Real life tragedies outweigh on-screen success
Actress Choi Jin-sil’s life was often more dramatic than the television dramas she starred in.
At 20 years old, she found herself on the fast track to fame and during her 20 years in the public eye, she became one of the most beloved actresses in Korea.
Choi made her debut in 1988 at the age of 20 in an MBC epic drama, “500 Years of Joseon Dynasty.” With her sweet face and girl-next-door image, she soon became “Korea’s sweetheart.”
Two years after her TV debut, she made the jump to the silver screen playing memorable characters in the era’s important films.
She appeared in “North Korean Partisan in South Korea (1990),” “My Love, My Bride (1990),” “Susan Brink’s Arirang (1991),” “Mister Mama (1992),” and “How to Top My Wife (1994).” Her roles won her many major awards and further catapulted her to fame and success.
On television, meanwhile, Choi starred in numerous hit soap operas, solidifying her status as a household name and pop icon of the 1990s. They included “Jealousy (1992),” “Asphalt Man (1995),” “Apartment (1996),” “Star in My Heart (1997)” and “You and I (1997).”
Choi grew up poor and maintained a frugal lifestyle after her success, which only added to her popularity.
She was also a favorite with advertisers. Commercials in which she appeared became instant hits and her lines became catchphrases for the nation.
In 2000, Choi tied the knot with pro baseball player Cho Sung-min. Often called “the couple of the century,” they seemed like happy newlyweds, but just two years later they separated after high-profile domestic quarrels.
At one point, Choi called the police, leading to the immediate arrest of her husband for domestic violence. The couple finalized their divorce in September 2004, with Choi getting sole custody of their two children.
The period during Choi’s divorce was a dark one in her career as well, and she became a favorite target of Internet bloggers. But in 2005, Choi made a successful comeback in the soap opera, “My Rosy Life.” She won several major awards for her portrayal of a devoted but under-appreciated Korean mother whose husband cheats on her, gets divorced and is diagnosed with cancer.
Earlier this year, the 40-year-old actress starred in “The Last Scandal of My Life,” another hit drama. She played a Korean housewife whose romance with a hot leading actor gained the avid support of middle-aged women, creating the so-called “jumderella syndrome.” The term joins the words ajumma, Korean for housewife, and Cinderella.
In January this year, Choi filed a petition with the Seoul Family Court to change her children’s last name from her divorced husband’s to her own. The Korean government introduced a new family registry system this year that allows children to use either their mother’s or father’s last name and to change last names if their parents get divorced.
Choi won the bid in May, calling the victory “a hope for single mothers like me.”
Choi is survived by a 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.
By Kim Hyung-eun Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]