Six actresses of varying ages - the youngest in her 20's, the oldest in her 60's - are gathered together for a Vogue photo shoot.
However, rather than greeting old friends, making new acquaintances and getting on with the job at hand, seemingly endless delays to the day's schedule leave the women largely to their own devices for a protracted period of time and they inevitably pass the time by discussing their current situation, each other, the film and television industries at large and issues that affect them personally.
All begins politely enough but as boredom and frustration set in and start to build, pleasantries quickly give way to bitterness, arguments, infighting, and ultimately a baring of souls...
While the current televisual trend (some might even say obsession) for reality programming will doubtless allow Actresses to feel familiar in context to a wide demographic of viewers, director EJ Yong's decision to base the film's narrative on a group of actresses at the top of their game (albeit at differing stages in their careers) rather than focusing on the more usual procession of what can at best be described as "wannabes" and at worst vacuously untalented, results in Actresses being instantly more worthy and ultimately more rewarding than most "reality" content.
Not only that, but the use of a multi-generational cast allows for a dissection of the differing perceptions of the film and television industries - contrasting the largely optimistic attitudes of younger actresses still building their careers, such as Kim Ok-bin, with the more world-weary feelings of the older cast members including Lee Mi-sook and Yoon Yeo-jeong, the latter of whom could be said to be knowingly cynical or even bitter, to an extent.
As such, viewers are given the opportunity to ask themselves which of these attitudes is closest to the truth and whether the older actresses' issues are largely the result of the baggage attained in life.
It could be said that Actresses will be more accessible to viewers who are aware of the previous work of the various cast members but with their gravitas being fairly obvious from the outset prior knowledge is not absolutely necessary and, let's face it, Kim Ok-bin, Lee Mi-sook and Yoon Yeo-jeong will likely be familiar to even those with a fairly basic knowledge of Korean cinema, even if the other cast members are less so.
Director EJ Yong has described Actresses as "a combination of reality show and fake documentary" and while he readily points out that the film was fully scripted, there is clearly more to the narrative than actresses simply conveying pre-conceived lines.
However, exactly where the script leaves off and the improvisation begins is, on more than one occasion, up for debate and I assume that is exactly what EJ Yong was aiming for.
While EJ Yong’s success at creating a documentary feel does, to my mind, result in the most obviously scripted segments (Yoon Yeo-jeong discovering that she was a last minute replacement for another actress, and the ever increasing vocal animosity between Ko Hyeon-jeong and Choi Ji-woo, for example) feeling somewhat more specifically contrived to create tension than would perhaps have been the case in a purely fictional narrative, it equally allows other scenes to be all the more poignantly believable and truly moving as well as underlining the notion that within any fiction elements of truth can reside.
With regard to this, the scene that immediately comes to mind, before any other, is Lee Mi-sook's heartfelt and tearful discussion of the price fame demands, and while it could never definitely be said that the subject matter wasn't to a degree scripted beforehand, the pain she exudes is so palpable that I resolutely refuse to believe we are seeing anything less than Lee Mi-sook's heart breaking on screen, in front of our very eyes. Certainly, it goes without saying that Lee Mi-sook is an incredibly talented actress, but the sheer level of emotion she conveys means that if she is simply acting then frankly she's one of then best actresses of her, or any, generation.
All of the cast of Actresses give accomplished performances throughout which each providing a believable persona. However, Lee Mi-sook and Yoon Yeo-jeong have the edge over the others and while this is partly due to their individual narratives being somewhat more interesting, it cannot be denied that their greater acting experience pays dividends in the depth of their overall arcs.
Yoon Yeo-jeong, Lee Mi-sook, Ko Hyeon-jeong, Choi Ji-woo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Ok-bin
Described by director EJ Yong as "a combination of reality show and fake documentary", Actresses nonetheless contains more than one segment utterly real in feeling and ultimately it is almost undeniable that some truth lays within the fiction.