Despite backlash, ‘Kim Ji Young’ stars persevere: Adaptation of controversial book aims to help start conversations across Korea

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Despite backlash, ‘Kim Ji Young’ stars persevere: Adaptation of controversial book aims to help start conversations across Korea


Kim Ji-young, top left, stares into space at home in a scene from “Kim Ji Young: Born 1982.” Behind the scenes, bottom left, actor Jung Yu-mi, left, discusses her role with director Kim Do-young. At right, from left, actors Jung, Gong Yoo and director Kim answer questions at a press conference held at Lotte Cinema’s Konkuk University branch in eastern Seoul on Monday. The film will hit theaters this month. [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT, YONHAP]

In an era of a seemingly endless number of entertainment options, a book selling over a million copies is no small feat. So it came as no surprise when it was announced in 2018 that film distribution company Lotte Entertainment would be making the best-selling book “Kim Ji Young, Born in 1982” by Cho Nam-joo into a film.

Published in 2016, the book tells the story of Kim Ji-young, an average stay-at-home mom with a husband and a child to take care of. Kim gives up her own career to stay at home and raise her child. Although the book lacks any escalation of conflicts, Kim’s story tackles issues of gender inequality and the glass ceiling that many women face in a powerful way that resonated with many female readers.

However, not everyone sympathized with the book. As “Kim Ji Young, Born in 1982” became a symbol of feminism, many female celebrities who uploaded posts or mentioned the book on social media had to deal with blowback and an overwhelming amount of insults from anti-feminists. Most recently, actor Seo Ji-hye who uploaded a post to her Instagram praising the book, ended up taking the post down after she was attacked with insulting comments.

The upcoming film’s stars Jung Yu-mi and Gong Yoo also faced a great deal of controversy when the news broke last September that the two would be portraying the lead roles. Jung, who plays Kim Ji-young, was bombarded with hateful comments even before she ever stepped foot on the film’s set. However, at a press conference held for the film on Monday, the two actors said that they didn’t mind the haters as much as many had feared. Instead, their desire to do the story justice was their main focus.

“I read the script before I read the book,” Jung said. “After I finished reading, I think I thought a lot about my friends and family and thought about whether it was intentional or not, how I may have ignored their troubles [that I’ve felt in the script]. Although I cannot know all the feelings and worries that they feel, I wanted to feel what they must have felt [when they got married and had kids].”

Gong, who plays Ji-young’s husband, Dae-hyun, had also read the script first before he came across Cho’s work.

“My family was the first thing that popped into my mind after I finished reading the script,” Gong said. “I hardly ever cry after I read, but this was one of those rare moments. There was a part of Dae-hyun that I really connected to, as if I was actually playing him. I became Dae-hyun merely through reading the script, and that’s when I instinctively thought that I should do this. I also thought a lot about my family, and I called my mom afterwards to thank her for raising me.”

This is director Kim Do-young’s debut feature film. Kim previously told her own story in the short film “The Monologue,” which she directed and starred in. After the film received the Audience Award in the 17th Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival, she got a call from Lotte Entertainment proposing that she direct the “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982” film.

“‘The Monlogue’ was about an actor whose career is cut off as she raises her own children,” Kim said. “I was grateful that the company reached out to me, and I know what it means to have [a movie about] such a topic come out as a commercial film. The original book had already raised a lot of questions, and I contemplated long and hard about how to turn the book into a film narrative without distorting the original message of the story.”

The two actors praised the director’s methods.

“I hope other directors who have worked with me hear this out without any judgements,” Gong said. “Because Kim is an actor herself, she clearly knows how an actor feels and views their work. So when she gives directions, it’s very simple and clear-cut, but she knows how we feel and draws out the best of us.”

Jung agreed with Gong. “Especially in scenes where I had to interact emotionally with the child, I received a lot of pointers from Kim [about being a mother]. Since her advice comes from her own experience of raising children, I trusted her completely.”

Overall, the actors and the director hope that the film can bring about fruitful discussions and create an atmosphere for people regardless of gender and age to open up about their own troubles that they may have struggled to share before.

“I know that differences in perspectives always exist, and [I believe] there’s no clear right and wrong to any side,” Gong said carefully. “I chose to star in a film that I, as an actor, thought contained views that I sympathized with and I did my best to portray the role. There’s nothing we can hope for more than our intentions coming across through the screen to the audience.”

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