Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Nuanced Acting of Yoo Ah In

I wrote this for a Soompi thread because we are rewatching and taking another look at Secret Love Affair. I don't usually put thread posts here, but since it took a while to write, I wanted it here so I could find it again.

The scene in the garage at the end of episode 3 was very powerful for me and stuck with me as a high point. It's one of the few scenes I can tell you off the top of my head which episode it is from, in fact. As I rewatch it, I think a lot of the reason is the body language and complex facial expressions of Yoo Ah In. No wooden faces for him. He stands in the entrance to the garage, but he's not just standing there. He's off balance, ready to move, full of potential energy. He looks dangerous to me, like a commando all psyched up ready to blow up a bridge. But when he walks up to Hye-won he becomes a little diffident, looks down, and opens and shuts his mouth without being able to say anything.

She asks him if he grew, and his expression lightens, he looks uncertain, and he says, “I do think I changed a bit,” with raised eyebrows and half a smile. When she asks if he read the book he raises his head higher and looks more assertive but withdrawn and a little hurt. This expression is hard to read but it is key because it shows the change in him. He's been through a lot and has been in hiding, but now he's screwed up his courage and decided to go fight for a life with her. But the expression is fleeting because he knows he has to be careful or she'll blow him off, so he's holding back. She tries to put him in his place, like he's a child - a student of hers - and questions him, and he goes back to diffidence. But when she asks, “how was it?” and makes him think, his mind goes to a painful spot. He goes through several expressions here; he purses his lips, then wrinkles his chin and moves his jaw sideways and his voice breaks. He is honest and admits he had given up but he was swayed. And using only his eyes he gives her the look of a dead man, because he knows he wants her but can't have her.

She says she can tell he's struggling and he gives an obvious lie that he's incredibly fine, grimacing to keep from breaking down. Then tipping his head up to look down his nose at her, he grasps at his pride to tell her not to send him anything again. Now he finds his feet. When she tells him not to lie to his teacher she can't disconcert him any more. With confidence he answers, “Yes it's a lie, but it doesn't matter.” His head is still tipped up and he cracks his jaw; only his eyes show he's keeping his distance but miserable. She puts her hand on his face for comfort and he is overcome and lets her at first, but then the corner of his mouth twitches, and pained, he says, “don't,” because it's a mixed signal. If she thinks she can pretend there's no attraction by treating him as a child she shouldn't have touched him, because it calls forth a response and he decides to cut the pretense and grabs her in a hug.

His forehead furrows and his eyebrows angle up as he squeezes her and then lets go and looks at her searchingly for a moment. This is a really memorable moment, and an important moment where he, full of kinetic energy, tips over the edge and gives the rest of the drama its velocity. Right here he gives her a chance to object if she wants to, but she evidently gives him an “I want you too” kind of look and he holds her by the neck and kisses her hard, even when she pushes back a minute later. IMO she got more than she bargained for and was surprised by the intensity. She didn't understand what she was stirring up. She gasps once and I don't know how she could with his full lips pressing so hard, but I bet she got a wet face because when they break apart, both gasping for breath, his lips are shiny. And he has a kind of “what was that?” expression.

The whole scene took only about three minutes and he went through 17 different identifiable expressions that I catalogued above; but I watched the whole thing in one go trying to count all the times he changed expression, and it was at least 25. If he doesn't get all the acting awards there are this year, it will be a gross miscarriage of justice. He carries you through so many nuances of meaning, and it all goes by so fast you can miss it if you are not paying attention. I can't imagine doing it on cue, several times, over and over for the camera. With a lot of actors you would be lucky to get one expression a minute and you would have gotten 1) Oh, hi. 2) Yes, it's a lie. 3) Don't touch my face because now I want to kiss you. This drama finished its run in the middle of May and now it's the middle of September, so that's four months. Most dramas I watch, I enjoy while I am watching them but the impression fades away before too long. This is one of the few that has stayed with me. And a big reason is Yoo Ah In's acting.