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“Beef”: Director Lee Sung-jin and actor Steven Yeun shared diverse stories

Basking in the glory of winning eight Emmys and captivating audiences worldwide, the director Lee Sung-jin and actor Steven Yeun, the two protagonists of “Beef”, shared diverse stories.

On the morning of the 2nd, an online press conference for the Netflix series “Beef” (written and directed by Lee Sung-jin) was held. The event was attended by director Lee Sung-jin and actor Steven Yeun (Korean name Yeon Sang-yeop).

“Beef” revolves around the story of a struggling contractor, Danny (Steven Yeun), and dissatisfied businesswoman Amy (Ali Wong), whose lives are disrupted by a violent driving incident. The narrative unfolds conflicts that stimulate inner dark anger. Directed, produced, and written by Korean-American filmmaker Lee Sung-jin, the series features extensive participation from Korean-American actors and production staff.

Released in April last year, the series achieved global success, consistently ranking in the top 10 most-watched Netflix shows for five consecutive weeks. It received critical acclaim for its artistic merit and the performances of the actors, sweeping various awards, including eight Emmys.

Director Lee Sung-jin expressed, “Steven Yeun and I have talked about these kinds of stories since the very beginning. I wanted to create a work that honestly illuminates the dark parts deeply hidden within ourselves. I wanted to depict a story where, by looking at each other’s darkness, characters come to understand each other.”

Continuing, he said, “I believe that when we see our inner darkness in others, it can lead to a process where we finally accept each other. Although each individual may feel differently after watching, I think many people could relate to it when I consider it from my perspective.”

Steven Yeun remarked, “I’m grateful that I could be part of this story, express such themes, and be part of a work that connects deeply across countries. It’s amazing how these moments, where different countries are profoundly connected globally, make us feel deeply connected as human beings.”

When asked about his expectations for winning an Emmy, director Lee Sung-jin humorously said, “There is a Venn diagram online that describes art. One circle is always self-doubt that torments oneself, and the adjacent circle is the unleashed narcissism. The intersection is art. I think I oscillate between those two. Even though I sometimes wonder if others are interested in my art, someday I feel like we will win all the awards. ‘Beef’ seems to have reached somewhere in the middle of that.”

Steven Yeun added, “It’s not easy to predict something like this. I just hope for these things to happen and wish for the best. I smiled and nodded because I felt that the response to how we feel and what we think was more important than what kind of work it is. We all had a lot of confidence in what we wanted to do with the story and the intentions we wanted to convey. Even in areas we couldn’t touch at the time, there was still confidence and trust.”

Reflecting on the changes after winning an Emmy, Lee Sung-jin said, “It’s just tiring. Of course, it’s great. Being recognized by the community I belong to, my colleagues, and artists I respect is a wonderful thing. It brings a very humble heart. I think about how I was when I first started, how I got here, and many thoughts come to mind.”

Steven Yeun, portraying the character Danny, a Korean-American contractor in the series, shared his perspective on the role. He said, “I thought Danny might be a character who embodies various aspects of shame that we all have. What sets Danny apart is that he is a very powerless and uncontrollable character. In situations where he feels most anxious, it’s because everything is uncontrollable and powerless, something I resonate with when I feel most anxious.”

He continued, “In reality, as an actor, when I portray a character, I have the choice as an actor. Even if I play a very powerless and out-of-control person, as an actor, I can act as if I have control. So, sometimes, I can give the feeling that I am winking at the audience within the frame. However, Danny was not a character approached in that way. Even as an actor, I, who became Danny, had to lose control and let everything go.”

He added, “As I mentioned in my acceptance speech, Andrew said, ‘Never give up on Danny.’ Perhaps giving up on Danny means giving up on ourselves. Ultimately, I think what we all want is to be understood, loved, and accepted for who we are, not just as we are. That’s what I think we all want as human beings.”

Speaking about the authenticity in portraying the identity of an immigrant through Danny, Steven Yeun said, “I know it well because I experienced it directly. I had cooperation with director Lee Sung-jin and Ali Wong, and there were many characters in our lives to refer to. It’s interesting that when we tell stories by gathering characters we referred to in our lives, it was fascinating that the stories were so similar.”

He continued, “Whether we gather specific individual experiences one by one or try to faithfully incorporate those experiences and create something beyond that, the goal was to imbue humanity and make the story, regardless of portraying specific events or stories on screen. The approach was not about necessarily incorporating specific incidents or stories on screen but to first digest and make our own things and create our stories with those. That’s what I wanted to do.”

Director Lee Sung-jin commented, “It’s hard to say whether I wanted to convey a specific message by picking it up. What we wanted was to draw honest characters. Starting with violent driving and ending with connecting mutual darkness, we certainly knew the beginning and end points. There was a clear understanding of that. In the process of drawing that, we aimed to make it as truthful as possible.”

When asked about the impact of being a Korean-American living in the United States on their creative work, director Lee Sung-jin said, “I included a lot of the answers to this question in this work. It’s not openly discussed, but organically, many characters emerge as Korean-Americans. I don’t always consciously think about such themes, but the theme itself may be deeply embedded within me. So, many aspects are included in this work, and I hope to incorporate these themes into future works and, hopefully, into films that I will create someday.”

In conclusion, Steven Yeun shared his self-evaluation as a young actor and a second-generation immigrant. He said, “When I look back on what I’ve done, I feel like I’ve come a long way. Through this process, I feel like I’ve learned a little more about who I am than before. I’m happy that, through this process, I can be accepted more as who I am and become a kinder person to myself as I gradually learn who I am. That’s what I feel.”

The Netflix series “Beef” has garnered widespread attention for its exploration of complex themes and stellar performances. The collaboration between director Lee Sung-jin and actor Steven Yeun has been hailed for bringing forth a unique and thought-provoking narrative.

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Author Nat.O
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