Director Jeong Ji-woo poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald on April 25. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
‘Happy End’ director returns with sensual drama ‘Eungyo’
Director Jung Ji-woo’s latest film “Eungyo” once again shows his keen eye for actresses.
Sure, leading actor Park Hae-il proved to be a real trouper, enduring eight hours of makeup and stop-and-go filming every day for his character, a man in his 70s.
But since the film’s release last week, all eyes have been on young actress Kim Go-eun, who plays a reckless 17-year-old who captures an old poet’s heart. It’s hard to think of an actress whose film debut has been as sensational as Kim’s in recent years.
Kim’s rise to the spotlight wouldn’t have been possible without “Happy End” and “Blossom Again” director Jung, who chose the fresh-faced actress from the 300 who auditioned for the role.
The 21-year-old actress had never appeared in any film or TV dramas, but her success came as no surprise, because Jung is known for his rare eye for talented actresses and the ability to bring the best performance out of them. His star-actresses have included Jeon Do-yeon and Jung Yoo-mi.
Actress Kim Go-eun stars in director Jung Ji-woo’s latest film “Eungyo.” (Lotte Entertainment)
“What I liked about Go-eun was that she didn’t try to impress me at all,” Jung told The Korea Herald. “She didn’t try to please anybody. She didn’t try to look pretty in front of the camera. She was just herself. That’s what drew me to her.”
A film adaptation of Park Bum-shin’s sensational novel of the same title, “Eungyo” tells the story of a poet in his 70s who falls for a high school girl named Eun-gyo. The novel’s provocative theme and popularity meant the movie received a lot of attention even before production. Major talent agencies also approached the crew about the role of Eun-gyo, Jung said.
“I just couldn’t picture this character with a face of some girl group member,” Jung said. “It just wasn’t going to work that way. The character had to be ordinary and alive at the same time.”
Jung, in fact, has never been really interested in “typically pretty” faces. Cannes-winning actress Jeon Do-yeon was his first muse -- she was cast in the 1999 crime-of-passion thriller “Happy End.”
The movie was a huge stepping stone for Jeon, who had had more of a girl-next-door image until then. Jung transformed her into a refreshingly complex working woman with an unemployed husband who ends up having an affair.
In his 2005 drama “Blossom Again,” Jung gave the leading role to then-aspiring actress Jung Yoo-mi. The actress, who is now best known for her performance in last year’s box office-hit drama “The Silenced,” gave an engrossing performance in the film as an emotionally vulnerable teenager experiencing her first love.
The pale-faced actress swept most newcomer awards that year for the role, including the Paeksang Arts Award and the Korean Association of Film Critics Award.
“I think Go-eun is more like Do-yeon,” said Jung. “She is naturally curious and brave. I think it has a lot to do with her childhood. She spent her younger days in China and did not experience the fierce competition of the Korean education system. She’s strong in a sense that she isn’t influenced easily. She doesn’t do things just because everyone else does it.”
Jung said his latest movie was about growing up, though the original novel may not be.
In the film Kim shows off qualities that can only be found in someone who is unaware of her own beauty and what she is capable of.
The last line of the character, who is also a victim of domestic violence, was written by Jung, and does not exist in the novel.
“I never knew how pretty I was (until I met you),” Eun-gyo tells the poet.
“It’s really about a young girl’s journey learning about herself and her own worth,” said Jung.
“I wanted to capture the moments when she realizes how precious she is to herself and to others. I think Go-eun grew up through this film as well. Her facial expressions in the last few scenes of the film are strikingly different from the ones in the beginning.”
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)