9 of Yoo Ah-In’s Best Movies and Shows to Watch
The recently crowned Best Actor at the Asian Film Awards 2021 has a stellar portfolio of movies and shows. Here are the ones you shouldn’t miss out on
Yoo Ah-in is considered by many as one of the best actors of his generation. He is best known for taking on a wide variety of roles in both TV and film and his dynamic characters has earned him numerous acting accolades. This includes a recent Best Actor win at the Asian Film Awards 2021 as well as the Baeksang Arts Awards and the Fantasia International Film Awards.
Famous in South Korea, Yoo has recently been receiving critical acclaim overseas, particularly after the success of the movie, Burning where his performance was met with praises from critics locally and abroad. Before he stars in his three next movies and upcoming Netflix series, Hellbound, it’s time to check out the previous work of this amazing actor.
Not sure where to start? We rounded up the best shows and movies that Yoo Ah-in starred in to get you excited for his upcoming projects.
Voice of Silence
It goes without saying that Voice of Silence should be on your watch list. Not only did the film win many Best Film awards from the new filmmaker, Hong Eui-jeong, Yoo also earned a number of accolades for his dialogue-free performance—his character didn’t speak a single line throughout the film.
The low-budget indie movie follows Tae-in (Yoo) and Chang-bok (Yoo Jae-myung), who sells egg to make ends meet. As a side job, they work as a clean-up crew for a crime organisation. But things change when they received a task to look after an 11-year-old kidnapped girl to who they become attached to.
For his role, Yoo gained over 15 kilograms, shaved his head and watched gorilla videos in order to use more body language to communicate. Besides his Best Actor win at the Asian Film Awards, he also brought home prizes from the Blue Dragon Film Awards, Baeksang Arts Awards, Fantasia International Film Festival and Buil Film Awards.
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Living up to his reputation as one of the best actors of his generation, Yoo’s role as the shy and quiet Jong-su in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning also received critical acclaim. The movie is the first Korean film to make it to the final shortlist of the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. While he didn’t win any acting award, he earned many Best Actor nominations in various Asian film awards and catapulted his name into the international limelight.
Burning, a psychological thriller is based on one of the short stories from Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes. It marks legendary Korean director, Lee Chang-dong’s return to the director's seat after eight years. The story is about Jong-su (Yoo), who works as a deliveryman and bumps into his old neighbourhood friend, Haemi. She asks him to look after her cat while she's away on a trip. Upon her return, she brings a new friend called Ben who she meets during her trip. Mysterious and enigmatic, Jong-su starts suspecting that there's more to Ben than he's letting on.
Director Lee had nothing but praises for Yoo for his performance, “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.”
While more known for his movie roles, Yoo also did quite a few TV series and one of the most underrated gems is Chicago Typewriter. The fantasy drama depicts three resistance fighters during the Japanese occupation in Korea in the 1930s. They are later reincarnated into the present with different jobs: a writer, a fan and a ghostwriter whose paths cross again.
The drama received a fair rating in South Korea but was more popularly received overseas. For many, it introduced them to Yoo Ah-in. The drama was praised for its performances by the three cast members, the aesthetics, the soundtrack as well as its handling of the second lead character.
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Secret Love Affair
The year 2014 was quite busy for Yoo. He did a supporting role in Thread of Lies and a leading role in Secret Love Affair which at that time, was considered the most daring role of his career.
The drama revolves around married 40-year-old Oh Hye-won (Him Hee-ae), a director for planning at the Sohan Arts Foundation and piano teacher. There, she meets 20-year-old piano prodigy, Lee Sun-jae (Yoo Ah-in). The two fall in love despite their difference in age and social status.
In order to play a genius pianist, Yoo had to learn the instrument and listen to classical music. During its run, the drama remained at the number one rating slot and eventually became the highest-rated TV drama of that year. Many critics also praised Yoo for his performance and highlighted it as a turning point in his acting career.
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Shortly after finishing Secret Love Affair, Yoo starred in his next two movies the following year—both of which became top-grossing projects. In Veteran, he sheds his leading man and charming image to play his first-ever villain role.
Despite starring opposite veteran actor and cinematic legend, Hwang Jung-min, Yoo held his own and the movie became the fifth highest-grossing movie in South Korea. He also earned several Best Actor awards at numerous film festivals.
The action-comedy movie by Ryoo Seung-wan follows a tough and merciless detective Seo Do-cheol (Hwang). While investigating a high-profile case, he finds out that millionaire Jo Tae-oh (Yoo) is the one pulling the strings. Despite his efforts to chase him, Jo always escapes because of his connections.
Another blockbuster movie that Yoo starred in 2015 is Lee Joon-ik’s period drama, The Throne alongside Parasite actor, Song Kang-ho. The movie was South Korea’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars that year.
The Throne is based on the life of Crown Prince Sado, the heir to the throne but he was deemed unfit to rule. By the age of 27, he was sentenced to death by his own father and eventually died of starvation when he was confined in a rice chest.
Director Lee revealed that he personally picked Yoo when writing the character of Prince Sado after watching one of his earlier movies. He went on to win a Best Actor award at the Blue Dragon Film Awards for his performance.
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Yoo’s rise to fame is undoubtedly when he starred in Sungkyungkwan Scandal. The historical drama series is based on Jung Eun-gwol’s bestselling novel and follows four main leads: Park Yoo-chun, Yoo Ah-in and Song Joong-ki together with Park Min-young.
It’s set in a time where women weren’t allowed to be educated or employed or Kim Yoon-hee (Park Min-young) disguises herself as her brother in order to make ends meet. When the opportunity to become a substitute test-taker (an illegal act) to get into the prestigious Sungkyunkwan, she takes in. Surprisingly, she gets in and must hide her identity.
Due to his popularity after the series, “Geol-oh-al-yee” (Geol-oh fever) was coined after the name of his character.
Six Flying Dragons
Yoo is no stranger to historical dramas, his most ambitious one was Six Flying Dragons where he reunites with his Fashion King co-star. Shin Se-kyung. The drama had 50 episodes in total and it dominated the number one spot throughout its entire run. Yoo won several Best Actor awards for his performance including one from the Baeksang Arts Awards.
The story is about the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty and follows the conflicts of its people some of which are based on real characters, particularly that of Yi Bang-won (Yoo’ character), who will later become King Tae-jong, the third kind of the Joseon Dynasty and father of King Se-jong.
Yoo’s success in 2015–the year Six Flying Dragons aired—the local Korean media called 2015 the “A-in-shi-dae” (Ah-in Era).
It’s right to end this roundup with Punch, a coming-of-age film where Yoo plays a biracial teenager. The film premiered at the Busan International Film Festival and even competed for the Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. During that time, his co-star Kim Yoon-seok said, “In the next 10 years, [Yoo] will be one of the biggest names in Korean cinema” and he was right.
The film follows the budding relationship between teacher Lee Dong-ju (Kim) and rebellious teenager Do Wan-deuk (Yoo), who comes from an improvised background and broken family. Punch was groundbreaking at its time as it depicted several aspects of South Korea that weren’t well recognised such as intercultural marriage, multicultural households, migrant workers, the harsh economic system and the lack of support for the disabled community.
For his performance, Yoo earned his first nomination for the Best Actor category at the Buil Film Awards.