Interviewing Yoo A-in was like looking for the end of a maze while holding onto a single piece of thread. And it is because it was not easy having a conversation with someone who would give an answer in a language of his own to whatever question and topic he was asked on and make the interviewer wonder about new questions. However, although that thread was thin, it was sturdy. That is the single thing that hasn’t changed about he who rose to stardom through KBS ‘”SungKyunKwan Scandal” a year ago and is now back with “Punch” where he again plays a youth who is lost yet is different. Yoo A-in still lives as Yoo A-in. That’s why he is interesting.
While watching “Punch” I suddenly thought, ‘Why does this actor always get so much burden placed on him?’ You seem to play a lot of characters that are lonely, poor and are lost.
Yoo A-in: My characters have really always been burdened by something. Because it is actually no fun to play teenagers who don’t have any burden on them and just go through everything that everyone does. I think Hyung-kyu from KBS ‘”Man Who Can’t Marry” was the rarely sound and universal character that I played. I’m sure he must’ve had concerns of his own but they didn’t necessarily show in the project.
The moment you cried out, “Why on earth are you doing this to me?” in “Punch,” I felt that you have a face that is great for expressing sadness. And I felt that it came from the feeling of unjustness that you feel inside you, not just from playing your character.
Yoo: That was really me. There definitely was a side to me that wondered, ‘Why on earth is the world treating me like this?’ and Wan-duk was just someone that’s younger than me. In terms of my facial expression, I have the face where when I raise my eyes like this, I can look sad and pitiful really well. [Laugh] I used to think that acting is difficult and tried to go with my instincts but I think I’ve come to be more analytical and know which muscles to use to express certain emotions.
But it wasn’t easy to get a grasp on your character in the beginning of the movie. Although Wan-duk was someone in the most unfortunate circumstances possible due to poverty, having a disabled father, and a Filipino mother he hadn’t even known of, he wasn’t rough or a strong rebel but rather just unmoved by everything and in a way was more mature than adults. What was your understanding of him in general?
Yoo: It was actually much easier to understand rebels like Wan-duk – no, he actually wasn’t even a real rebel – than very extreme or rough rebels. Because that’s the way reality is. There actually are more kids who stay in school rather than run away from it and more kids who stay with their parents no matter how awful their families are doing. So that’s what I thought of a lot. Actually, in that sense, Wan-duk is actually quite different from the characters I’ve played in the past. He actually may be much more innocent, nice, flexible and well-rounded than me in the sense that he fought a fight within himself rather than becoming an outsider. He was sharp within his round exterior, not someone with a jagged and difficult exterior as well. Probably more so than some adults.
And on the other hand, I felt that Wan-duk’s future wouldn’t be all that smooth just because he started to do kickboxing.
[SPOILER] Yoo: I do think a lot of people were hoping the ending would show Wan-duk win a kickboxing competition or some sign of hope for him. Even my parents said, “He should’ve won a competition!” [Laugh] But I was happy that a sport didn’t get used in that sort of a tacky way in this movie. [SPOILER ends] I had actually wondered why it has to be a sport again. I didn’t get why they couldn’t have come up with a device, that isn’t sport, through which a young guy can let out his energy and make his way out into the world. But the movie ended up changing its direction from having a definite happy ending and I liked that the somewhat possibly worn-out subjects got approached in a refreshing way.
Well I think one of the reasons that sports appear often in movies about teenagers is because it’s one of the few ways for people who aren’t well off enough to become successful.
Yoo: And another reason is that the teenagers and people in their twenties that the older generation depicts on can’t be that diverse. Even the roles that I get are juvenile delinquents, rebels in their twenties, which are all great of course. But I wish there were more characters in more special situations and with special traits. I’m happy that the character I’ve played has been able to be shown in a mainstream commercial movie like “Punch” but I’d now like to take on projects with more depth. Of course, not that I get to decide since I’m not the writer.
Like you said before, most teenagers put up with the circumstances they are placed in at school and home. In Korea in particular, quitting school is a huge risk since it could be a blot to your life forever yet you once said that one of the reasons you quit high school was that you didn’t choose to be in any of the circumstances you were in. What’s the reason you so could not stand that?
