Actress Kim Go-eun made an impressive breakthrough film debut back in 2012, with filmmaker Jung Ji-woo’s critically acclaimed sensual drama “Eungyo (A Muse).” The 22-year-old is best known by the name of her first-ever film character, Eungyo, a lively teenager who becomes the object of desire for a renowned elderly poet.
Many expected her to continue her professional career after finishing “Eungyo” ― which received much attention for its subject matter and sexually explicit scenes ― and nabbing nine new actress awards for the role, including Blue Dragon and Grand Bell awards. Instead, she took a break and went back to Korea National University of Arts to finish her acting degree. After an almost two-year hiatus, Kim is returning to the big screen as a disabled woman who goes mad in the vicious thriller “Monster.”
“I was thinking, ‘Should I just do another film when I am receiving the most attention?’” said Kim in an interview with a small group of reporters on Friday. “And my conclusion was that I just couldn’t do it. So I just went back to school and participated in a play and made a short film. It was really great to work with my colleagues who are all so passionate about acting and cinema. I had a great six months, and I think I made the right decision.”
Dressed in a simple, striped sweater and blue jeans, the actress was noticeably wobbly on her high heels, saying she “doesn’t normally” wear them. She did not hide her impish, curious nature, randomly commenting on an iPad keyboard and recording device while talking about her movies.
“Does this recorder work as a radio, too?” she asked out of the blue in the middle of the interview.
In her latest film ― her second ― Kim stars as Bok-soon, a young woman whose younger sibling was murdered by a ruthless killer named Tae-soo (Lee Min-ki). The grieving woman has a developmental disability, and almost becomes psychotic when she learns that her sister is dead. With uncontrollable anger, madness and in spite of her mental disability, she plans her revenge.
“I thought Bok-soon was sort of, I don’t know, cute when I first read the script,” Kim said, when asked what drew her to “Monster” and her character. “She was like some cartoon character. She has this developmental disability, but she’s simple and kind, loves her sister and is almost uncannily responsible. She’s spent her entire life selling vegetables in a market, so she’s very tough, and determined too. I thought it was interesting how such a character becomes this monster as she goes through a series of unfortunate events. I also liked the idea of a female character fighting against a serial killer.”
Aside from “Monster,” Kim also starred in director Park Heung-sik’s martial arts film “Hyeopnyeo” ― which is scheduled to be released in the second half of this year. Both of the films were very physically demanding, with rigorous training and intense fight scenes. But Kim is no stranger to physicality. She took dance lessons when she was a teenager, which helped her understand “what it means to express (oneself) using one’s body.”
“But I don’t think I enjoyed dancing,” Kim said. “Dancing requires tremendous dedication and it can be quite painful. I think those who dance in spite of all that do it because it somehow makes them happy. But it didn’t make me happy. Even when I was told that I was good at it, I just thought, ‘Okay, since I’m good at it, shouldn’t I be allowed to go home now?’ But with acting, no matter how hard it is, it makes me happy. It was really hard pulling off these fight scenes. At some point, I thought I was going to die because I was so exhausted. But once the shooting is done, all of that doesn’t really matter. I want to continue doing this.”
Filmmaker Jung Ji-woo, who discovered Kim for his film “Eungyo,” told The Korea Herald in 2012 that Kim is “naturally curious and brave,” and that he thinks it has to do with her upbringing. “She spent 10 years of childhood in China and did not experience the fierce competition of the Korean education system. She’s strong in the sense that she isn’t influenced easily. She doesn’t do things just because everyone else does it.”
Kim said she was shocked to find out that in Korean schools, students take physical education classes indoors, when she first moved back to Korea from China as a middle school girl.
“I was even more shocked to learn that there was a textbook for physical education classes that you had to read,” she said. “My life in China was eventful. My family lived in the outskirts of Beijing, where you wouldn’t run into a lot of Koreans. I guess my way of thinking can be seen as somewhat peculiar, and maybe it has to do with my upbringing. I’m not sure. Whenever reporters said, ‘You must be feeling a lot of pressure as an emerging actress,’ I told them, ‘Not really. I get nothing good out of it.’ That was an honest answer and they were surprised. And now I feel like I should say I feel pressure not to look too weird.”
Kim decided to become an actress after participating in a small play while attending high school. It was a small role, without many lines, but playing the character enabled her to get a response from a live audience for the first time.
“I am happy because I get to do what I love to do, what I always wanted to do,” she said. “But being an actress isn’t just about acting. You have to meet people, talk to people, and a lot of the times, it’s about being a team member. And I don’t think I necessarily knew about that. So I’ve been getting used to the non-acting work that I have to do (as an actress).”
By Claire Lee (email@example.com