“But if you go to Korea, the characters are just humans because they’re not thinking about it like that"
Steven Yeun has discussed how Hollywood portrays Asians compared to Korea.
Referencing his new South Korean film Burning, Yeun said he portrayed a person, not an Asian. “I wasn’t the Asian American in that group of characters,” he said. “I wasn’t the plucky nice guy. I wasn’t the tech-dude or the person that needed to serve some sort of plot device. I was just Ben.”
Yeun criticised Hollywood for portraying Asians from the perspective of white people. “It’s been like, ‘Here’s what an Asian person looks like to a majority white audience,’” he said. “But if you go to Korea, the characters are just humans because they’re not thinking about it like that. That’s something that I was made aware of [with Burning], which was really wonderful for me to know. I didn’t have to represent all Asians. I could just represent myself.”
Now when Yeun goes to Korea, he feels more connected.
“These days I feel my otherness in every situation,” the Korean American actor said. “If I go to Korea, there are reminders that I’m not fully Korean. I can speak it – and I look it there – but there are cultural and historical things that I don’t have because I wasn’t necessarily raised there. They really form the identity of being Korean and I’m missing parts of those.”
“You can either war against it and be really afraid or you can just accept it and go with it. I think it’s been an invaluable tool to know the loneliness of human beings.”
One of Yuen’s biggest roles was undoubtedly on hit TV show Walking Dead, on which he appeared on from 2010 to 2016. Whilst his departure was quite a shock for fans, Yeun said he felt the time was right.
“I actually was [ready to go],” he admits. “That show is one of the greater experiences of my life. I got to work with such incredible people and I got to experience life in its ups and downs in every facet, so it’s very integral to my being. But at that moment, it felt very, very appropriate to leave – not because I wanted to go, not because they wanted me to – just that’s when my character’s story was done. There’s nothing greater in my opinion than someone telling you that there’s an end to something.”
“I had some angst about leaving The Walking Dead,” he added. “I got to experience the extreme ups as well as what it’s like when you might not be relevant anymore. But Burning has really allowed me to feel what it’s like when nothing defines you.”