Oscar winner launched his career after high school in Coquitlam

A small piece of the four Oscars won Sunday night by the Korean film Parasite was forged in the Tri-Cities.

Choi Woo-shik, the 29-year-old actor who plays the grifting son of a struggling Korean family that uses his avocation as an English tutor to infiltrate a wealthy household with bizarrely tragic consequences, grew up in Coquitlam. His family immigrated to the Tri-Cities from Korea when he was 10 years old and he graduated from Pinetree secondary school in 2008.

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Colleen Lee, who teaches Japanese at Pinetree, said she remembers Choi — called Eddy by classmates — when he took her classes in Grades 10 and 11.

Lee said Choi was a “pretty good student” who was “a pleasure to work with in class,” although she had no idea of his acting aspirations at the time.

Lee said she was watching the Oscar telecast Sunday because she’s a fan of Parasite and the film’s director, Bong Joon-ho, so she was thrilled when she saw a familiar face on stage at the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles.

 

 

“It’s a bit surreal to see someone you actually know on screen — and it was a great movie,” Lee said, adding her current students are “incredibly impressed they are studying Japanese in the same room that [Choi] did.”

In an interview Choi did on Korean television in 2012, he said he had some challenges getting used to a new culture and school system in Canada, not the least of which was his mom’s inclination to pack him kimchi, a pungent Korean staple of fermented vegetables, for lunch. 

He said when he opened the lid of his lunch container, “it was like a bomb” in the lunchroom and he told his mom to never send him to school with kimchi again.

Choi said he found comfort and camaraderie in a tight-knit group of fellow Korean students. The 14-strong contingent called themselves FF14 (Friends Forever 14).

But, Choi added, his struggles to fit into Canadian culture also made him more adaptable to be able to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an actor, even if he had no idea how he could make that happen.

It was during Choi’s first year as an arts student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby that an acting opportunity presented itself. He signed up online to audition for a role in Korea, then dropped all his classes. He said his parents weren’t thrilled at his sudden change in career path but eventually loaned him the money to fly to Korea.

The audition didn’t go well.

“I wasn’t prepared,” Choi said. “I had really poor clothing and I had no idea how to speak in front of the camera.”

Still, he showed well enough to get some encouraging words that fuelled his determination to endure more auditions as he studied Asian culture at Chung-Ang University in South Korea, because, he said, his parents wouldn’t let him take drama courses. Some of those auditions paid off in roles in Korean TV series like Living in Style and The Duo.

Choi started acting full-time in 2012, mostly in support roles, but in 2014, he started getting noticed for some of his work on the big screen, including an award for actor of the year at the 19th Busan International Film Festival for his role in the coming-of-age film Set Me Free. The same role earned him nominations and wins from several other critics and film awards the following year, as well as the popular actor award at the 2015 Korea Film Actors’ Association Awards.

His role in Parasite was also recognized with nominations as best actor at the 24th Chunsa Film Art awards and 28th Buil Film Awards. Earlier this year, the entire cast of Parasite won a Screen Actors Guild award for outstanding performance.

 

 

Sunday, Parasite won the biggest prize at the 92nd Academy Awards as best picture. It also won best international film as well as Oscars for best director and best original screenplay.

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