Jun Ji-hyun starts anew

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Jun Ji-hyun starts anew


Jun Ji-hyun By Lim Hyun-dong

Actress Jun Ji-hyun was once considered one of Korea’s most overrated actresses. She debuted as a cover girl for a fashion magazine and instantly soared to stardom but soon fell flat.

Her one hit, “My Sassy Girl” (2001), impressed audiences, though critics pointed to her “pretty face and perfect body” instead of any acting expertise.

After the rocky start, Jun spent her time doing some television commercials and working in the United States.

Then last year, she appeared in “The Thieves,” Korea’s version of “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Theatergoers enjoyed Jun’s take on a sexy burglar complete with body-hugging leather suits, though critics were not so quick to give their endorsement.

Some said the role was made for Jun and that the sexy and foul-mouthed burglar was just a remake of the quirky character from “My Sassy Girl.”

For this reason, Jun’s most recent film, “The Berlin File,” could be the actress’s make-or-break moment. This time, Jun played a more complex and challenging character named Ryon Jung-hee.

Ryon is a North Korean translator employed by the country’s embassy in Germany who becomes the target of a veteran South Korean intelligence chief along with her secret agent husband.

Before taking on the role, Jun had to learn a North Korean accent and gather the courage to stand tall among top-notch actors such as Han Suk-kyu, Ryu Seung-beom and Ha Jung-woo.

Initial critic reactions seem to indicate that her efforts were successful and that the film might just be Jun’s ticket to full-fledged stardom.

Ilgan Sports, JoongAng Ilbo’s sports and entertainment daily, recently caught up with Jun, who is in the midst of a number of personal and professional changes.

Q. Your part was smaller than the others, but every one of your scenes is quite impressive.

A. I didn’t really care about my character’s presence in the film. What I cared about the most was the director. I prefer to work with directors who have their own unique style because they know how to get the best from each actor. My fellow actors are also important. When they are full of energy, I can give it my all and develop chemistry with them. “The Berlin File” was the best in that sense.

Your role required that you speak with a North Korean accent. Did that make you hesitate before accepting it?

When I decided to be a part of this film, I knew that there would be a huge distance between myself and the fictional character of Ryon Jung-hee. The most daunting task for me during the whole production was shortening that distance by immersing myself in the character.

I played ordinary people in my past roles, but this one was so different. I cared about every word I spoke, and I also had to retake certain scenes because of the accent.

Where did you learn North Korean words and the accent?

I had a private tutor who defected to South Korea. She recognized me at once when we first met, and it was quite surprising. She told me she could watch South Korean soap operas while living up there.

Since my tutor watched me acting on set, I became self-conscious.

Another funny thing is that I was learning the accent while dubbing for “The Thieves,” and sometimes I spoke using the North Korean dialect for the sexy burglar character without even knowing it. We had to stop recording a couple times because of my accent.

I think we can call you an action star. You’ve done a great job in action scenes for “The Thieves” and “The Berlin File.”

I’m confident while doing such scenes, but I had to look awkward when handling a rifle. I looked too professional in action scenes and the director asked me to look more uncomfortable.

What was it like working with Ha Jung-woo, one of today’s most- sought-after actors?

He was the best actor I’ve ever worked with. If I feel comfortable on the set, I can give it my all when acting. But the director, Ryu Seung-wan, tried to put some distance between him and me maybe because my character is quite dark. Still, I was so happy that I had Ha because he always made me laugh. He is such a witty and smart guy. If Ha were an actress, there might be a rivalry between us.

If there’s a spin-off of “The Thieves” in the near future centering on the story of your character Yenicall, would you be in it?

Why not? Yenicall is a character that I can do very well. When I heard there might be a spin-off, I thought to myself that I would need to keep in shape for that project. [Laughs]

You spent months overseas for “The Berlin File.” Was it hard to live apart from your husband?

I missed him a lot, but I didn’t hold my cellphone all the time. [Laughs]

By Jeong Ji-won [so@joongang.co.kr]
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