Media is defined by moments. Impactful but brief, a string of television climaxes, cinematic showstoppers and even the unhinged platform of modern podcasts follow one after another in a cycle of societal relevance. No different than the media they compose, celebrities fuel this same craving with the projects they pursue.
Careers concocted in performance become identities, as acting talents are often associated with the characters they create. Some actors are able to escape the personal servitude they owe to their own entertainment, but it’s rare to find an actor who continues to evolve. On top of that, it’s even rarer to find a creative person expanding their horizons while continuing to hold onto the past that shaped them.
Steven Yeun, a man who made a name for himself in fending off the undead while being a young face in Korean representation in mainstream fare, is one of these rare finds.
Breaking into the public eye with his performance as Glen Rhee on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” it would take six years and 81 episodes for Yeun to exit the zombified story. In a swift and eye-popping scene of bat brutality, the end of Glen would be met by a stunned audience as fans continued to rave about the character’s exit months after his final appearance.
As reported by Looper, Yeun was saddened by the departure of both himself and his character but favored a more optimistic perspective on what this change would allow. Seeing Glen and his foils as a creative canvas, every empty space seemed full. With no room to expand the bounds of his performance, Yeun looked toward his own career as a means of evolution.
Leaving with an audience built of undead socialites, Yeun would take the culture-shaping charisma that he brought to the post-apocalyptic narrative into his next production. In an opportunity to engross his Korean roots, Yeun attached himself to the directing masterclass of director Bong Joon-ho in the 2017 project “Okja.” In a film that tackled themes of industrialization and capitalism, his character would serve as the translator between American conglomeration and its invasion of the Korean experience.
Having been born in Seoul, South Korea, but raised in America, this role would be a parallel to the actor’s own career, as he continued to swap between American and Korean projects following the success of “Okja.”
In 2018, an acting double header would link these two social spheres, as he would appear in the American comedy “Sorry to Bother You” in January and the Korean drama “Burning” in October. Both successes in their own right, his work would prove pivotal to the fusion of Asian and American mediascapes but remained tethered to a secondary standing.
Building his career under the guidance of supporting roles, Yeun’s next film would serve to challenge this norm. Released in 2020, the A24-produced film “Minari” would be reflective of his own past, as the movie followed an immigrant Korean family trying to find success in rural Arkansas, with Yeun as the film’s male lead. A change that would enhance the very background he had used to mold his career, “Minari” would soon be remembered for the struggle it displayed and the landmarks it erected.
In accordance with the 2021 Oscars, Yeun would earn a best actor nomination for his work in the drama. A moment for both himself and the industry, he would become the first Asian actor to ever be nominated in the category. Turning the tides on both a personal and global level, this wave of genre-shifting would continue as he sought to tackle the modern agenda of superhero storytelling.
In a project that aligned closer to Amazon’s “The Boys” than the standard Marvel popcorn flick, Yeun would turn to voice acting in the Amazon production of “Invincible,” an animated adaptation of a comic book of the same title.
Defined by grit and blood, with vivid violence wrapped in a ball of youth angst, Yeun’s character Mark Grayson is the son of a Superman-styled figure in Omni-Man, who turns out to be a not-so-morally aligned figure as the role would presume. By bending the standards for how these stories could be told, the show would garner critical approval, earning a second season that’s set to release at the end of this year, as reported by Variety.
At this point, Yeun could have simply stopped in his tracks. An Oscar nominee, a superhero icon, the face of Korean-American representation in the arts and a follower of constant evolution are standards far beyond the levels of his past Glen archetype. Despite this endless drive, he has yet to tire, as his recent Netflix miniseries has dominated the streamer’s viewership standings since its release in early April.
Titled "Beef," the show earned over 70 million hours viewed as of April 18, as reported by Deadline. Defined by a feud between Asian icons in comedian Ali Wong and Yeun himself, the show provides a new tang to the same morals the actor had conveyed in his previous projects. Showing generational conflict among a range of Asian demographics, “Beef” is one of Yeun’s most inventive projects to date.
With little rest given from one story to the next, Steven Yeun is a man of moments, making his first in television. After that, it would be the meshing of cultural exploitation and its deliverance into the mainstream agenda that would lead to his next. An Oscar nominee, Yeun would open doors to Asian talent globally, showing a new era of artistry in the industry. Now that his name has become widely known, he’ll return to his former hunting grounds in an upcoming Bong Joon-ho project, as reported by Variety.
In finding roots through his past, Yeun has made a future in progression. Impactful roles and exciting material are the draws for the Seoul-born native, but what lies ahead can only be set by his course. Although unknown, Yeun’s future remains poised for creativity. An ideal that is sure to create as many successes as it will moments for both the actor and the business he continues to evolve.
Source Photo: Courtesy of Netflix
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