NEW YORK • When Glenn Rhee, the scrappy pizza deliveryman turned warrior on The Walking Dead, grew to become one other casualty of that AMC sequence, Steven Yeun, the actor who performed him, already felt he had outgrown his character.
But like Donnie Yen, Joan Chen and different Asian-American performers earlier than him, he needed to look exterior Hollywood to seek out three-dimensional roles that defied stereotypes and caricatures.
While The Walking Dead led to components in provocative American indies like Mayhem (2017) and Sorry To Bother You (2018), it was in South Korea that he received an opportunity to collaborate with world-class auteurs on severe Palme d’Or contenders.
A working example is Burning (2018), the brand new movie from director Lee Chang-dong which premiered in Singapore in July and opened final week within the United States.
The film – and Yeun’s efficiency as Ben, the cosmopolitan rival of the country-bumpkin antihero – earned rave critiques on the Cannes Film Festival in May, and the expertise of working abroad made Yeun realise that he didn’t really feel precisely comfortable in both the US or South Korea.
“It really just makes you have to go inwards and you can only be comfortable in your own skin,” he stated in an interview this month when Burning performed on the New York Film Festival.
Lee stated Yeun completely understood the disaffection and hollowness he was searching for to convey within the movie, an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami brief story.
“Steven said he sensed an emptiness deep down in the character. He said he knew it well because he felt it as well,” Lee, the revered film-maker of Peppermint Candy (1999), Secret Sunshine (2007) and different movies, stated by way of an interpreter.
Yeun, 34, started traversing two completely different worlds early in life.
When he was 4, he and his household moved from South Korea, first to Canada after which to the US. At faculty, he stored to himself. But inside the tight-knit Korean church group in Taylor, Michigan, he felt freer to be rambunctious.
With a dearth of Asian-American illustration in popular culture, Yeun and his buddies gravitated to actor Will Smith for his outsider attraction.
The success of comedians Steve Park and Margaret Cho was momentous to aspiring Asian-American performers. “With Steve, I remember being shocked at In Living Colour having an Asian person,” Yeun stated.
Park and Cho had been among the many pioneers “that you just got to respect because they were doing it when nobody was doing it”.
While Yeun was not actively pursuing roles in South Korea, he was a fan of that nation’s vibrant movie trade.
A pal there organized for Yeun to satisfy a few of his favorite film-makers: Kim Jee-woon (I Saw The Devil, 2010), Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, 2003) and Bong Joon-ho (The Host, 2006).
He didn’t assume Bong was severe about eager to work collectively and definitely didn’t count on that the director would ultimately write a component for him in Okja (2017).
“When Steven first came over to work, he was also very sensitive about being perceived as an American actor or a Korean actor, how was everybody relating to him. But that evaporated very quickly,” Bong stated by way of an interpreter.
Before The Walking Dead, Yeun was typically requested to play variants of Long Duk Dong, the notorious nerd in Sixteen Candles (1984), which was a poisonous display screen stereotype of Asian males.
Now within the US, Yeun tends to get supplied genial characters. In South Korea, the place Bong stated girls regarded Yeun as a intercourse image, the actor stated that typecasting based mostly on his character or standing as a foreigner or expatriate is perhaps inescapable.
“It’s just that when Korea approaches me about a project, it’s usually missing a component of, like, ‘What does an Asian man do in this situation?'” he stated.
“What was wonderful about working in South Korea is, you know, you kind of feel the fullness of yourself for a second,” he added. “You don’t have to be reminded of your otherness there and that is a very freeing feeling. You don’t realise how oppressive that is until you experience not experiencing that.”