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[Herald Interview] Jeon Do-yeon can now dream about an Oscar

Cannes-winning actress congratulates Bong on Oscars, discusses ‘Beasts Clawing at Straws’  

Jeon Do-yeon (Megabox Joongang Plus M)
Jeon Do-yeon (Megabox Joongang Plus M)

Veteran actress Jeon Do-yeon and Jung Woo-sung came together for the first time in the upcoming film “Beasts Clawing at Straws.” The debut feature by director Kim Yong-hoon recently won the Special Jury Award of the Tiger Competition at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

The crime noir revolves around eight desperate individuals who chase after a mysterious Louis Vuitton bag full of cash. Jeon plays Yeon-hee, a former bar owner, and Jung, corrupt customs officer Tae-young.

Yeon-hee appears almost at the midpoint of the movie, but she is the most impactful character in the film. She is fierce and reckless -- even smashing a bottle on a rude customer’s head in one scene.

“I tried to loosen up my acting as much as possible,” Jeon said Tuesday during a joint interview in Seoul. “My appearance itself was too powerful, so I tried to make it seem as if it were nothing.”

Jeon Do-yeon in
Jeon Do-yeon in "Beasts Clawing at Straws" (Megabox Joongang Plus M)

Jeon said the script of the movie -- an omnibus consisting of six episodes that make up the larger plot -- captivated her when she first read it.

“It was a noir film that I hadn’t seen before. The time setting and each of the character’s stories were all unique,” she said.

On her first partnership with Jung, Jeon described the experience as awkward but memorable.

“Even though I had partnered with many new actors in the past. I think it was awkwardness about Jung’s acting of Tae-young,” the actress said. “Jung seemed to just throw himself into the story to actualize the character, and I was intrigued by that. I felt there was a part of Jung that I didn’t know.”

For her next piece with Jung, Jeon said she would like to take a shot at a comedy flick, a genre the actress has not tried since winning the Cannes best actress award with “Sunshine” in 2007. Jeon has since been an icon of arthouse films. 

“Everyone who knows me says I’ll be great in comedies,” she said. “I’m a very joyful person but I feel like I have been limiting myself to certain genres. I feel it is a shame to make use of myself only like this.”

Jung Woo-sung (left) and Jeon Do-yeon in
Jung Woo-sung (left) and Jeon Do-yeon in "Beasts Clawing at Straws." (Megabox Joongang Plus M)

Jeon said she is still striving to become an actor deserving of the Cannes award.

“I’ve always felt the thirst to fill the gap between the actress ‘Jeon Do-yeon’ and the title ‘Queen of Cannes.’ It’s difficult realistically speaking, but I always have the thirst.”

Part of those efforts are her works with budding directors, including Kim of “Beasts Clawing at Straws,” and Lee Jeong-eon of “Birthday.”

“There are many great filmmakers such as Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook, and the audience is always ready to listen to their stories. But in the case of newcomers, it’s not like that. If there are stories that intrigue me, I want to introduce them to the audience,” Jeon said.

The actress congratulated director Bong on winning four Oscars with “Parasite” the previous day.

“When I heard he had received the best picture award, I was just dumbfounded by the news,” Jeon said. “I feel he has opened opportunities for us (fellow Korean cineastes). While winning the Cannes was a very rare event for South Korea, Academy was another level. But now it’s not anymore and it (Academy win) has now become something I can dream about.”

“Beasts Clawing at Straws” will be released Feb. 19, following a delay prompted by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

By Choi Ji-won (