Gong Yoo: ‘Not a K-bubble’

Great stories will prove that South Korean content’s global popularity is here to stay, says actor Gong Yoo as he and co-star Bae Doona promote their latest, ‘The Silent Sea’

There are few things that are worth leaving the warmth of one’s bed on a freezing December morning. Speaking to South Korea’s popular star, Gong Yoo, is one of them.

While the announcement of any project with the actor is met with excitement, this December is ‘Yooltide’ for fans as they eagerly await the release of the sci-fi thriller The Silent Sea, the actor’s third project this year after Seobok and a cameo in Squid Game.

Gong Yoo | Photo Credit: Netflix

Gong Yoo’s smile, as he greets me on the Zoom call, along with co-star Bae Doona, is warm and reassuring. A household name, the 42-year-old is, by his own admission, a ‘reluctant celebrity’. He made his social media debut on Instagram only in December this year; it marked his 20 years in showbiz and gained a million followers within just a few hours of his first uncaptioned post of a squid!

Drawn to dystopian stories

“I am extremely grateful for all the attention and anticipation for my work, but I will admit that sometimes it does put pressure on me,” he begins. “Honestly speaking, I tend to be someone who follows my own heart and is drawn to and chooses productions that resonate with me.” Gong Yoo answers with humility to my observation that fans have been eagerly awaiting The Silent Sea. Adapted by director Choi Hang-Yong from his 2014 short film, The Sea of Tranquility, The Silent Sea is set in a near-distant future. As the earth’s water reserves dry up, a specialist team embarks on a dangerous mission to the moon to retrieve samples from the Balhae Base station for the survival of humanity.

Bollywood on the sets

  • Incidentally, at the virtual press conference, we learned that there was much song and dance on the sets of The Silent Sea. Singer and actor Lee Joon (My Father is Strange) who plays Capt Ryu shared how they used to unwind after being suspended from cable wires, wearing heavy spacesuits and backpacks and the intense shooting. “It was almost like we were in a Bollywood movie. Unfortunately, we don’t show off any of our moves in the series. But when the cameras were not rolling, we just danced.”

From his breakout role in the 2007 gender-bender drama, The Coffee Prince, to playing the immortal Goblin, in 2016’s most popular series The Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, Gong Yoo is known to be cautious with scripts and projects. He also played an activist in the crime thriller The Silenced (2011) and the father trying to save his daughter and others in the zombie apocalyptic, Train To Busan (2016). Now he plays Captain Han Yoon Jae, leading the space mission in The Silent Sea. “I tend to be drawn to original and new productions. The Silent Sea fell into that category and it’s also a genre that we haven’t explored much in Korea or Asia as well and that was the challenge that stood out for me,” the actor admits. “I have for long been drawn to dystopian stories and this was one such.”

From realism to sci-fi expert

Meanwhile, Bae Doona plays astrobiologist Song Ji An in the film. While she is no stranger to the world of sci-fi – she has headlined Wachowski Films such as Sense8, Jupiter Ascending and Cloud Atlas – the actor admits she isn’t an expert in the genre. “Oddly, during the first decade since my debut, before Cloud Atlas, I was far from being a sci-fi expert; I was what you call a realism expert,” she laughs. The actor had credited director Bong Joon-ho with whom she did two projects, Barking Dogs Never Bite ( 2000) and The Host (2006), for encouraging her to her pursue acting.

More than a trend

Although their personalities and ideologies clash in the thriller as they find themselves in space, both Bae Doona and Gong Yoo share an easy camaraderie off-screen. There is a sense of pride as they applaud the global popularity and mainstreaming of Korean content as it breaks international viewing records. Would this translate as more Asian representation with an impact on the stories being told? Gong Yoo gives the answer some thought. “It is important to remember that there can be a bubble. In order that it is not temporary and a one-time wonder, but something that can be sustained, we must continue to create great stories from Korea. It’s a great time to be an actor.”

Bae Doona | Photo Credit: Netflix

Bae Doona agrees. “I am the happiest when I am part of a Korean production. But when shows like Kingdom, Squid Game, Hellbound, which didn’t even have me in it, do well, that brings me immense joy. I am proud of the recognition given to my favourite actor Youn Yuh-jung (who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in Minari this year). It could well be a trend but even then, the fact is that Korea is a very small country and this is an inspiring time for us actors.” As for Gong Yoo, while it may be a while till we see him back in India after his incognito visit when filming Finding Mr Destiny in 2010, fans are hoping this Christmas project will check all their boxes.

The Silent Sea drops on December 24 on Netflix

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