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Steven Yeun takes Golden Globes’ Best Actor, a first for an actor of Korean descent

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Steven Yeun, winner for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or a Motion Picture Made for Television for ″Beef,″ poses with the award at the 81st Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, on Monday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]
Steven Yeun, winner for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or a Motion Picture Made for Television for ″Beef,″ poses with the award at the 81st Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, on Monday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

Steven Yeun won Best Actor for his role in Netflix original “Beef” at the 81st Golden Globe Awards Monday, becoming the first actor of Korean descent to take the big honor at one of the most prestigious film festivities in the world.

Created and directed by Korean American Lee Sung-jin, the 10-episode series features a notably Asian American ensemble cast, with Ali Wong playing the second lead character and actors Joseph Lee, Young Mazino, David Choe and Patti Yasutake in supporting roles.

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Yeun won the Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television award at the 81st Golden Globes held Monday, becoming the first actor of Korean descent to win a Best Actor award in any category at the Golden Globes. Netflix original series “Squid Game” actor O Yeong-su in 2022 won an award for Best Supporting Actor.

“The story I usually tell to myself is one of isolation and separateness — and then you come up here and you have this moment and you can only just think about everyone else,” Yeun said during his acceptance speech. “I am just so thankful. I am just the recipient of a long line of compassionate love and protection and goodwill. So I appreciate this.”

Steven Yeun plays Danny Cho, a disgruntled Korean American contractor in the Netflix original series ″Beef″ [NETFLIX]
Steven Yeun plays Danny Cho, a disgruntled Korean American contractor in the Netflix original series ″Beef″ [NETFLIX]

Yeun played one of the two lead characters in “Beef,” Danny Cho, in a story about two Asian Americans who get into a prolonged altercation with each other. The show has been praised for its whip-smart dialogue, comical yet dark tone and socially relevant themes such as detachment and loneliness, racial and class warfare and the increasing pressure on individuals to succeed in a cutthroat society.

“Beef” also led to a night of triumph for Asian Americans alike, namely its co-lead actor Wong who won the Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or a Motion Picture Made for Television — another first for a female actor of Asian descent.

“Beef” itself won Best Television Limited Series, Anthology Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television at the ceremony.

From left, actor Steven Yeun, writer and director Lee Sung-jin and actor Ali Wong, winners of Golden Globes for Netflix series ″Beef,″ pose in the press room during the 81st Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on Monday. [AFP/YONHAP]
From left, actor Steven Yeun, writer and director Lee Sung-jin and actor Ali Wong, winners of Golden Globes for Netflix series ″Beef,″ pose in the press room during the 81st Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on Monday. [YONHAP]

“You know, our show is actually based on a real road rage incident that actually happened to me, so I’d be remiss not to thank that driver,” director Lee said as he accepted the award. “Sir, I hope you honk and yell and inspire others for years to come.”

Lee also hinted at a continuation of the story of “Beef” during the Golden Globes event.

“We always pitched the season to buyers as an anthology series,” Lee said. “There was always going to be new characters. Whether it stays limited or turns as an anthology or we continue existing, that’s really up to Netflix. But whatever they decide, I’m definitely ready.”

Monday’s Golden Globe win means that Yeun and the “Beef” team are strong contenders for additional trophies at the 75th Emmy Awards, which takes place later this month on Jan. 15. Yeun is already nominated for Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series, as well as Wong, Lee, Mazino and Maria Bello in acting and directing categories.

A scene from ″Beef″ [NETFLIX]
A scene from ″Beef″ [NETFLIX]

Yeun, whose Korean name is Yeun Sang-yeop, rose to prominence for playing recurring character Glenn Rhee in the AMC television series “The Walking Dead” (2010-2021). He subsequently starred in a number of critically acclaimed films such as “Okja” (2017), “Burning” (2018) and the 2020 drama film “Minari,” which earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

Wong, who started her career in stand-up comedy, ventured into television and film by starring in supporting roles in indie films and screenwriting for shows such as “Fresh Off the Boat” (2015-2020). She played opposite Korean American Randall Park in the 2019 Netflix film “Always Be My Maybe.”

Asian American talent has been infiltrating the Hollywood and Western markets in recent years, in dramas and films alike.

Malaysian actor Michelle Yeoh grabbed a Golden Globe as well as an Oscar for Best Actress last year for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022), while films with a principally Asian cast such as “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018) and “Joy Ride” (2023) did well at the box office. Although it did not win any awards, film “Past Lives” (2023), by Korean Canadian director Celine Song, also competed at this year’s Golden Globes.

BY LIM JEONG-WON [lim.jeongwon@joongang.co.kr]