Among the many living actresses in Korea, Kim Hye-soo is an icon like no other.
She is the type of actress who is remembered for her image first, film roles second. Many are well aware of and charmed by her risqué and daring fashion choices on red carpets, her gift of gab on TV talk shows, and her dominating, charismatic presence off screen. Her position in the film scene is therefore unique; she is one of the very few, or perhaps the only actress, who is regarded as both sensual and intelligent.
Upon arriving for the interview at a hotel in central Seoul, the 41-year-old actress looks surprisingly laid back in her simple, black garment.
“I bet I’m not someone so impressive to my brothers,” Kim says. “I’m genuinely being myself on TV shows and red carpets and so on. But there is a part of me that only my close ones get to see. And it’s nice to be ‘just a sister’ to your siblings than someone special.”
|Kim Hye-soo poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
Kim is returning to the silver screen this month as one of the thieves in director Choi Dong-hun’s star-studded blockbuster “The Thieves.” This is Kim’s second movie with Choi, after their highly successful 2006 gambling drama “Tazza: The High Rollers.” In the 2006 film, Kim played a seductive villain character Madam Jeong, who is obsessed with money and power.
In the upcoming film, however, Kim is given a role that is nothing like the villain. She plays a safecracker named Pepsi, who, along with nine other professional thieves, gets involved in a project to steal a diamond worth $20 million in Macau. Her co-stars include Lee Jung-jae, Jun Ji-hyun (Gianna Jun), Kim Yoon-seok, Kim Soo-hyun, and Hong Kong-based actor Simon Yam.
“I’d never seen any character like Pepsi in Choi’s previous works,” says Kim.
|From left: Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jung-jae, Oh Dal-soo and Gianna Jun star in director Choi Dong-hun’s upcoming heist film “The Thieves.” (1st Look)|
“The character is complex and has much substance. Most of the thieves in the film get into the diamond project for shallow, materialistic reasons. But what Pepsi wants out of this project is very different from others. Her desire is, I think, rather universal. Everyone has that desire, but often gives it up for wealth and fortune. But Pepsi does not. That really intrigued me.”
Even before the movie’s premiere, there had been a lot of buzz about the two heavyweight actresses -- Kim and “My Sassy Girl” star Gianna Jun -- co-starring in the same piece. While Kim’s character mostly pivots around her difficult relationship with her fellow thief, Jun plays a clever, self-oriented cat burglar -- showcasing incredible stunts and wire action throughout the film.
During a press conference on the film this month, Kim was asked what it was like to “compete” in a movie with an actress widely recognized for her beauty. Kim gave a humble answer, openly praising Jun’s looks and charms. “Jun’s so pretty that we are not even comparable,” she told the reporter.
“I think I lack the competitive gene by nature,” she tells The Korea Herald.
“I honestly don’t really know what it feels like to be jealous or competitive. I’ve always been this way since I was a child. And many would say the greatest competitor in your life is yourself. Well, I don’t want to do that either. I’m not really interested in winning against anyone, including myself. I’m more interested in how I’d handle things when I run into unexpected, rough situations in life.”
Kim says she was genuinely in awe of Jun’s charms throughout the production period in Hong Kong, and everyone else in the crew. She in fact took thousands of pictures of her fellow actors, actresses and even crew members, whenever she was off-shoot in the foreign country -- and gave the photographs as gifts after the filming of the movie was over.
“I just adore people and find so much beauty in them,” she says. “And it was hard not to take pictures of these people. It was beautiful to see our young crew-member looking into the view finder as if there’s nothing else in the world but camera. My fellow actress, Kim Hae-sook, has been acting for more than 30 years. But she still gets so nervous and happy like a little girl before each and every shoot. I found such passion touching and beautiful, too.”
The actress made her TV debut in 1986 at the age of 16. Having missed out on “ordinary teenage years,” she says she keeps her close friends by her side for a long time. One of her best friends is from her elementary school days. She’s been working with same make-up artist for more than 10 years. If she were to given the option to go back to the age of 16, she says, she’d choose to live as a housewife -- a “good” housewife who really does her job well.
“I spend most of my leisure time with my nieces and nephews,” she says. “When they tell me ‘Please don’t go, aunt Hye-soo,’ I just stay home with them like a recluse unless something really urgent happens.”
Asked if there is anything she wants so bad that she’d consider stealing it, Kim said “all sorts of talent.”
“I always felt a part of me is incomplete because of what I did not experience as a teenager,” she says.
“And I tried to fill in the holes with something else, including my career, throughout the years. And where I am is a result of that. I guess people end up admiring the qualities that they don’t have. I admire those who always strive for the better, those who have pretty voices, those who have a great sense of humor.”
“The Thieves” opens in theaters on Wednesday.
By Claire Lee (email@example.com)