Late-Blooming Actor Byun Hee-bong Dies at 81

  • By Shin Jeong-sun

    September 19, 2023 12:42

    Veteran actor Byun Hee-bong, who became a late-blooming star in the fold of Bong Jon-ho, died on Monday at the age of 81. He had been battling pancreatic cancer for several years.
    Born in Jangseong, South Jeolla Province in 1942, Byun began his career as a voice actor at broadcaster MBC in 1965 and found late fame in Bong Joon-ho's hits "Memories of Murder" (2003) and "The Host" (2006).
    He played various parts on TV over the decades but did not leave a lasting footprint in cinema until he was discovered by Bong. The academy-award-winning director recalled that he was deeply impressed as a child by Byun's performance as the head of a religious cult in a TV police drama.
    Actor Byun Hee-bong' memorial altar at Samsung Medical Center in Seoul on Monday /Newsis
    Bong told the actor that he wrote his feature film "Barking Dogs Never Bite" (2000) with a character for him in mind. The role was a bizarre apartment security guard who enjoys eating dog meat. Byun said he accepted the role just as he was contemplating quitting acting as it was difficult for him to make ends meet in the Asian financial crisis.
    He ended up appearing in six of Bong's movies including "Okja" (2017). Byun was 75 when he went to the Cannes Film Festival for the CGI extravaganza. When he received his first standing ovation, Byun said, "It felt like all of the years of hardship had melted away like snow." He added his acting career blossomed late "like a rare flower on an old barren tree."
    "Byun has a strong charisma that nobody can imitate. His eyes and unique voice are simply outstanding," Bong told the Chosun Ilbo some years ago.
    Byun won best supporting actor at the 2006 Blue Dragon Awards and was awarded the Eungwan medal, the country's second-highest order of cultural merit, in 2020.
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