Back To Top

[Herald Interview] 'Memories of the Sword' a welcome challenge for Jeon Do-yeon

Lead actress says always willing to push her limits for good love story

In Park Heung-sik‘s martial arts epic “Memories of the Sword,” the most notable element of Cannes-winning actress Jeon Do-yeon’s performance is not her poignant emotion, nor her impressive sword action. 

It is her ability to do portray both while also playing a blind character -- without ever blinking or focusing her eyes. According to Jeon, it was an obstacle she had failed to foresee.

Actress Jeon Do-yeon (Lotte Entertainment)
Actress Jeon Do-yeon (Lotte Entertainment)

“I actually asked (Park) if we could change the story to let her (Jeon’s character Wol-so) see,” she said in an interview at a cafe in Seoul on Tuesday. But after some discussion, she and Park agreed that “blindness was the most effective way to convey that Wol-so was a woman who had lost everything and cut off all emotion.” 

In “Memories of the Sword,” which is set in the Goryeo Kingdom, Wol-so is a swordswoman abandoned by her comrade and lover Yu-baek (Lee Byung-hun), who chooses political ambition over loyalty. In his betrayal, Yu-baek kills their comrade Pung-cheon, whose daughter Hong-yi (Kim Go-eun) Wol-so raises as her own. Wol-so teaches Hong-yi to avenge her father‘s death when she comes of age. 

Jeon Do-yeon (Lotte Entertainment)
Jeon Do-yeon (Lotte Entertainment)

“Early on in filming, (Park) told me about what he wanted to show through Wol-so,” she said. “‘Hyeop’ (a spirit of justice) existed back then, and it exists now. But it’s become hard to find. (He said) he wanted to create a character who was unwavering in embodying that ‘hyeop.’ That helped me to understand the film, and Wol-so in particular.”

But for Jeon, the ultimate appeal of Wol-so was not her resolute belief in justice and loyalty, but her struggle to remain steadfast in her mission despite her love for Yu-baek.

“I’m captivated by stories where you get just a tiny glimpse of love,” she said, mentioning that she approached even hard-boiled and noir-tinged films like this year’s “The Shameless” and “No Blood No Tears” (2002) as romance movies. 

“I think I’ll continue to choose those kinds of stories, play women who dream of love,” she said. “Not love that you see around you, but love that’s expressed in a different way.”

Jeon Do-yeon (Lotte Entertainment)
Jeon Do-yeon (Lotte Entertainment)

Jeon’s filmography, spanning nearly two decades, testifies to her willingness to take on roles that are physically and emotionally demanding. 

“Memories of the Sword” also checks that box, with action scenes that required three months of hard sword-fighting training and full minute-long takes in which she had to express emotion while keeping her eyes dull and lifeless.

“I want to be thought of as an actress who doesn’t let a good story slip by because it will be demanding,” she said. 

Despite that willingness and her star status, she said that good scripts were hard to come by. “I never know how long I’ll have to wait until my next film. It could be two years, it could be three years.”

Still, Jeon is content with her current path. “Acting is a joy to me, even when it’s hard,” she said. “I’m happiest when I’m living inside a movie.”

By Won Ho-jung (
Korea Herald daum