Actor Gong Yoo soars in 2016

December 19, 2016

SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) — In the world of show business, 2016 was the year of Gong Yoo.

The 37-year-old South Korean actor, who is known to be cautious and private in real life, became the subject of many a headline as his works went from one hit to another.

Until this year, Gong was best known for his breakout role in the 2007 hit TV series “The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince,” which told the love story of a food empire mogul and a tomboyish woman. Other noticeable works in his career included the 2011 film “The Crucible” in which he played an art teacher who exposes the physical and sexual abuse of deaf children at his school.

Gong’s choice of works this year elevated his status to a whole new level.

To open the year, he starred in the romance film “A Man and a Woman” as a troubled architect who finds himself irresistibly drawn to a stranger in the snow-covered forests of Finland.

Although the movie wasn’t a commercial success, he later said in an interview that acting opposite iconic South Korean actress Jeon Do-yeon was like taking expensive private tutorials in acting.

“I was often hard on myself, but at the same time, I built my confidence,” he said of his time with Jeon.

This image shows Gong Yoo in the zombie thriller "Train to Busan."

This image shows Gong Yoo in the zombie thriller “Train to Busan.”

Come summer, things started to roll.

“Train to Busan,” a zombie thriller about a group of train passengers fighting a massive virus outbreak, drew an audience of 11.56 million, with Gong in the lead role. An audience of 10 million is considered a huge commercial success in South Korea, and “Train to Busan” became the only movie to pass that mark this year.

In the film, Gong portrayed a fund manager who boards a train with his daughter to take her to her mother in Busan, a port city in the country’s southeast. The actor won positive reviews for his successful delivery of the character’s transformation from a self-centered human being into a selfless father.

The film premiered in the Midnight Screenings section at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and went on to receive the best director and special effects awards at the 49th Sitges Film Festival in Spain in October.

For his third film of the year, Gong took on the role of a charismatic independence fighter in the period thriller “The Age of Shadows.”

Set in the early 20th century, Gong played a leader of a group of undercover independence fighters who collude with a Korean-born Japanese police officer to overthrow the Japanese colonial government in Korea.

This image shows Gong Yoo (2nd from L) in "The Age of Shadows."

This image shows Gong Yoo (2nd from L) in “The Age of Shadows.”


Gong recalled filming with veteran actor Song Kang-ho and acclaimed director Kim Jee-woon as an overwhelming experience.

“At first, I was under so much pressure not to ruin the work of these two people that my body tensed up when I acted, just like it did when I was a rookie,” he said in the same interview.

“The Age of Shadows” drew 7.5 million moviegoers to cinemas this fall. It was invited to various international film festivals, including those in Venice and Toronto, and described by U.S. entertainment weekly Variety as a “rousing gem” without “an ounce of fat.”

To wrap up the year, Gong chose the TV series “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.” The fantasy-romance on tvN posted a record 12.9 percent in viewership ratings during its sixth episode Saturday, which is considered exceptionally high for a program on a cable channel.

Penned by star writer Kim Eun-sook, the series tells the story of a goblin (Gong) under the spell of eternal life who after living 939 years meets the human bride destined to pull the sword from his chest.

In a promotional press conference held last month, Kim said it took her five years to cast Gong in one her works.

“I was repeatedly rejected (by Gong) so I was a bit shy to ask him again, but this time he gave a very quick response,” said the writer of the megahit TV series “Descendants of the Sun.”

“He gave me a wonderful response that stunned me,” she said with obvious delight, adding that he replied in a text message from Hawaii: “Should you be alright with such a timid and fainthearted goblin as me, I will do it.”

This compilation of images shows still cuts from "Guardian: The Lonely and Great God."

This compilation of images shows still cuts from “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.”