Korean Actor in Focus: Ryoo Seung-Beom

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Pretty boys are over! Again and again, Asian audiences are choosing quality acting over smooth skin and perfect hair, and the latest star to join these ranks is Ryoo Seung-Beom. Like Hong Kong’s Anthony Wong or China’s Huang Bo, RSB has gone from being just another character actor with a funny-looking mug to becoming one of the most popular stars in the Korean heavens. Brother of director Ryoo Seung-Wan (The Berlin File), RSB was a high school drop-out going nowhere fast until he turned 16 and he and his brother shot four short low budget action movies. Rough and raucous, they were packaged as a feature film called Die Bad, which burst onto the 2000 film festival circuit like a Molotov cocktail.

Die Bad got the Ryoo brothers noticed, and earned RSB the minor part of a waiter who wants to be a musician in Waikiki Brothers (2001), and then he won “Best New Actor” for his role in the TV drama Wonderful Days. After that came more supporting roles as bad guys, bullies, and best friends, as well as the start of his DJ career, spinning as DJ Ryoo. And, of course, he was the voice of Aachi in the animated, post-poop-alyptic, sci fi cult classic Aachi & Ssipak (2006), one of the greatest animated feature films of our times.

RSB proved that he could work with directors who weren’t his brother, but it was two projects with his brother that took him to the next level. He played the lead in the wu xia superhero flick Arahan (2004) which did okay business but mostly showed that he could helm a film. Then came Crying Fist (2005) and his performance as the violent, explosive young boxer earned him respect from critics who said he even overshadowed his co-star, Korea’s favorite thespian, Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy). He cemented his status with his performance as a flashy, sleazy, gutter-crawling drug dealer in Bloody Tie (2006) which earned him multiple “Best Actor” nominations and won him the Baeksang Award for his performance.

Since then, he’s become one of the hottest young stars in Korea, appearing in everything from The Servant (2010) to The Suicide Forecast (2011), and earning rave reviews for his role as an insanely corrupt prosecutor in his brother’s 2010 movie The Unjust. This year the Ryoo brothers have just scored the biggest box office success of their careers with The Berlin File, the year’s second-highest grossing film in Korea for which Ryoo Seung-Beom’s performance as a North Korean fixer has been singled out by critics from The Hollywood Reporter to the New York Times. We’re not saying he’s ugly, but RSB is welcome proof that you don’t just need six-pack abs and a pretty boy face to become a star. You can also do it by being one hell of an actor.