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Oh shines after decades in theater, TV, films

Oh Young-soo plays the oldest Buddhist monk in “A Little Monk.” (Naver)
Oh Young-soo plays the oldest Buddhist monk in “A Little Monk.” (Naver)

Since his debut in classic Korean film “The Seashore Village” in 1965, Oh Young-soo, 77, has taken various roles in theatrical projects, drama series and films, eventually winning the award for best supporting actor at the 97th Golden Globe Awards for his role as Oh Il-nam in “Squid Game.” He is the first Korean actor to win a Golden Globe.

“After hearing the news, I told myself that ‘you are a good guy’ for the first time in my life,” the actor said through Netflix on Monday. “I thank everyone across the globe and hope everyone lives a beautiful life.”
Oh Young-soo wins best supporting actor in television at the 79th Golden Globe Awards, Sunday in Los Angeles. (Hollywood Foreign Press Association)
Oh Young-soo wins best supporting actor in television at the 79th Golden Globe Awards, Sunday in Los Angeles. (Hollywood Foreign Press Association)

While his career spans decades, he is not exactly a household name, as he has flourished more on the stage. In TV dramas and films, he has mostly been relegated to minor, supporting roles.

Graduating from the division of theater at Dongguk University in Seoul, Oh started his career as an actor in the theater company Gwangjang in 1963.

Having made his screen debut in “The Seashore Village” and stage debut with “Daytime Walk in the Park” three years later, Oh continued to play minor roles and eventually found his niche in supporting roles in numerous TV dramas and movies.

After taking his first lead role in the stage production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” as Stanley Kowalski in 1971, he continued to perform actively in the theater, including “Faust,” “Richard III” and “Crime on Goat Island.”

The actor continued his career mainly as a stage actor after joining the National Theater Company of Korea and went on to win the Baeksang Arts Award in 1994 and the National Theater Association of Korea award for best actor in 2000.

Oh spent the bulk of his 40s to 60s in the state theater company, from 1987 to 2010.

Making name as Buddhist monk specialist

While performing in the theater, Oh took up minor film roles in “Getting on the Elevator” (1986) and “The Soul Guardians” (1998).

His film career took off after starring in “A Little Monk” (2003), taking the role of the eldest among three Buddhist monks in a quiet temple.
 
Oh came to the public’s attention with his critically acclaimed performance as yet another old Buddhist monk in director Kim Ki-duk’s “Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter … and Spring” (2003), in which the life of a Buddhist monk is presented as he passes through the four seasons.

The actor made his small screen debut with the MBC drama “Moon River” (2009) and continued to co-star in “The Great Queen Seondeok” (2009), which topped viewership ratings among all TV dramas released in 2009.

Despite his active performances in many theater projects, Oh was referred to as a Buddhist monk specialist, as viewers came to think of him as irreplaceable when it came to the role.
A screenshot shows Oh Young-soo as a monk in “The Great Queen Seondeok.” (MBC)
A screenshot shows Oh Young-soo as a monk in “The Great Queen Seondeok.” (MBC)

The actor continued to appear in drama series as a monk in MBC’s “Warrior K” and KBS drama special “Gate of Non-Duality,” both aired in 2012. Oh even appeared as a monk in a television commercial for the country’s top telecommunications operator SK Telecom in 2015.

Then came the role of Oh Il-nam, a seemingly ordinary old man who wished to have fun playing games in the global sensation “Squid Game.”

Life since “Squid Game”

In his first screen appearance as a non-monk character in a long time, Oh shocked the world as the scene stealer “old man from ‘Squid Game’” or “Player No. 1.”

After “Squid Game” was released, several scenes featuring Oh and lines spoken by him went viral on social media and online communities, especially those revolving around “gganbu,” referring to a highly trusted game buddy.

The gganbu sensation got fans speculating about a possible commercial starring their beloved Korean grandfather Oh for Kkanbu Chicken, a local fried chicken brand.

In fact, Oh declined an offer to be the brand’s model, believing the advertisement might damage the significance of “Squid Game.”

Having achieved mega stardom, the actor is now a much sought-after celebrity. He has appeared on MBC’s popular variety show “Hangout With Yoo” and threw the ceremonial first pitch for the first game of the Korean Series, the championship series of the Korean Baseball Organization.
Oh Young-soo stars in MBC variety show “Hangout With Yoo.” (MBC)
Oh Young-soo stars in MBC variety show “Hangout With Yoo.” (MBC)

The actor has also returned to the stage.

Oh is playing the role of the titular psychologist in “Freud’s Last Session,” which opened Friday at TOM Theater in Daehangno.
Oh Young-soo plays the role of Oh Il-nam in “Squid Game.” (Netflix)
Oh Young-soo plays the role of Oh Il-nam in “Squid Game.” (Netflix)

With appearances in more than 200 projects over his decadeslong career, Oh capped his contributions to theater, television and film with his win at this year’s Golden Globes.

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)
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