‘Punch’ pushes actor into next phase of his career

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‘Punch’ pushes actor into next phase of his career


Yoo Ah-in plays a timid young man struggling to come to terms with a family secret in “Punch.” By Kwon Hyeok-jae

The new film “Punch” does not have an exciting story line, a swirling climax nor a vengeful villain at its center. But it does have the talents of an engaging young actor named Yoo Ah-in, who appears to have lost a bit of his boyish arrogance and is entering a new, more serious phase of his career.

The film, which was released yesterday, is based on Kim Ryeo-ryeong’s novel “Wan-deuk-i,” which has sold more than 700,000 copies in the three years since it was published in 2008.

It was directed by Lee Han, who previously helmed such works as “Lover’s Concerto” (2002) and “Almost Love” (2006).

Like the novel, the film is a coming-of-age story that revolves around a multiethnic family facing dire circumstances.

At the beginning of the film, Wan-deuk is in his second year of high school. Although he is not a good student and gets terrible grades, he is a good fighter and knows how to defend himself.

He lives with his father, who is disabled, and the two are in living in extreme poverty. Wan-deuk has been able to endure his situation until now, but he is brought to the point of snapping when he learns of a long-held family secret: the mother who ran out on the two of them years ago is Filipino.

“Wan-deuk is a timid and mature, yet rebellious child. He’s an outsider, but he doesn’t try to leave the nest,” Yoo explains. “But it’s not like my character loses his mind or becomes disturbed when he discovers the secret about his past. I think I turned Wan-deuk into a much nicer kid compared to who he is in the novel.”

Yoo said the story moved him so much that he was brought to tears.

“I’ve lost count of how many times I cried,” he said. “The scenes of Wan-deuk carrying his father, a man half his size, on his back, and of his meeting with his long-lost mother were the most touching. It was moments like these that made me realize how grown up Wan-deuk is and I felt a lot of sympathy for him. He is the nicest kid in the world.”

Putting his hand to his chest, he said, “It still hurts here whenever I think about him.”

At its heart, the film focuses on the relationship between Wan-deuk and his homeroom teacher, Dong-ju. Although the two start the film bickering and fighting constantly as though they were enemies, circumstances force them together and they soon become like family to one another.

Yoo and Kim Yoon-seok, who plays Dong-ju, keep the emotional plot alive and could not have done more justice to their roles. They and the rest of the cast do a fine job of weaving a web of mirth and laughter to counter the film’s complex and somber plot line.

It is easy to see why Yoo was able to play young Wan-deuk, even though he is seven years older than his character.

“I guess my baby face was an advantage,” Yoo said.

He said that he also did his own research, talking with younger actors on set to learn about what high school students of today think about and go through.

Still, he said he was careful “not to make Wan-deuk stand out or look too cool on screen.”

Yoo made his debut in the KBS drama “Sharp 1” in 2003, getting his first taste of fame. After appearing in a string of unconventional movies, he spent a lot of time out of the limelight and said he began to “crave fame like crazy.”

He got his wish last year with a role in the popular drama “Sungkyungkwan Scandal.” His role as one of the four main characters gave him plenty of opportunities to live the celebrity life and feel the adoration of his fans.

But he said the drama also taught him a valuable lesson about his craft.

“There was a time when I used to be stubborn and would say to myself, ‘I’m an artist; I’ll act as I please,’” he said. “I had no love for TV dramas, and when I was shooting ‘Chilwu, the Mighty’ [in 2008] I even told the manager off, saying, ‘After this, I’m never shooting a drama again.’”

Yoo said, “I was stuck in an ‘I’m only acting to act’ phase, but after ‘Sungkyungkwan Scandal’ I became a more flexible actor.”

By Ki Sun-min [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

많이 울었어요, 불쌍한 녀석 완득이 때문에
영화 ‘완득이’ 주연 유아인

“얌마, 도완득!” 20일 개봉하는 영화 ‘완득이’를 보고 나면 입가에서 떠나지 않을 말이 있으니, 바로 이거다. 얌마, 도완득!

