Yoo Jae-myung thanks his plain face for his acting success
The narrative of crime thriller “Voice of Silence” will turn audiences' expectations upside down as the protagonists precariously ride a thin line between good and evil. In particular, the ending will leave the audience members with much to think about, and that’s also what actor Yoo Jae-myung wanted to achieve through his character Chang-bok.
The film spotlights the usually inconspicuous Chang-bok and Tae-in—subcontractors employed by hit men to bury their victims. Although they may be defined as criminals, the characters themselves are just ordinary people who often show their empathic sides. When these mundane characters unintentionally become kidnappers in a twist of fate, the film takes a path to an ending that’s never been seen before in a Korean film.
“Chang-bok is the one who leads the story,” Yoo said at an interview with the press at a cafe in Samcheong-dong in central Seoul on Tuesday. “Since Tae-in doesn’t talk, Chang-bok balances that out by talking excessively. I wanted Chang-bok to be portrayed as a cute, naïve—no, not naïve—but someone people would have most likely encountered before. It may be vague, but I wanted to portray plainness.
“Although they’re involved in a crime ring, they’re not bad people,” Yoo continued. “They just diligently do the work that’s given to them.”
Chang-bok and Tae-in move in a pair to fulfill each other’s deficiencies: Chang-bok does all the talking for Tae-in, and Tae-in sometimes helps Chang-bok since he walks with a limp.
As one had to act without any dialogue while the other had pages after pages to memorize, the two actors had contrasting concerns for the film.
“I had to practice a lot, and it’s difficult when you have so many lines to cover,” Yoo said. “But what Chang-bok says isn’t particularly important. [What he says to Tae-in] is similar to a parent’s nagging, like ‘why can’t you change that, why aren’t you doing as I told you to, you have to be thankful for what you have, you should be content with your life and make the best out of what’s given to you. They work together, eat ramyeon together and [basically] spend their days together. Chang-bok’s like a father, a neighbor, a brother to Tae-in.”
However, while Chang-bok meets a different fate than Tae-in, the actor thinks it was the perfect ending for his character.
“In life, one’s death or misfortunes are not foretold,” Yoo said. “To Chang-bok who lives every day to his best ability, his words came back to him—if you covet something that’s not yours, you will fall into a hellhole. I think he showed that, [quite] literally, so I think it was a perfect fit [for him].
“I think the movie’s ending was satisfactory too,” Yoo said. “I think, when the film is released, a discussion will be raised about this ending, and I really look forward to that. [Some might say] it’s woeful, but others might say it’s hopeful. From Tae-in’s inexplicable expression [at the end], that’s what I believe is the message of this story.”
When asked whether or not he believed Chang-bok was evil, the actor said that he didn’t know.
“It’s a crime to take care of the bodies, but they did not commit the murders,” he said. “[Along the same line] they didn’t abduct the child. They were just swept along in this case—they’re passive, far from being autonomous, and as I judge and rationalize [over Chang-bok] the line between the good and the evil is ambiguous in our lives. We make choices every day and they may be conscientious, virtuous or criminal, but how are these actions defined in our lives? I believe that’s why director Hong Eu-jung made this kind of film. We can’t answer such questions, but maybe show how such characters [on the edge] live through it."
The film is highly anticipated as it is one of the first to be released after social distancing measures have been scaled down to Level 1, so Yoo hopes audiences will make time to watch it in theaters.
"I think [what Covid-19] has made us realize is how wonderful it is to be able to see a film in theaters," Yoo said. "In the other interview I did, I described our film as 'having a drink in the middle of the day in springtime.' There are days when the sky is distinctively clear, words flow from your mouth, and you become mellow. The film, unlike its dark tale, contains bright, vivid colors and is the kind that makes people want to see the film again and again and change their stance every time they see it."
Despite now being recognized as one of the most talented actors in the industry, Yoo’s fame is relatively newfound. After spending 20 years in the theater industry, Yoo made his television debut through the series “Reply 1988” (2015) on tvN, and has since then portrayed some of the most iconic characters of all time, such as prosecutor Lee Chang-jun in the mega-popular drama series “Stranger” (2017) in tvN and most recently the food conglomerate CEO Jang Dae-hee in “Itaewon Class” earlier this year.
“When I took on the role of Jang Dae-hee, there were some concerns from those around me,” Yoo said. “No matter how old I look, I wasn’t nearly old enough to play a character in his sixties, and moreover, he was the villain. But he was attractive to me because he looked so lonely. The majority of the CEOs portrayed in Korea are [relatively similar] and sometimes it seemed to me that there was only one kind of CEO character in Korean narratives. I wanted to make my own kind of CEO.
“As for the role of Lee Chang-jun, all the gray hairs you see now grew from playing that role,” Yoo said. “The series was such a good story, and I wanted to do well, but I didn’t know how, so I just practiced, practiced and practiced. And one day I opened my eyes and it had become my representative role.”
Despite all the practice, the actor never anticipated his roles would be so well received.
“I think I have that kind of [plain] face that can portray various kind of roles, and that’s why a wide range of characters are offered to me,” Yoo said. “I don’t know if this is the right description, but I was sucked into the theater like a black hole ever since I was 20 years old and spent the next two decades in the practice rooms, stages and drinking with my co-workers. Rather than having a clear purpose or dogma over what kind of actor I wanted to be, like a midsummer night's dream, I built and tore down the stories together with my fellow actors again and again until I became the actor I am today. And I want to [continue] to live like that in the future as well. Sure, I need a purpose and a motive but I will always think of my current project as if it were my last, and I think it’s the wisest to think of what I want to do next after it’s all over.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]