|Gong Hyo Jin and So Ji Sub received Rising Star Asia Award at NYAFF 09|
Gong Hyo Jin is a force to be reckoned with. Although having been in the film industry for more than 10 years now, the Korean actress is never at a loss for reinventing those characters she portrays. Last week at the New York Asian Film Festival, audiences embraced both screenings of the movie Crush and Blush, in which Hyo Jin played the leading role.
As a crazed, awkward, and often ostracized teacher named Me-Sook, Hyo Jin accomplished the difficult task of not only mastering the character’s maniacal tendencies, but also enabling her to be felt sorry for and pitied (especially when she blushed beet-red) because of her vulnerability. Hyo Jin made the story of a woman’s obsessive mission to woo her crush feel just as poignant as it was insane.
Her work in the film has been widely recognized and praised. She was the first female recipient of the Rising Star Asia Awards presented by Subway Cinema and The Hollywood Reporter. I had the privilege of speaking with her about her performance in Crush and Blush.
AIA: What initially drew you to this film?
GHJ: The character she played has a very strong and sometimes frightening personality, but at the same time she’s a very likeable dimension so I had to figure out a way to make audiences like her and even root for her. So that was sort of my task in this film, that’s what weighed on my mind a lot. But I knew I wanted to help the character achieve this. After a lot of thought, I decided I wanted to take on the challenge.
AIA: It seemed as though you could have easily fallen into either of the extremes in your role- being too likeable or being too harsh- what sort of past roles had you played or seen that might have prepared you for this one?
GHJ: I don’t think there was ever this kind of character portrayed in Korea, so in terms of role models there wasn’t any character that I could pull from, so in that respect it was hard. But looking back it was good since this was the first time you’re seeing this person. I had no comparison, “oh, she’s better, she’s better.” So in a way there was a lot of freedom involved. I got to do the character the way I wanted to, and people could accept that “Yes, this is what Me-Sook would be like.” And even though it was hard, it was such a freeing experience creating such a character.
AIA: While there might not have been any similar roles or movies to reference in Korea, I’m wondering if you have had any traumatic, outcast-stories or experiences like that of Me-Sok, maybe in middle school or high school, that enabled you to sympathize with the character?
GHJ: I think there were those friends who were kind of outcasts in school, but fortunately I wasn’t one of them so I didn’t know much about them. I think that lack of attention and lack of existence, that’s a serious thing to understand. But there was a music teacher in junior high that wasn’t as strange or intimidating as Me-Sook in the film. But she had no sense of existence- people and students would ignore her and would be eating in class, come in late, and she just would never say anything to them. And her outer appearance was a lot like the character in the film, drudged clothes, outdated and curly frizzy hair. And so in terms of this film, I did remember her. But really, for the film we actually created someone completely new and different than anyone we knew.
AIA: What was the hardest scene or the hardest aspect of portraying this role?
GHJ: Looking back I think they were all hard scenes [laugh]. You know, I had to constantly be angry and we had a lot of night shoots and cold-weather shoots. At one point, I wondered, “Am I going to survive this sleep deprivation?” But I think the hardest scene was the one where we were taking the group class photo. And it was actually the first day of shoot and up to that point, I had maybe a scene with one or two people. But it was really the first time with that red bright makeup, so to stand in front of all those students with that made-up face was really embarrassing for me. And I mean the whole scene was about being an outcast, so it was very emotional and very hard for me.
AIA: What did you take away from this film, in which a) you don’t necessarily relate to the character so much, and b ) which is probably the first of its kind in Korea?
GHJ: When this opened last year, it was around my 10-year mark of my career. And in terms of age and experience, I thought I had “gotten there,” and I thought it would be nice to get some awards and get some recognition from critics…and although there was a part of me that wanted to avoid such an unattractive “loser” of a character, I thought that with such a great script if I did do it well it could translate into getting an award. Because sometimes, if you look at a role, you know you can sort of tell whether or not it’s award-worthy, but this one, I was thinking, maybe if I work hard enough, it could get an award which would be a nice way to commemorate my 10 year career. And so I did work hard and I was awarded so that turned out well! And In a way it was sort of my last hurrah! in my late 20’s, and was a way for me to commemorate that as well. It’s like the last time I could sort of do whatever I wanted and de-construct myself, and be brave and just do a character like this and go the distance. It became a very treasured role, and in terms of my acting I feel like I’ve even overcome my limits in acting.
AIA: What was it like working with the first-time female director Lee Kyeong-Mi?
GHJ: In terms of our working relationship, we were very in sync. Our styles are very similar, our points of comedy are very similar, and I think the reason I was so satisfied with this movie is that her favorite take would always be my favorite take. And so since this film essentially is a series of the best takes I got, of course that’s why I’m 100% satisfied with it. And our kind of working relationship doesn’t happen very often- a director has their thoughts and I have my own interpretation but in this case, we were very, very in tune. Because I found her to be sort of like Me-sok, I think just looking at her and being around her, I drew a lot of inspiration for the role. And because I had an incredible trust in her, I think I just went for it, I didn’t have to worry because the trust was there. I would be and go all the way- whether it was being the most attractive or most unattractive, I would scream and do anything, and just be very comfortable because of that trust. And also because she is a female director, I felt like she paid more attention to detail and we talked comfortably about a lot about things. She also had a wide variety of styles, and I think that might have upped the whole strangeness or oddness factor of the film.
Thanks to Gong Hyo Jin for her time, her translator for being at the interview, and everyone at Subway Cinema for setting it up.
Vietnamese translation: coming soon