Hangul Celluloid: How did your acting career begin and at what point did you decide that you wanted to become an actress?
Han Yeo-reum: I worked as a magazine model when I was a senior in high school. It led to agencies contacting me to ask if I was interested in acting, and I ultimately chose one of those agencies. Subsequently, I had an audition for Samaria, passed it and started acting, and after completing the work on Samaria I began to think that I wanted to be an actor.
Hangul Celluloid: In recent years, Kim Ki-duk's films have been somewhat more popular internationally than in Korea and some writers have criticised his depictions of women. As you starred in two of his films, how would you describe the characters you played in 'Samaria' and 'The Bow'? Do you consider them to ultimately be strong women or victims of men?
Han Yeo-reum: I haven’t taken an approach to Director Kim Ki-duk’s works in that way. When I consider a work, I examine it to ascertain if it maintains cinematic charm and if the characters appeal cinematically.
I truly think film embodies cinematic attraction unlike reality, TV dramas, or documentaries. In that sense, although in reality the subject matter of prostitution could be a social problem, I thought it appealed as a subject of a film. That is the real reason I chose to act in Samaria. The Bow is a similar case: I thought I could show a variety of facial expressions through the role in the film. Also, I like the film Lolita very much and when I read the script of The Bow I was attracted with a similar kind of feeling, and I got to play the role.
Hangul Celluloid: The young girl you played in 'The Bow' had no dialogue in the film. How did your preparation for such a role differ from preparing to play characters with many lines of scripted dialogue?
Han Yeo-reum: Without dialogue, I had to express all the emotions as facial expressions and I think the experience of having performed with various facial expressions in front of the camera as a magazine model helped me greatly. I also think the experience of delivering emotions only with facial expressions in The Bow has helped in a lot of my other work since, when I perform appropriately with circumstances through facial expressions.
Hangul Celluloid: You are credited in 'Samaria' under the name Seo Min-jeong (which I believe is your real name) but in subsequent films you have used the name Han Yeo-reum. What led to your decision to change your professional name?
Han Yeo-reum: When we promoted Samaria, an actress named Seo Min-jeong was performing in a very popular sitcom on TV. As I was a new face at that time, the publicity team had difficulty in promoting me as a separate actress. The CEO (President) of my agency improvised my stage name, Han Yeo-reum, for the promotion of the film. However, at that time film prints of Samaria were already made so my name was imprinted as Seo Min-jeong on the credits without me being given any choice in the matter.
Hangul Celluloid: Both 'Samaria' and 'The Bow' deal in part with female sexuality. Do you see those depictions as being largely from a male perspective or both male and female?
Han Yeo-reum: Although I hadn’t thought about it in that way when I performed in the films, I thought carefully after being asked. In Samaria, in some scenes, imagery of women was fragmentally depicted as sexual from a male perspective, even though various emotions in relationships between male and female characters existed there. I guess that could have been because of the subject matter. Yet I am not a critic, I don’t approach films in that way with analysis and interpretation. I only take an approach as in the way I answered your second question. Moreover, at that time when I performed in Samaria and The Bow, I tried to make the character active and while concentrating on the character I played a role.
Hangul Celluloid: What is your most prominent memory of working with director Kim Ki-duk? Did he have many specific requests regarding the roles you played or did he allow you the freedom to express the characters in the way you felt they should be portrayed?
Han Yeo-reum: I think it embraced something special when I opened the door of the room where I was meeting the director to audition for Samaria. I also believe something special is in the relations between people [When discussing these relations, Han Yeo-reum used the Korean words ‘In Yeon’ referring to a “connection/relation between people.”]. At that time I think I had a fateful feeling in my life beyond the relations between people. That was because my relation with the director had started, as well as my relation/connection with my career as an actress having begun; which I hadn’t even dreamt of before.
All the time associated with The Bow remains in my memory. I truly wanted to work for the film ever since the point when I heard about the synopsis from the director. When we shot the film, it was in the middle of winter. We were shooting all day long at the beach, wearing thin clothes and it was really, really cold. I was worried about being cold sometimes, when I woke up, thinking about the shooting. It was, however, bearable because of my feeling of happiness that I was working on a film I really wanted to be part of. That time is still alive in my mind with very happy and precious memories of shooting The Bow together with all the crew and the director. I only began working on The Bow as I was attracted by its story, without seeking a reward. The Bow was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005. We saw the film, which we all worked on together, on the big screen and after the screening we got a standing ovation from foreign audiences. I was overwhelmed with joy and I felt “Oh, this is cinema!” and I knew I wanted to keep working on films. As regards your question as to the way Director Kim chose to direct, I think it was the combination of both ways.
Hangul Celluloid: In recent years, you have starred in a number of television dramas for example, 'City of Glass' and more recently 'Horray For Love'. Was your decision to work in more television dramas partly because female roles in films were/are often less substantial (in terms of storyline or character depth) and was working in many television dramas a deliberate career choice?
Han Yeo-reum: The motive causing me to perform in TV dramas doesn’t relate to less substantial female roles. In the case of City of Glass, my agency suggested it. At that time, I refused to take a role in another TV drama which the agency recommended, and I felt sorry especially considering my stance/position with the agency. Also, the director (of City of Glass) really wanted to work with me. I eventually got to perform in the work regardless of my will. The director was very nice and had an amazing personality. He is the director who recently had a great hit with a TV drama titled The Chaser. I am still very grateful for having been able to work with the director.
