Two decades with JEON Do-yeon
Jul 25, 2017
- Writerby KIM Su-bin
Two directors met JEON at BIFAN
This year’s BiFan hosted “Contact”, a special retrospective that celebrated the 20 year film career of JEON Do-yeon. The retrospective screened all 17 of her movies including her film debut The Contact (1997), Secret Sunshine (2007) for which she won 9 best actress prizes including the Cannes International Film Festival, and her most recent work A Man and A Woman (2016). Additionally, press conferences and guest visits were also held with JEON, giving audiences a chance to interact with the acclaimed star. KoBiz attended ‘Directors Meet JEON’ which was held on July 15 at CGV Bucheon. At this event JUNG Ji-woo of Happy End (1999) and OH Seung-uk of The Shameless (2015) had a talk with JEON.
“I cannot act unless persuaded.”
“I built a skeleton and JEON brought it to life, with flesh and blood,” says OH, looking back on the first shooting they had. “My murmuring lines finally became a character,” remembers JUNG, the very moment when JEON began reading the script. What they wanted to mention in common was ‘vitality.’
JEON learned the importance of communication between the director and with fellow actors when shooting Happy End. “In the past, the only thing that mattered to me was how to express what the director wanted. Nobody cared what I thought, and I did not dare say it either. However, JUNG kept asking my opinion. I felt he was respecting what I wanted to do.”
Still, there are bound to be conflicts when shooting. “When we have a conflict, I listen to what the director has to say first, and tell him what I think. I ask him to persuade me. I’ll never be that character if I just do what I’m told. OH introduced such an anecdote. In The Shameless there is a scene where JEON is to stab KIM Nam-gil with a knife. But JEON told me that she may not stab him if she is not up to it. So I was very much nervous the entire day, thinking maybe I wrote the script wrong. Then JEON finally said she felt like it.” JEON says she kept thinking why, until she finally understood KIM Hye-kyung, the character she was playing, and felt KIM through her character. “I finally understood their way of loving, those who were living like beasts.” OH adds “JEON is very strict with herself. She would never attempt to deceive the audience.”
“Hard working personas in the film are reflections of myself”
In the middle of the event, JUNG asked an interesting question: “Don’t you feel bored to be back to real life, from the exciting film scene?” JEON says she is often asked similar questions by her daughter as well: “Mom, what do you find fun?” “It is true that I find film making the most exciting. It is fascinating. During shooting you don’t even sleep well but I love it. After 2-3 months of such excitement, I indeed feel bored to be back to real life. I would ask myself ‘how much more of these boring days?’ I envy guy actors in that aspect. They are fully booked for the next couple of years. For some, shooting looks like a normal 9 to 5 job where you go to work everyday. They would tell me to get a hobby or something, but nothing interests me.”
JUNG went on with more interesting questions. “Are actors born to be an actor or are they trained to be one?” JEON replies that you have to have natural sentiments. “You have know how to express emotion, and that is something you are born with. However, as you live on, you learn new things from sufferings. That is what you only can learn as your life goes on.” OH reckons that JEON has a superb capacity for empathy. “She identifies herself with those weak and suffering people. I guess that is the very essence of JEON as an actress.”
One participant asked her why she often plays self-sacrificing characters, to which JEON replied that it is part of her own personality. “I kind of lose myself when I am acting. I don’t care if I get hurt or wounded, because what I am doing and what I will be doing are so important for me. I know too much sacrifice makes people uncomfortable, but that is how I am.” Another participant added that JEON’s characters are very much self empowered and strong. “I sometimes want to play a weak character that is loved by a lot of people, but it is just not me.” commented JEON.
“As a girl, I never dreamed of becoming an actress.”
A participant asked JEON what it is like to be an actress in the Korean film industry. JEON replied “These days films are divided into men’s films and women’s films. Genres are gender specific as well, about which I am not at all happy. This trend has been so long that I get extremely bored as well. It is not just me, but my fellow actresses as well. They envy the kind of characters that I used to play in the 90s, that you rarely meet these days.”
JEON confesses that she has an insatiable appetite for characters. “I like all kinds of characters. I want to be in every film that there is, playing their women’s versions. For example, a women’s version of Ocean’s Eleven, and so on. They say I have been on the screen for the past 20 years and what more is there that I should want to do. They are wrong, there is a lot more for me to do. But look at them, these directors only employ guy actors. They say they want to work with me, but none of them actually gave me an offer.” She was being sarcastic and passionate at the same time.
JEON reminisces on the times she used to be an ordinary kid at school. “I never dreamed of becoming an actress, thinking that only special people can make it. So at the beginning of my film career, I thought I could quit it anytime I wanted to. But as I went on, I found out how much I loved acting and what it meant to me.” JEON says she feels like she is dreaming to have her own retrospective. “I refused it at first. Now I think it is a good thing that I finally said yes. I guess it is kind of a mid term exam, where I can begin things again. I am very much grateful for the audience, and feel deeply touched to be here, blessed with great joy and energy.”