Yoon Kye-sang finds his authentic self through shape-shifting role in 'Spiritwalker' - Korea Times
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Yoon Kye-sang finds his authentic self through shape-shifting role in 'Spiritwalker'

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Actor Yoon Kye-sang / ABO Entertainment
Actor Yoon Kye-sang / ABO Entertainment

Singer-turned-actor slips into new role as spy agent who loses memory, swaps bodies

By Kwak Yeon-soo

Yoon Kye-sang survived the pressure of fame as a member of the now disbanded boy band, g.o.d, from the late 1990s to early 2000s, along with the adoration of his fans, self-identified as "Kye-sang's wives." After leaving the group in 2004, he has forged an acting career and since then has juggled both blockbusters and lower-budget projects.

Of the nearly 20 movies he has starred in, he is probably best known for his portrayal of Yanbian gangster Jang Chen in "The Outlaws" (2017). As a mature actor, Yoon now returns as a tough and action-oriented character in "Spiritwalker."

Asked if he had difficulty finding work following his riveting performance in "The Outlaws," Yoon said that he didn't know Jang Chen was so widely loved by the public.

"Now that I got this question a lot, I finally realize it's time to believe that there was a big impression on the audience," he said during an interview with The Korea Times via Zoom, Wednesday.

He said that "Spiritwalker" cemented a big shift in how he takes on roles. "It used to be about challenging expectations and trying something new to keep myself fresh. But now I have a bigger desire to take on roles that resonate with me," he said.

In the upcoming fantasy action film, Yoon plays I-an, an intelligence agent who struggles with memory loss after a car accident and subsequently wakes up in a different body every 12 hours.

The film delicately follows the emotional journey I-an goes through, from where he barely recognizes himself to finding his authentic self.

As he attempts to make his way back to his own body, I-an finds out that he is at the center of a secret drug-smuggling scheme and a spy agency is in pursuit of him. The different characters his spirit enters are, in fact, connected to some extent, as they are all involved in corruption.

A scene from the film,
A scene from the film, "Spiritwalker" / Courtesy of Megabox Plus M

Even before its release, the film has received critical acclaim at film festivals around the world, including the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival in Spain, the Mayhem Film Festival in the U.K. and the Hawaii International Film Festival in the U.S. It also won the Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema at this year's New York Asian Film Festival.

The actor recalled that he found the script incredibly difficult. "The storyline of a man whose spirit is moving from body to body and getting closer to the truth seemed very complex, but fascinating. I think the final product came out much better than how I had imagined," he said.

Continuing, he shared the most difficult thing to portray about the character. "The fact that I wake up in a different body without knowing who I am makes me feel really insecure. It was kind of a painful thing to experience when I was working. It's not who I am," Yoon said. "So I just depended on my instincts and discussed the portrayal with other cast members who had to perform dual roles because I-an's soul enters them."

The film has no shortage of action, including car chases, shootouts and fist fights. Yoon presents a high level of action skills and realism in dangerous stunt scenes.

Yoon said that he practiced martial arts for two to three months to look like an elite agent.

"A lot of hard work went into the bare-knuckle fighting scenes. The car chase scene was especially challenging because the person who was driving the car sat on top of the car and I had no control over the vehicle. He scared the hell out of me. Overall, I acted as if my life depended on it. But I'm 43 now, and it's just brutal," he said with a laugh.

As an actor who is visibly tapped into the specific needs of the project, Yoon always tries to reinvent the character with his own interpretation. "I desperately seek to embody the character in each project," he said.

A scene from the film,
A scene from the film, "Spiritwalker" / Courtesy of Megabox Plus M

Yoon also expressed excitement about the U.S. version of the film, which will be remade by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, known for producing action blockbusters "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers." "I hope Keanu Reeves takes on my role in the U.S remake. His image and style fit well with the character," he said.

The singer-turned-actor discussed the message of the film, which throws up a question that everybody must reckon with: "Who am I?"

"It's a topic I'm obsessed with these days: 'Who am I, where are we and what are we meant to do?' I feel like I have never lived in the present. These past years, I was either stuck in the past or worrying about the future. I just want to live in the moment," he said.

"I used to be in a phase where I overthought how to make a good impression and show others my attractive side. However, now I feel like I'm appreciated more when I show my authentic self," he added.

Regarding his surprise marriage announcement in August, Yoon said he feels emotionally secure after meeting his life partner.

"After marriage, I definitely have less worries and anxieties. Instead of worrying about things and suffering all alone, I just try to go out, talk to others and work harder. I'm very happy and feel more responsible," he said.

"Spiritwalker" will hit local screens on Nov. 24.

Kwak Yeon-soo yeons.kwak@koreatimes.co.kr

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