[Theme of December 〈2021 ICON〉] Like the Films that Come to the Audiences in Recession: Byun Yohan, Icon of Films in 2021
[Theme of December 〈2021 ICON〉] Like the Films that Come to the Audiences in Recession: Byun Yohan, Icon of Films in 2021
  • Yoon Sung-eun (Film critic)
  • 승인 2021.12.01 00:15
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ⓒMegabox Plus M

  It was the end of March when the pandemic was still going viral. Most Korean films as well as international ones were uncertain about their release when Director Lee Junik’s new feature film The Book of Fish premiered quietly. It must have waited for long before the release since it was produced in 2019. It dealt with serious topics both in humorous and serious ways. Though audience and critical reception was good, the film ended up as a total failure. The line in the film ‘Chu Hsi is really powerful’ has been adapted to ‘Coronavirus is really powerful’ producing a buzzword. Luckily, its quality has been recognized and Director Lee swept awards in various film festivals in Korea. It is a feat of courage and perseverance since dozens of newly produced Korean films were reluctant to release due to social distancing.

  Although the actors and actresses has not drawn much attention, it is the sleek performance of actors Seol Kyung Gu and Byun Yohan and the chemistry between the two that leads the film to the end. Byun played the role of young fisherman Chang-dae, who appeared on the preface of the Book, with the same degree of presence as his partner Seol. The Book of Fish was written in Chosun Dynasty by a scholar named Jung Yak-jon (starred by Seol), but the knowledge and experience came from a fictional figure Chang-dae. Likewise, it is not Jung Yak-jon standing on the front but Chang-dae that represents psychological and physical changes and wraps up the story of the film. Chang-dae is a poor fisherman living in an island, and eager to learn Neo-Confucianism. Earlier in the story, he does not want to stay close to Jung Yak-jon for the reason that Jung is an exile. But the two agree on a deal to exchange each other’s knowledge and spend a lot of time together. What brings about a complete change in Chang-dae is not Jung but the corrupted world and its reality that laugh at and trample down his aspiration to pracitce what he learns from Neo-Confucianism. As he takes power and higher social position of the nobles in the land, Chang-dae grows coarser and darker. He realizes that changing the world takes more than a person’s will.

  In the black-and-white screen of the film, Byun is skillful at representing delight, anger, confusion and torpor with various facial expressions. He has honed his acting ability since when he was studying at Korea National University of Arts, playing in scores of short films and independent films. He started to be recognized by the public through TV show Incomplete Life. His filmography tells us how much he is trusted by producers and directors. He acted as the fiancé of the female main character in the hit TV drama Mister Sunshine, and a man wandering in the past in Will You Be There? (directed by Hong Ji-young in 2016) and A Day (directed by Cho Sun-ho in 2017.) In The Book of Fish, Byun boasts his masterful acting, making this film his representative work.

  He came back in On the Line (directed by Kim Gok and Kim Sun in 2021) this fall, and this film is one of the two Korean feature films released during the mid-autumn holidays. Unlike his previous films where he worked with Korea’s veteran actors such as Kim Yun Seok, Kim Myung Min and Seol Kyung Gu, Byun is the sole leader in this film. Even though there is an impressive villain working throughout the story, Seojoon played by Byun is the single main character who is responsible for the development of the story. Seojoon, a former criminal investigator, works as a manager at a construction site. One day when he is expecting a promotion at work and a move to a decent apartment, his wife gets a voice phishing call and his family loses the money to pay for the apartment. Finding out that he and his co-workers have all lost money to the same phishing scam, he goes over to China to catch the phishing scammers. Byun wonderfully plays the role of Seojoon who works intelligence activities with no one's help throughout to the end. He was good at showing psychological pressure and even at action scences. One slight disappointment is that Seojoon is too unrealistic a heroic who is excellent at everything for Byun to express solely through his acting.

  Byun Yohan keeps on acting sincerely even amid the coronavirus pandemic, just like his films came out to the audience during this famine of audiences. He even appeared in Japanese film The Sun Does Not Move (directed by Hasumi Eiichiro in 2020) which was released in October. In this film based on the novel with the same title, Byun acted as a top secret agent David Kim. He has also finished filming the second one of the trilogy on General Lee Sun-shin of Chosun Dynasty, Hansan: Appearance of Dragon (directed by Kim Han-min in 2021.) He played Japanese general Wakisaka Yasuharu, and I am looking forward to seeing this charismatic character acted by Byun. Hansan: Appearance of Dragon is a film that cost the most in his filmography.

  Just like a little stream flows into a river and then to the sea, Byun is expanding his horizons in acting quietly but fast, from global projects to blockbusters. I hope he will go beyond being an icon of 2021 films and stand as an icon of Korean films some day. 

 

 


Yoon Sung-eun is a Ph. D. in film studies. She won the new critics award at the Korean Film Critics Awards in 2011, and has been working as a film critic on various media. She won the PAF critics award for Performances and Reviews in 2015.

Translated by Ok Eurom

 

* 《Cultura》 2021 December (Vol. 90) *



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