A woman of strength and grace

By Korea Herald

Kim Hyo-sun becomes first actress to succeed at Seoul Action School

  • Published : Jul 3, 2014 - 20:51
  • Updated : Jul 3, 2014 - 20:51
This is the seventh in a series highlighting women and their accomplishments in various facets of the Korean entertainment industry. ― Ed.

For actress Kim Hyo-sun, also known as Sunny Kim, choosing to specialize in action came from a desire to have something more to offer as an actress. 

Some questioned her decision to go into what they perceived as a “guys’ area.” But her choice was not much of a surprise considering it was Hong Kong film “The Phantom Lover” (1995), starring actor Leslie Cheung, who was known for his roles in Hong Kong action noir films, that first made the 31-year-old want to act.

“For me, when I started acting I felt that I didn’t have much to really make it big,” she said. “I felt that I needed more. So I decided to train in action and make that my specialty. To have that to distinguish myself from other actresses. That’s how I got through every day at Action School.”
Kim Hyo-sun. (Mina Hwang/Base M Studio)

Seoul Action School is the most prestigious stunt and martial arts training institute for film. It was started by legendary action and stunt director Jung Doo-hong. Kim, who has been acting since 2002, trained at the institute for seven years ― quite a feat considering many don’t even make it through the first week. She was the first woman to complete the school’s training and since has appeared in many films with Jung. She is often the first person directors call when they need a woman for an action role since she can do all her own stunts.

She is trained in many disciplines from taekwondo and hapkido, to sword-wielding, horseback-riding, rappelling and even scuba diving. She’s learned how to do wire work and also trained in Shaolin, China, for just under a year.

But she said specializing in action was not easy, especially as a woman. She was given no special treatment and was expected to do everything the men did. If the men were doing 10 push-ups, so was she. And if they were doing terrifying stunts, she had to swallow her fear and do them as well.

“When you’re doing these action scenes, there are a lot of accidents. People falling off wires. As a woman, that intimidates you, right? But the thing is, you can’t show that. You have to forget about your sex and just be an action actor,” she said.

“Facing these fears and trying to overcome them and not letting people know that you are in fear of such a thing was another challenge for me day-to-day.”

Not to mention that Korea’s stunt infrastructure is not as developedas Hollywood’s Kim said the working environment here for stunt and action actors can be dangerous, and those who work in the field “really put their lives out there for this job.” There is a lot of danger, though in recent years it has been improving.

She also said it was a lonely time while training as well as physically demanding. There were times when Kim would excuse herself, go to the bathroom and have a good cry, then return to training as though nothing had happened.

“Just trying to overcome the loneliness and just trying to be strong was really a daily challenge for me. And that’s what life is all about, to be honest,” she said. “Life is about battling loneliness and just trying to battle yourself. You don’t compete with other people, you compete with yourself. My Action School years pretty much taught me what life is and taught me how to battle my way through life.”

And it has paid off. Kim has been featured in numerous films, dramas and commercials over the years, though she says the 2006 movie “City of Violence (Jjakpae)” by director Ryu Seung-hwan with stunt director Jung was a big break for her. A commercial she did with SK Telecom about six years ago also helped put her on the map.

She says that after spending the first 10 years of her career focusing on action, she is currently trying to expand her boundaries. She recently completed filming on a drama that will air in China where she plays a normal barista. She also filmed a commercial for Samsung’s Zipel refrigerator, which she says proves that people are starting to pay more attention to her feminine side. She is also moving into fashion by working with new fashion brand Ro & De.

While action will always be a large part of her career ― Kim says she wants to someday act in a Hollywood blockbuster and become an icon as an Asian action actress ― for her, acting is more than just having skills and a pretty face. It’s about who you are as a person. She has been married for two years and mentioned Australian actor Hugh Jackman, who is often portrayed in media as a family man, as an example of this.

“I just want to be a good person. Full of good energy and just sharing that energy with the people around me. ... I dream of being a great wife, a great person full of positive energy with a perfect personal life as well.”

By Emma Kalka (ekalka@heraldcorp.com)