고교 담임교사 동주(김윤석)가 자기반 학생 완득이(유아인)를 막 부르는 호칭인데 이거, 은근히 입에 감긴다. 완득이를 연기한 배우 유아인(25)과 마주 앉으니 괜스레 그렇게 불러보고 싶은 마음이 든다. 달리 말하면 유아인과 완득이가 영화 속에서 온전히 한 몸이 됐다는 뜻인 것도 같다. 30도 각도로 살짝 고개를 치켜들때 보이는 콧구멍이 스크린에서 유난히 두드러지더니 아니나다를까, 평소 버릇이 그렇단다.

완득이는 고교 2년생이다. 집안 형편은 좋지 않다. 공부는 못한다. 싸움은 좀 한다. 척추장애인 아버지와 둘이 산다. 이 나이가 돼서야 엄청난 비밀을 알게 된다. 자신이 어릴 때 집 나간 엄마가 필리핀 여성이란다. 쉽게 말해 이제 비뚤어질 일만 남은 거다. “늘 단점이었던 동안(童顔)을 무기처럼 휘두를 수 있었다”던 그의 해석이 궁금했다. “비뚤어지긴요, 소심하고 어른스런 반항아죠. 아웃사이더지만 결코 울타리 안을 벗어나진 않아요. 원작소설보다 훨씬 더 착한 애가 돼버렸어요.”

완득이가 원작(김려령, 『완득이』)보다도 더 착해져버린 건 다 이 배우 때문이다. “세상에서 제일 불쌍한 녀석” 때문에 펑펑 운 게 대체 몇 번인가. “‘뭐 이렇게 착한 녀석이 다 있나’ 싶었어요. 학교도 무작정 때려치면 되는데, ‘학교 좀 그만두면 안돼요?’라고 소심하게 물어보는 반항아가 어디 있어요. 자신보다 한참 작은 아버지를 업고 언덕을 올라가는 장면, 엄마를 만나 구두를 사신기는 장면은 특히 짠했어요. 완득인 엄마와 터미널에서 헤어지면서도 덥석 안질 못해요. 엄마가 먼저 ‘안아봐도 되냐’고 물어보죠. 저런 순간조차 완득이는 어른이구나 싶어 얼마나 측은했는지 몰라요.”

그는 손을 가슴에 가져가며 “아직도 완득이를 떠올리면 여기가 아프다”고 말했다. 실제 나이보다 일곱살 어린 역을 했음에도 교복이 어색하지 않았던 이유가 짐작됐다. 물론 교복 재킷 길이까지 신경쓸 정도로 물리적인 준비도 빠뜨리지 않았다. “2011년 현재 고교생의 감성을 알기 위해” 최대 10살까지 차이나는 단역 배우들의 얘기에 귀를 기울였고, “무슨 일이 있어도 스크린에 완득이가 멋있게 나오면 안된다”는 비장한 각오로 임했다.

유아인은 2003년 KBS 드라마 ‘반올림’으로 데뷔했다. 8년이란 세월 동안 “한때 팬카페 회원이 15만명에 달하는” ‘반짝인기’도 누려봤다. 소위 비주류영화에 잇따라 출연하면서 대중적 인기와는 거리가 있는 시간도 보냈다. 그 시간을 보내며 “미치도록 인기를 원했던” 그에게 전환점이 됐던 건 지난해 ‘잘금 4인방’이라는 유행어를 낳았던 드라마 ‘성균관 스캔들’. 걸오 문재신 역에 쏟아진 열광 덕에 그는 더 많은 관객과 만날 기회를 얻었다.

“한땐 ‘난 아티스트야, 내 길을 갈 뿐이야’ 하는 고집이 있었어요. TV 연기가 성에 안 찼죠. 드라마 ‘최강칠우’ 찍을 땐 매니저한테 ‘드라마 다신 안 할 거야!’라고 선언하기도 했어요.(웃음) ‘연기를 연기하고 있다’는 인공적인 느낌에 괴로웠거든요. ‘성균관 스캔들’ 을 하면서 많이 유연해진 것 같아요. 무엇보다 더 많은 관객과 만나고 싶다는 갈증이 해소됐죠. 제작자나 투자자가 배우 유아인을 선택할 때 부담을 덜 가질 수 있다는 점도 기쁘고요.”

글=기선민 기자
사진=권혁재 사진전문기자
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