Before working on Hooray For Love, although it might be too straightforward to say, I hadn’t performed for a while to keep promises to my boyfriend in my private life; refusing job/role/performance offers because I felt like it was more important at that time. Hooray For Love was the one I chose to work on when getting through the hard times of breaking up. Personally, I think I gained and at the same time I lost while working on Hooray For Love. I wasn’t particularly attracted by the work. I am, however, grateful to have worked with my partner actor, Jin I-han, who gave a brilliant performance and has great charm.
Although cinema is art, considering its industry aspects is important. I think it is crucial to improve awareness and preference as an actress to the public, in order to work on films that I want to. In this sense, working on TV dramas is definitely necessarily. I felt empathy about the need of TV dramas while working on Hooray For Love. In this respect, Hooray For Love has become a critical work in my career, which has broadened my thoughts and my way of thinking. After completing the work, while watching other TV dramas, I’ve been attracted by them in the same way I’ve been by films. The Korean TV dramas I like a lot and have been impressed by recently are The Moon That Embraces The Sun, Rooftop Prince, and To The Beautiful You. I’d definitely love to perform in these kinds of works. I believe the medium of TV drama contains another attraction differentiated from film.
Hangul Celluloid: Do you see acting in television as requiring different skills to acting in films? What are the main differences of working in the two mediums, from your perspective?
Han Yeo-reum: I think films require more a subtle performance, as we see it on a big screen, while TV dramas help develop skills to grasp/understand scripts in a short time and to react quickly; as a drama begins shooting as soon as scripts are written.
Hangul Celluloid: Which medium (television or film) do you find more challenging or fulfilling?
Han Yeo-reum: Both mediums are equally challenging in terms of performance. Personally I prefer films but it’s not like I love all films with the reason that it is a film. As the works I’ve mentioned above, great TV dramas are attractive in a separate way to films.
Hangul Celluloid: Do you feel that roles for women in films and/or television have changed significantly over the years? If so, in what way have they changed?
Han Yeo-reum: I’m not sure as I haven’t thought about this deeply. I think the characteristics of female roles depend on the feature of each work, rather than a matter of a certain time.
Hangul Celluloid: In 2009 you starred in film "Sex Volunteer: Open Secret - 1st Story" about an organization which offers sex to disabled people. What attracted you to star in the film, considering its fairly controversial storyline?
Han Yeo-reum: I found the script very interesting. The director lent me a book titled Sex Volunteer for a reference, which is written by a Japanese writer and it interested me as well. Above all, what attracted me the most was the fact that the character was a film director.
Hangul Celluloid: How important do you think it is for Korean films to cover these kinds of subjects and themes?
Han Yeo-reum: Yes, I think it is definitely necessary in society today.
Hangul Celluloid: 'Sex Volunteer' won awards for Best Film and Best Director at the 23rd Singapore International Film Festival. How important to you is international recognition of your work, both in terms of specific films and your overall career?
Han Yeo-reum: I’m very happy and feel appreciated when works I performed in gain international recognition, as I’ve always dreamt of working with a variety of film directors in other countries, if it’s possible. However, I decide to attend to a work if at least one of the three following conditions clearly attracts me: the story of the work; the character of my role; the crew with whom I work. Other than that, awards or something like that are somewhat a secondary bonus.
Hangul Celluloid: If you were given the choice between acting in a controversial storyline like 'Sex Volunteer' or a more conventional story of love and loneliness such as ‘The Longest 24 Months’/'Crazy Waiting' - assuming that character depth was similar in each - which would instantly appeal more to you?
Han Yeo-reum: Given the two choices, I prefer Sex Volunteer. However, in a broad sense, between work dealing with a controversial story and one with a conventional story of love and loneliness, I am more attracted by a conventional storyline coping with love and loneliness. I think, ultimately, it is significant to choose the one I find more interesting when I read scripts, without falling into prejudice and without considering its genre.
Hangul Celluloid: How would you describe the storyline of 'Fantastic Parasuicides'? As you starred in Episode One of the anthology, what do you feel the film was attempting to convey in terms of social commentary?
Han Yeo-reum: The storyline would be described as a high school girl named Jina considering committing suicide because of her poor grades. She meets three angels and gets through embarrassing incidents/events. With these experiences, she finds enlightenment and doesn’t commit suicide after all. Well… I guess it would be summarized as not to commit suicide. In the case of Fantastic Parasuicides, the most charming part was working with Tablo, an attractive artist, rather than the charm of its script. Also, it was fun and amusing on the set.
Hangul Celluloid: Where would you like to see your career progress to in the future? For example, would you perhaps like to direct?
Han Yeo-reum: As I mentioned in the previous question, I’d like to work on many amazing film with directors in other countries. I’d also like to direct films.
Hangul Celluloid: Do you already have plans for your next project?
Han Yeo-reum: I haven’t decided. I just recently finished a TV one-act drama [a single TV drama lasting 60 to 90mins, rather than the more normal series running 16 or 20 episodes]. This time, the script was interesting rather than my character. I also worked with Lim Ji-gyu who is a brilliant actor. I’d like to work on a peculiar and lovely melodrama with him next time, such as, for instance, (500) Days Of Summer.
Hangul Celluloid: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my many questions.
Han Yeo-reum: I also thank you very much for your interest in me~♡ ^^