Gong Yoo – The South Korean Actor To Watch

Gong Yoo
Gong Yoo

Gong Yoo is one of the most renowned and recognizable actors in South Korea, as well as the world. That is for many excellent reasons. This profoundly complex and intriguing man is the greatest actor that I have had the privilege to see on screen, both big and small. Between his movies and television series, Gong Yoo is highly exclusive in the characters he chooses to portray. This allows him to use his dynamic acting skills to bring each character to life. Gong Yoo not only delves into the inner souls of these characters, which the writers and directors bring to him, Gong Yoo becomes these characters. He takes on each of these men’s mindsets and nuances and gives them a seamless representation as, he essentially becomes them. As an entertainment writer and a fan, I am entranced by this talented man’s performance for each character he portrays. Gong Yoo can convey fun, loving, clever, and witty characters as well as lonely, compassionate, and mentally and emotionally suffering characters. He can fight, wield a sword, and do fantastic action sequences, yet still be kind and caring to those whom his character loves. Watching this range of acting (many times in the same series or movie) has led me to decide that Gong Yoo is the world’s best actor.

The first work I saw of Gong Yoo’s was his internationally acclaimed series, “Goblin: The Lonely and Great God,” which has also been titled “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.” No matter the title, this is a breathtaking series that displays many of Gong Yoo’s wide range of acting abilities. Kim Eun-sook, famous for writing many of South Korea’s best dramas, pursued Gong Yoo for five years before he agreed to portray the title character. Kim Eun-sook and Gong Yoo’s collaboration of “Goblin” is a masterpiece worthy of all the awards and accolades it has received since its premiere in December 2016. Gong Yoo portrays the character of Kim Shin, a man-turned-god, who is blessed and cursed to live until he finds his “Goblin Bride,” Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun), who can remove the sword/curse from him so that he might return to nothingness. His character Kim Shin has lived for 939 years and was the General for the King’s army and fought in many battles until he came up against the biggest threat of all, the King’s own jealousy. Writer Kim Eun-sook’s powerful words describe his character as, “He clearly saw the enemy’s sword, but he didn’t see the young King’s jealousy and fear directed toward him. That was, the sharpest blade ever pointed at him.” I hope all will see these powerful words in this incredibly powerful scene and be equally awed by them. Additionally, “Goblin” has one of the most memorable and best scenes that I have ever witnessed on screen: the scene with the Goblin and Grim Reaper (Lee Dong-wook) characters walking down the middle of the street as they approach an oncoming car to rescue Ji Eun-tak, who had been kidnapped. It is spine-tinglingly magnificent. The combination of these two unlikely heroes, in their stunningly handsome attire (accompanied by the haunting song of “Round and Round” by Heize and featuring Han Soo Ji) as Kim Shin aka Goblin, literally, cuts the car in half with a sword, was mesmerizing. That scene alone is worth watching “Goblin: The Lonely and Great God,” but there are many more brilliantly written, produced, and acted scenes worthy of viewing. Between those featuring the wars and early history of Kim Shin during the Goryeo Dynasty and Goblin’s modern history, which leads up to his Goblin Bride meeting with so many wonderful comedic elements included that bring much laughter, “Goblin” is a delight for all audiences.

Before “Goblin,” Gong Yoo came to fame in the revered and beloved series “Coffee Prince.” This was the series that made Gong Yoo a well-known name within South Korea, Asia, and the rest of the world. In “Coffee Prince,” Gong Yoo played the multi-layered character of Choi Han-Kyu, who is a combination of a flirty playboy, loving son and grandson, and a man at loose-ends, uncertain what to do with his life. Between Choi Han-Kyu’s manipulative grandmother (Kim Young-ok), insightful mentor (Kim Chang-wan), and fun-loving collection of lovable co-workers at the coffee shop, “Coffee Prince” provided the best ensemble to work with providing a fun-loving, heartfelt backdrop for Gong Yoo to display his wide-range of acting talents. Everyone fell in love with the character of Choi Han-kyul. Even Gong Yoo said that every summer, he reflects back to his days working on “Coffee Prince,” as: “Coffee Prince pulled and revived my passion, which had been dying. I guess I was healed through that drama. Getting happier together and becoming passionate together. That’s why I guess I can’t forget them even more. And that’s why that drama is more meaningful.” “Coffee Prince” also set the bar high for the performance that we would come to expect from Gong Yoo. Yet, he was equally smart in not letting that one dominant role typecast him.

Reflecting on all of the Gong Yoo’s characters, at their core, these characters (at least initially) are very lonely. I believe no other actor could have portrayed these characters’ profound loneliness as nuanced as Gong Yoo portrayed them. “Goblin” was the lonely god who wandered the earth for 900 years until he found his bride. “Coffee Prince” had the happy-go-lucky Choi Han-kyul, who was desperately trying to please his grandmother and find his purpose in life, and finally, though he fought his instincts for a long time, fell in love with someone he believed to be a man (but was actually a woman) once he found a genuine connection with another person who he felt was his soulmate. Similarly, the character of Seo Seok-woo in “Train to Busan” was a divorcee who worked too much and did not spend an adequate amount of time with his daughter. Finally, the fourth character that I watched Gong Yoo portray on screen, that touched my heart, was Ki-hong in “A Man and A Woman.” Ki-hong was stuck in a marriage with an alcoholic, suicidal, and much younger wife in age and maturity. In addition, their young daughter had mental health issues, forcing Ki-hong to take care of both of them, and yet there was no one to take care of him. Gong Yoo does such a remarkable and soul-touching job of portraying these types of heart-aching, lonely men.

