In the "Best Actors of 2018" feature of the New York Times, only one Asian made the list: Yoo Ah-in, who played a grubby, inarticulate Seoulite to perfection in Lee Chang-dong's "Burning." So brilliant was his performance that the director told an interviewer, "No one else could inhabit the character of Jong-su like he did. Yoo Ah-in is irreplaceable for this role; he is capable of conveying great nuance and sensitivity."
Birthday: October 6, 1986
Longtime fans would have seen that coming and are no longer surprised. Viewers who have followed this man's career for nearly 20 years have always been intrigued by the sheer focus he consistently pours into all his performances, whether in k-drama or cinema. Yoo has long been favored by serious directors and fellow artists primarily because of his fearlessness and commitment to entering the psyches of all his characters. Art is a full-time job for this multi-awarded actor, who readily admits to still having difficulties with celebrity culture. "Now, I know and accept that my time, existence, the existence of others, the life we share, and the world I live in are all art, " he concludes in a magazine interview.
Born Uhm Hong-sik, Yoo dropped out of high school and left Daegu to become an actor. He debuted in 2003 in "Sharp 1" and rose to popularity in the k-drama "Sungkyungkwan Scandal" (2010) and the coming-of-age film "Punch" (2011). He has then starred in numerous k-dramas, most notably the risque "Secret Affair" (2014), the epic "Six Flying Dragons" (2015), and the fusion historical "Chicago Typewriter." Nowadays, with all his awards and endorsements, Yoo certainly enjoys A-list celebrity status, but this has not deterred him from taking up strong political stances and causes.
In Netflix supernatural k-drama "Hellbound," Yoo plays cult leader Jung Jin-soo who ominously predicts when and how people will die. Yoo looks unhinged yet charming, a perfect countenance of cult leader charisma. But before he played a cult leader, he played a slow-witted kidnapper ("Voice of Silence"), and before that, a man fighting off zombies ("#Alive"). He's also played prominent historical figures ("Six Flying Dragons"), a writer ("Chicago Typewriter"), a single dad ("Like for Likes"), a prodigal prince ("The Throne"), a sadistic chaebol ("Veteran"), and even a pastry baker in an LGBTQ+ themed shop ("Antique Bakery"). Most recently, he's a fearless driver slugging slush funds across Seoul in the retro-romp "Seoul Vibe."
Yoo Ah-in has never reprised a role in his professional life, and for a good reason: Unlike many in the industry who feel the need to preserve a "good" reputation, Yoo deems it akin to death when someone asks him to do the same role again. Novelty is still crucial to Yoo. It sums up his job as a lifelong commitment toward "being good at variations by acting out a variety of characters is a task to be resolved. [After all], a movie runs for only about two hours, but the life of an actor is long, so that's something to contemplate."
We hope he continues to contemplate and produce incredible art and performances in the years to come.