Korea is having a moment in world cinema: Steven Yeun on 'Minari', his Hollywood career

Bedika
·5-min read

New Delhi, Mar 22 (PTI) Hollywood star Steven Yeun, whose immigrant drama 'Minari' is vying for six Academy Awards next month including a best actor nomination for him, believes his birth country South Korea is having its moment in world cinema.

South Korea has made quite an impact with Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' winning the best picture at the Oscars last year, the global love for South Korean music sensation, K-dramas and K-beauty products.

Asked about the Korean Wave, also known as 'Hallyu', in world entertainment, Yeun told PTI, 'Yeah, I think Korea is having a moment. We're maybe also in a very global moment of balancing East and West, collectivism and individualism.' 'Korea also seems uniquely situated with its relationship with the United States and its relationship to itself and Asia. There's a lot of interesting energy and dynamic to be kind of gleaned from that place. But yeah, we're just lucky that we have such incredible artistes that are able to express themselves in this way so it's really cool,' the 37-year-old star, who is the first Asian American to be nominated for a best actor Oscar, added.

Yeun, whose family migrated to the US from South Korea in 1988 when he was just four, has had a great year with all the love coming for the Lee Isaac Chung-directed 'Minari', a film that closely mirrors the experiences of both the filmmaker and the actor as children of immigrants.

The actor plays Jacob, a young father in 'Minari', about a Korean-American family that moves from California to a farm in rural Arkansas in search of their American dream. The film, predominantly in Korean language, is slated to be released in Indian theatres by PVR Pictures on April 9.

Yeun started taking interest in improv in his first year at Kalamazoo College, Michigan, and then moved to Chicago to pursue a career in the arts before eventually heading to Los Angeles, home to Hollywood.

His breakthrough role came in 2010 with the popular horror TV drama 'The Walking Dead', in which he played Glenn Rhee, the quick-thinking supply provider of the group following the zombie apocalypse.

The actor, who has also worked with director Bong in 'Okja' and Lee Chang-dong's critically-acclaimed 'Burning', said he is clueless about his rise in the industry but feels blessed for all the unique opportunities coming his way.

'I don't really know what's happening in my life... But I will say I'm very blessed that I've gotten these opportunities.

'I'm very blessed that I've been able to work with such incredible artists, and I've been able to grow as a human being, while I'm also doing the work that a lot of people don't get to do, so I feel very fortunate.' What Yeun knows is that he focuses on steering clear of the work he doesn't like doing.

'I don't know why I'm here, I don't know how I got here. I just know if there's anything in my control, it's that I really don't like doing things I don't like doing, and I like doing things that I like doing. That's a very strong conviction for me. So, we'll see how that plays out moving forward,' he said in the group Zoom interview from Los Angeles in a reply to a question posed by PTI.

'Minari', which has also earned multiple nominations at the BAFTAs following a Golden Globe win, has resonated people across cultures with Yeun's Jacob trying to succeed at farming despite odds.

The actor said he saw a bit of himself in all the characters of 'Minari' but he was initially worried about playing Jacob despite loving the script that Chung wrote.

'In terms of Jacob, I'll be honest, in the very beginning, I was really worried about him, and playing him, because I think I was touching upon a generation prior.

'I think it was touching on a personal level, like, how much of that do I see clearly, and how much of that do I see from my own gaze, and how much of that is twisted up in my own perspective, and I think that was the scary part,' he said.

At one point, Yeun said, he asked Chung whether he could rewrite the script so that the actor could play both the son and father by going back and forth in time.

Eventually, child actor Alan Kim, who is nominated for a best supporting actor BAFTA, played the son in 'Minari'. For his stellar performance as David, eight-year-old Kim also won Critics' Choice Movie Award for best young performer.

Chung has often spoken about how iconic American actor James Dean's roles in 'East of Eden' and 'Giant' inspired Jacob's character, a connection that also struck Yeun.

'I'm glad he didn't listen to me because that would have been a way worse movie. But he was very encouraging,' Yeun said.

'When I found the parallel with James Dean and when Isaac and I were talking about that parallel, it made a lot of sense. I guess isolation, this personal war against God was something that was very interesting to me, and something that I could also relate to some degree. So, yeah, it was a great journey for sure,' he added.

'Minari' also stars Han Ye-ri, Noel Kate Cho, Will Patton, and veteran South Korean actor Youn Yuh-jung, who is also nominated for a best supporting Oscar and BAFTA. PTI BK RDS RDS