In the early years of his career, he was regarded primarily as a comical sidekick before being recognized as a colorful supporting actor in Korean cinema.
Last year, Yoo nabbed his first lead role after 24 years in show business. He starred in the action-comedy flick “Luck-Key” as an assassin-turned-struggling actor, and the film was a box office success here, selling over 6.5 million tickets and marking a breakthrough for Yoo.
|Yoo Hae-jin poses for a photo before an interview at a cafe in Seoul`s Samcheong-dong on Thursday. (1st Look)|
“I think people see the best of you (when you’re on screen). The best scenes are shown in the edited version,” said Yoo humbly at an interview Thursday at a cafe in Samcheong-dong.
This year, Yoo returns as both the lead and trusty sidekick in “Confidential Assignment,” which is also an action-comedy film about two investigators from both sides of the Korean Peninsula.
Hyun Bin plays a disciplined North Korean investigator who trained in the country’s rigorous special forces, while Yoo portrays an unmotivated South Korean cop who is struggling under the burden of work and family.
“But it doesn’t go too seriously into issues of ideology,” Yoo said. “The focus is on sharing emotions.”
Yoo is drawn to films that have a human element. He is interested more in the “little things” that make characters’ relationships come to life on screen than on grand notions.
In a scene in “Confidential Assignment,” Yoo’s character tells his daughter off for sitting on the lap of a stranger.
“Little actions like that aren’t essential to the plot, but it makes you believe that they’re a family. Finding those things are part of the fun of acting.”
Yoo first fell in love with his craft after watching a play in middle school. Despite the opposition of his conservative parents, he matriculated to the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Since then, he has found his footing as one of Korean cinema’s top character actors, through roles in films such as “King and the Clown,” “Small Town Rivals,” “The Unjust,” “Minority Opinion,” “Veteran” and “Public Enemy.”
“But there are things that I can never get used to. I’ve done a lot of movies,” said the prolific Yoo who has starred in over 50 films. “Each set, each character, each environment is different. It feels new every time and it is always difficult.”
Now, at age 47, Yoo said he sometimes seems to be clutching onto energy that keeps slipping away. Through he was more “unstable” as a budding actor, “there was a great energy,” said Yoo. “Everything was so exciting. I woke up excited, I ate meals excited … every action on every set was exciting.”
“When I’m not working, my day is very simple. Some would say boring. I exercise, read a few scripts, have a drink at night. That’s it.”
He trekked up a mountain near his home in the morning before the interview, Yoo said, pulling out a selfie he had taken at the summit.
“I like hiking and running alone,” he said on his exercise routine. “If I go with other people, there’s always something that’s inconvenient. You have to wait for them to arrive on time. You have to make conversation even when you’re out of breath. It’s been quite a while that I’ve been running alone.”
“Confidential Assignment” hits local theaters Wednesday.
By Rumy Doo