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[Herald Interview] ‘Dongchimi’: A play to heal people’s hearts

Dongchimi is a cold water-based kimchi made with white radish. Its tangy, refreshing liquid and crunchy radishes help with digestion, and it’s a perfect match for meat or starch-heavy foods such as rice cakes or sweet potatoes. For first-timers, this clear watery kimchi may look a bit insipid. Yet this humble side dish has been a part of Korean cuisine for as long as anyone can remember.

Actress Kim Min-jung, with a prolific career spanning five decades in theater and TV, is in a sense like dongchimi to Korean people, even with her posh and charming looks that belie her age. She began her acting career at the dawn of TV broadcasting in the 1960s and has become a household name, appearing on TV and in films.

This time, the 66-year-old actress transforms into a self-sacrificing mother of three who takes care of her sick and aging husband in “Dongchimi,” a play directed by Kim Yong-eul.

“The play really is like dongchimi,” said Kim during an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday. “A heart-warming play like this can serve as comfort food that can heal the audiences against the backdrop of so many incidents happening in this society.”

It is a story for all ages, for both children and parents, says Kim.

Though Kim received the script for the play six years ago, it took a while before she decided to accept the role. “To be honest, I wasn’t really ready to play the role of an aging protagonist who dies in the end,” she said. “I didn’t want to age faster because I was used to playing glittering roles that required frequent clothing changes throughout the play.” 
Actress Kim Min-jung poses before an interview with The Korea Herald in Jung-gu, Seoul, Tuesday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Actress Kim Min-jung poses before an interview with The Korea Herald in Jung-gu, Seoul, Tuesday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

But it was her husband who suggested she take the role. “Interestingly, when I read the script a few years later, I felt like I could do it for some reason,” added Kim. “The story was beautifully moving and I was old enough to play an aging mother. Maybe I was too late,” she said with a smile.

She wanted to play a character who has wisdom.

“Actually, I was the one who learned the most through the play,” she said. “From time to time, we tend to take for granted those people who are very close to us, not realizing they might not be here by our side someday. The play talks about this issue.”

When asked how her first performance went last weekend, she replied that it was like finishing your homework: “The beauty of the play is that it has dramatic tension from beginning to end. You can never relax.”

“Every performance feels like the very first one because you are always searching for details and different interpretations within yourself and with other actors. You are trying to find those perfectly fitting clothes,” she said. “I think that is what makes play performances so interesting.”

Kim has had a dynamic acting career. Though she started acting on stage in high school, she rose to stardom through the 1971 TV drama “Jang Hui-bin,” which was a huge hit. After that, her success continued for some time before her career came to an abrupt halt. In 1974, she had to leave TV due to her involvement in a scandal between two major TV broadcasters, MBC and KBS.

As a result, she stayed home and raised her children for nine years. Though she loved spending time with her kids, she always wanted to go back to acting. “Frankly, I wasn’t very happy during that time,” Kim said. “I would find myself watching TV and following the lines of the actors.”

Then she returned to the acting scene. “I tried out for a few TV dramas after the nine-year hiatus. They weren’t successful, but it didn’t matter, because I was just really happy just to act again,” said Kim.

Since then, Kim has starred in many plays, for which she has received a number of prestigious awards, as well as in TV dramas and films.

Even 50 years into her acting career, she says she still makes mistakes. That is why Kim studies her script every day before and after each performance. “I forget lines if I don’t practice. I must be getting old,” she said. “But I want to act for as long as I can because the stage is where my heart lies.”

“Dongchimi” runs through Dec. 1 in Seoul at Munhwailbo Hall near Seodaemun Station on Line No. 5. For more information about the play, call (02) 764-4600 or visit www.globe.co.kr.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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