainstream, then I think the non-mainstream can change into the mainstream [over time]. I work with the belief that I have the strength to make that happen. If that wasn’t the case, I would really have to stop acting. No matter how much non-mainstream mania I might attract, the yardstick for celebrity success is how many people turn their attention to me. I’m not saying that I want to throw away my non-mainstream inclinations to transfer to the mainstream [for that], but rather that if I show more people what I have within me, that can become the path to the mainstream. I’m trying to become a bit better in navigating this area.
Q. Are those the reasons you picked ‘SKKS’?
YAI: Yes. SKKS has all the entertaining elements of a product for the general public. It’s called a romantic comedy, right? Of course, if you look deeper SKKS is not a simple romantic comedy; within it, the non-mainstream outsider Jaeshin has a particular uniqueness. I figured, ah, there is something here that I might be able to show.
As he spoke more and more, I became curious about the person named Um Hong Shik. He did not seem like the kind of person who would want to be dragged into the bright lights and become a celebrity.
Q. With what thoughts did you become an actor?
YAI: Ah, I can become a celebrity. These kinds of thoughts?
Q. I feel like you wouldn’t have started so lightly/thoughtlessly.
YAI: I entered an arts high school and considered going for auditions in 11th grade. I thought it would be good to be a celebrity. That was it. Hahaha.
Q. Why did you want to become a celebrity?
YAI: I guess I had a lot to say, even back then. Hahaha. I think my urge to express myself is very large. I have a lot to show. Our generation is like that and I think I match our generation well.
Q. Do you think you’re doing a good job expressing [yourself]?
YAI: Personally, I’m satisfied. To begin with, whatever the public sees is an edited version of myself, so I, too, should edit myself well. So that the things I want to show are not misunderstood, or even if they are misunderstood, that they can be corrected; so that confusing parts can be clarified; so that preconceptions can be turned around. I think I’ve done this while editing myself well so far. I would be happy if I could continue that in the future. And on the point of the person I want to show [to others], I would like it if [I could be] always confident, unembarrassed, and not countrified/unsophisticated. I would like it if I could use the person I am effectively.
> I would like the ending of ‘SKKS’ to be a frustrating one
Q: You once said, ‘I have never played a character I didn’t like. If I didn’t like it, I changed it.’ Did you change parts of Jaeshin as well?
YAI: Many parts. Jaeshin was really cliché. His masculinity was just that of a beastly man. As [SKKS is] a romantic comedy, he had many lines that made you cringe. I talked to them about it before filming started, and even now I am constantly talking to them about it. I tried to remove a lot of the grease. It’s not enough to say I’m 100% satisfied, but I figure I am showing a bit of a different kind of beastly man.
Q. A different kind of beastly man?
YAI: The typical beastly man is someone with a lot of muscles, but the beastly man I think of is someone who is free, someone without a typical mold. Not a beast locked up in a cage, but a razor sharp mountain beast–that’s the beastly man I wanted to show.
Amongst his fans, Yoo Ah In is a poet, an author. He consistently uploads his writings onto his mini-hompy and Twitter. I asked how ‘writer’ Yoo Ah In wants SKKS to end.
He groaned and laughed in succession with an “Aigo…” and “Hahaha” before offering an ending that was simultaneously both Yoo Ah In-like and Moon Jaeshin-like.
YAI: Well, on the romance side Seonjoon-ee and Yoonhee are going to get together. ‘SKKS’ shows [the 4 of us] growing up and maturing. I would like it if it had a frustrating ending. I would like it if teenagers and people in their 20s saw it and felt suffocated and heavy along with us. So that rather than showing a bright tomorrow, they can feel the futility of ‘We have no strength at all.’ So they can feel greater anger and feel more deeply that they don’t know what can or should be done. I would like that.
Q. If that’s the case, what kind of person do you think Jaeshin would be at 40?
YAI: I would like it if he made it to Lee Jungmoo (Left Minister)’s position. Though he was being shot with the Hongbyeokseo’s arrows back then, I think one could live as a better version of Lee Jungmoo today.
I had actually thought he would reply that Moon Jaeshin in his 40s would be similar to Jung Yak Yong (played by Ahn Nae Sang), a professor at Sungkyunkwan who orders his students to be awake [to the world around them]. I was surprised to hear he thought he would take a political position like the Left Minister.
YAI: Jaeshin is educating himself about politics beyond the lives of Sungkyunkwan scholars, so he should make it to Lee Jungmoo’s position. Of course, [it should be] in Jaeshin’s own way; in the way only Jaeshin can. Actor Yoo Ah In is the same. If I am still acting at age 40, I think I have to become the best. What I think of as the best is making [myself] not ‘like so-and-so’ but rather ‘like myself.’
Yoo Ah In has said that his 24-year-old self is close to whom he had hoped to be at this age when he was a teenager. Upon asking him what kind of person he wanted to be when he reached his 20s, he gave the ambiguous reply, “Rather than this hyung, wouldn’t it be nice to have that hyung–I think I have become that hyung.” And to the question of who he wants 40-year-old Yoo Ah In to be, he said, “An adult that I would have needed in my 20s; I want to become that kind of adult.” Again, ambiguous.
“I always have dreams and things I wish would happen, but in this reality, those kinds of things vanish completely and [we] become different people. A person I needed in my 20s, a person I would wish had been by my side; that’s the person I want to become. I suppose I am [even now] also becoming an adult, but I would like it if I could become a better person than today’s adults.”
October 21, 2010. O2 webzine/Dong-a Ilbo.
Written by Kim Ah Yeon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Translated by jaeshinah@soompi
Hi, tinysunbl here. I just want to add that after the interview, the reporter Kim Ah Yeon-nim wrote about it on her personal blog. She does not allow fan to translate or spread this; her post is about her general impressions of the interview and about Ah In. At the end there is a short recording too. You may want to check out Ain’s warm voice 🙂