Yoo: What happens outside of me and stimulates me are important but what’s more important is my attitude. Because everyone feels and thinks differently about everything, even when we’re all looking at the same thing. On an absolute level, Wan-duk was in a very unfortunate situation so he may have actually had the “right to deviate.” But he doesn’t and accepts the situation he’s in. So compared to him, I think I was a very extreme kid. Nobody wants to go to school. The world is a screwed up place for everyone and adults are old-fashioned and boring people to anyone. That’s why asking, ‘Am I someone who can do that?’ is more important than ‘Was it worth it?’ I had made my choices based on that tendency and that has now become who I am.
Then you, more than anyone else, must have to know about yourself the best to make choices.
Yoo: When I was a bit more younger, I didn’t know who I was, what I like, what choices I can make and not even what’s right or wrong. Everything was obscure to me. But I came to gain a filter, an eye for knowing what to go for without having to think about it for too long, after facing those moments and making increasingly difficult choices. I think I’ve now reached a point where instead of trying to figure out who I am and what I want, I should find out what I’ll be losing from being who I am right now at this point in my life.
In that sense, I think people must expect more from you directly and indirectly after the success of KBS ‘”SungKyunKwan Scandal.” Do you put in any type of particular effort to not get swept by what could be silent forms of pressure?
Yoo: Nothing has changed regarding the way I make decisions. Of course I feel pressured and bothered when I’m looking at the choices I have but they don’t matter the moment that I make my decision. I just get to know about things like how people see me, public opinion on me and what my fans like and dislike.
I’m sure there must’ve also been moments that you felt others’ demands were irrational or got hurt and became lethargic from criticism so I’m curious to how you overcame those moments.
Yoo: Of course I’ve been hurt but I’ve come to understand why. And it means that I’ve come to gain enough understanding of how things work. I won’t give up because of it but can now behave in better accordance with it and I also want to try even harder. On top of that, I believe I need to have fun doing my work.
And if you can’t find the fun in it?
Yoo: Then I may quit. I know this may be a dangerous and irresponsible way of thinking it but I work because it’s fun. I need to be having fun even if I get criticized. I once read in a book: “You do it knowing you will get criticized for it, not praised. That incident is not everything and that single event is not everything. In the end, you go with your own flow.” Like so, I think you need to be able to look at things from a step away. And I think the same goes for the attitude you should take on as an actor, as someone doing a public form of art. You shouldn’t stand aloof from everyone else, yet not reveal yourself entirely and not fully commit yourself 100 percent. You need to be one or two steps ahead.
I think you try to look at yourself, not just the flow of things, from a step away as well.
Yoo: I think I always look at myself now, even without trying to, as if I had a mirror next to me. Of course, the moment I stop trying, that mirror could bend, become muddy and break. I had actually thought of myself as a very refined person so even at an interview just a few weeks ago, I arrogantly said, “I think I’ve been born with the sense of knowing what being classy is.” But I kept thinking about that word and after seeing myself use it in my daily life, I realized that I’m not actually born with the sense of knowing what it is but just someone with a mirror to know it. I’m not someone who doesn’t get gunk in my eyes – I’m just someone who knows how to take the gunk out of my eyes when I see it.
I read in an article that you’ve been reading poetry these days but I think reading novels versus poetry are two completely different acts. What is it that you gain from reading poetry?
Yoo: It’s sort of like image training. Poems are short which doesn’t mean you can read them quickly but read as much or even more out of them than from the text within novels and create images from them. That’s why writing and reading poems helps a lot with my acting. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been writing them or because my perspective has changed with age but they read completely differently now and I’ve come to be able to understand the narrator better. The movies I think about and the movies I like too are closer to poems than novels. “Punch” is actually a very unkind story for Wan-duk because it doesn’t tell how he cries, is anxious, is lost and fights with himself. And what does show on the outside could have become slack if the implicative points didn’t exist to the background of the movie which was shown through the images.
I think ‘living today’ might be similar to burning out yourself. And even if you have lived your life like that till now, I think you may suddenly become anxious or that it’s not enough. How do you think you’re living your life right now?
Yoo: These days, I actually don’t think I live my life to the point I want to. [Laugh] That’s why in the past, I may have said, “I’m someone who lives today fiercely. I don’t care if I die tomorrow.” But I now could probably just say, “I’m someone who tries to live like that. I’m someone who thinks that’s better, that it’s the better life.”
Then what do you think of yourself today?
Yoo: I used to spend a lot of time fighting and blocking out in order to live ‘today’ well but I think I’ve gained the wisdom to do my best with what I face today in a way that is most like me. While finding a way not to lose myself while accepting the circumstances. There definitely were times I really had to fight when I was young. But it’s because I experienced those times that I’m who I am today.