As with most actors, Gong Yoo is protective of his private life. But there is one relationship he has no problem displaying for all to see, his friendship with fellow actor and “Goblin” co-star Lee Dong-wook. Gong Yoo and Lee Dong-wook formed a close connection and friendship while working together on the series “Goblin: The Lonely and Great God.” From the complicated beginning of their characters’ onscreen relationship of the young King and Kim Shin to the unexpected coincidence of their characters becoming roommates, and finally, to becoming best friends, it was a beautiful friendship to witness on screen. And, the best part was that this friendship was being mirrored in real life. To this day, Gong Yoo and Lee Dong-wook regularly meet when their schedules allow them to have a drink, hang out, and talk about their lives. Genuine friendships like this are rare in life, and it is heartwarming to see two beloved actors become such great friends in real life. When Lee Dong-wook started his own talk show, “Because I Want to Talk” in December 2019, three years after “Goblin” aired, the first guest to appear on his show was no surprise. The elusively exclusive in trying to get to do interviews, Gong Yoo. It was a reflection of their closeness as friends, providing great entertainment. These two were so comfortable talking with each other from their years of friendship that viewers witnessed a very relaxed and surprisingly open Gong Yoo, who was still his playful, enduring, and charming self. Yet, even though I would not expect him to be comfortable discussing private topics of conversation during an interview, Gong Yoo was open to these. His viewers were able to witness a vulnerable and soft side not previously seen. This is a testament to the power of Gong Yoo and Lee Dong-wook’s long-standing friendship that viewers were fortunate to catch a glimpse of the personal side of Gong Yoo. They even humorously reenacted their famous “Goblin” scene of Goblin and Grim Reaper walking together to save Eun-tak, while the show’s band played the music to “Round and Round.” It was heart-melting to watch, giving me one more reason to be thankful to “Goblin”: Gong Yoo and Lee Dong-wook’s amazing friendship.

Gong Yoo is not only a talented actor, but he also has a big heart and became a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ambassador in November 2013. In the movie “Silenced” (which he starred in 2011, based on the novel “The Crucible” by Gong Ji-young about deaf students who were sexually abused by staff members while attending Gwangju Inhwa School for the Hearing Impaired), the movie raised awareness of these crimes, spotlighting how the perpetrators received minimal punishment. This led to legislative reform in the National Assembly of South Korea, where a bill named the Dogani Bill (after the film’s Korean title) was enacted in October 2011, abolishing the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors and the disabled. While acting as a special representative for UNICEF, Gong Yoo visited several countries to promote awareness of and advocate for the vulnerable situation children find themselves in third-world countries. He also traveled to Cambodia after being appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the UN Children’s Rights Agreement. Gong Yoo continues to act as an advocate for children through UNICEF. Not only does Gong Yoo support and advocate for the protection of children, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, Gong Yoo made a donation to the Community Chest to provide financial support to medical staff and low-income families affected by the pandemic. Gong Yoo has repeatedly displayed through his actions that he is kindhearted and genuinely cares for others. His generosity, compassion and empathy is extraordinary and I continue to be amazed by it.

My favorite Gong Yoo series is “Goblin,” and while I love “Coffee Prince,” I fell in love with the character of Goblin first, and he will always hold my heart. That said, I was surprised to find that ultimately my number one favorite character that Gong Yoo has portrayed is Ki-hong from the film “A Man and A Woman.” This character allowed Gong Yoo to delve deeper into the depths of emotion than any of his other characters. Ki-hong stands out as a triumph among all of Gong Yoo’s characters, as he made viewers acutely feel the pain of a man who knew such deep, aching loneliness. So much so that when he met another lonely soul, Sang-min (Jeon Do-yeon), he clung to her desperately for the physical, mental, and emotional connection and support that only they were seemingly able to provide each other. I could almost physically, as well as emotionally, feel the pull of these two sorrowful, aching hearts. Ki-hong knew that powerful, yearning loneliness and desperation to make a human connection. I am still overwhelmed by this man who longed so tenderly for love, intimacy, and human affection. While striving to be the best person he can be to those he is so closely connected to in his life. My heart broke, recognizing and empathizing with Ki-hong’s inner turmoil, pain and loneliness. Gong Yoo did a brilliant job of bringing that intense of an emotional reaction out of me as I watched the film. I have since watched “A Man and A Woman” several times as Gong Yoo’s beautifully complex portrayal needed to be viewed again to catch all the nuances displayed through his multi-layered performance. Such a reaction is rare in movies and television, which is why I cannot wait to see Gong Yoo’s acting in the next characters that he chooses to portray and why I believe Gong Yoo is the best actor in the world.

Gong Yoo has two movies premiering in 2021. The first is “Seo Bok,” a sci-fi action thriller about human cloning. Gong Yoo plays Gi Heon, a former intelligence agent. “Seo Bok” was slated to premiere in December 2020, but the release date was moved to January 2021 due to COVID-19. The second movie is “Wonderland,” a sci-fi fantasy involving a virtually simulated world with artificial intelligence and will be released later in 2021.

Additionally, Gong Yoo will be in the Netflix series “The Silent Sea,” which will start filming in 2021. So it will be a busy year for this talented actor. I eagerly await both movies and Gong Yoo’s next series to see what new talents Gong Yoo has to reveal to us through these phenomenal characters.

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