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Entertainment

Hellbound’s Yoo Ah-in feels ‘empowered’ by global interest in Korean content

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Hellboundâs Yoo Ah-in feels âempoweredâ by global interest in  Korean content
star Yoo Ah-in plays a charismatic cult leader in the Netflix supernatural-horror series.
Netflix

Hellbound director Yeon Sang-ho learned his lead star Yoo Ah-in was going to be part of his supernatural horror series through a dream.

“In my dream, Ah-in called me and said he’s going to take the role, and then I woke up, ‘Oh no! It was a dream!’ And then, he called me after I woke up. He said he’s going to be in the show. So, I jumped (with joy) like two meters high,” director Yeon said during a recent virtual media junket for the Netflix Original K-drama. Adapted from the filmmaker’s own webtoon Hell, which he co-created with cartoonist Choi Gyu-seok, Hellbound also marked Yeon’s TV series debut.

Whether it was a true story or a fantasy like the universe he created in Hellbound, one thing is for sure, Yoo was the Train To Busan director’s first choice for the main role of Jinsu, the charismatic cult leader who adds to the chaos when all hell (literally!) breaks loose in the drama.

The actor with director Yeon Sang-ho.

Yoo, who previously won acclaim through roles in Burning, The Throne and Veteran, said he always knew he had to be part of Hellbound, but he teased the director a little bit by not responding “yes” right away.

“Yeah, we have to talk about the numbers, you know, there are conditions,” the 35-year-old actor mused. “It’s very hard for me, as Jung Jinsu, to joke around. But even before reading the script, director Yeon talked about the keywords and the big storyline, and I was totally attracted to this series.

“I’ve been acting for maybe half of my entire life and there are some of those works that just, you know, really appeal to me,” he further said.

 

Prior to its global premiere last Nov. 19, Yoo somehow had an idea that Hellbound would also appeal to the audience based on his experience during a screening at the recent Busan International Film Festival.

“I remember the audience in the front row...I remember them not moving, just staying very still and being so immersed in the story. I could feel that energy, and it was quite an experience. We say (it’s) supernatural, but it’s almost super-immersive.”

Meanwhile, asked how he felt about Hellbound coming on the heels of the colossal success of Squid Game on Netflix, he said, “It’s true that Korean content is enjoyed by many audiences around the world in a very diverse and expansive manner.”

“As an actor, I feel that it’s very encouraging and it really empowers us to create more,” he added.

He, however, noted that Hellbound has a “completely different look, mood and feel” from Squid Game and even the other Netflix K-drama hit, the female-centric action series My Name.

Nevertheless, Yoo hopes his series becomes more than a trending topic, but a future classic.

“Although I’m sure many of you will enjoy it and really love our series, I truly hope it will not be a short fad or an instant sensation, but a piece of work that will be loved for a very long time. Something that people will talk a lot about and have a lot of interpretations.”

The actor might just get his wish as Hellbound has already topped Netflix’s Global Top 10 TV (Non-English) list, rising in 71 countries immediately upon its release.

It appeared that international audiences have been held spellbound by its story about supernatural events caused by otherworldly creatures appearing out of nowhere to send people into eternal condemnation.

According to the streaming service, Hellbound recorded an accumulated 43.48 million viewing hours in just three days from its launch. It ranked No. 1 in the Top 10 list in 12 countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. It also broke into the Top 10 list in 59 countries, including India, US, France and Germany. As of writing, it’s still No. 1 on Netflix Philippines.

Meanwhile, here are more excerpts from the roundtable and presscon interviews with Yoo just before Hellbound’s successful global launch.

On working with director Yeon Sang-ho:

“It was indeed a pleasure and very enjoyable experience on set to have worked with Korea’s best director Yeon.

“The title itself is really strong. I’ve seen ‘hell’ being dealt in many different artworks before. But the title was just so strong and direct, and a universe created by the one and only director Yeon. I think I was drawn to that.”

On returning to the small screen after Chicago Typewriter (2017):

“When it comes to my attitude to the filming set or the way I give my performances, it’s not very different from shooting for a film or a drama series.

“So I would say, I don’t feel a particular way because I’m returning to the small screen after quite some time. But I do have some high hopes to be able to meet audiences worldwide through a Netflix series.

“Of course, it being a series, it gives me more screen time than in films. I hope fans worldwide will look forward to and enjoy watching me on screen.”

On positive reviews on his portrayal of a cult leader:

“At the shoot, I actually didn’t have to put that much thought into it because the script
itself was perfect already. So, I just got myself totally immersed in the script, and tried to act out what Jung Jinsu would have done and would have said. I didn’t try to come up with preparations for the character, but while I did consult with the director and talk about who Jung Jinsu would be, I just tried to immerse myself in the shoot, the storyline and the environment that director Yeon created for me.

“Also, a lot of Korean fans and viewers know that I always had short hair (or) most of the time. This time, I have longer hair and I let my hair down. I wanted to go through a change. I talked with director Yeon as well to really resemble the character Jinsu in terms of appearances, too. When I was acting, the long hair wasn’t comfortable… but I think it (gave) that mysterious kind of ambience. I think it was a good choice to let my hair down.

“Jinsu is a much bigger character than I am, I think… Also, when there’s an original (character) to a project that I’m doing, I really try my hardest to become that character because there’s a lot of feedback where people say, you don’t look like that character. But for Jinsu, people think I really resemble (him). I’m not sure that’s a compliment because he is a cult leader. But I’m happy that people are satisfied.”

(Hellbound is now streaming on Netflix.)

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