Interview With Actress Lee Young-ae
By Paolo Bertolin
Actress Lee Young-ae
, playing the leading role of Kum-ja in "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" is one of South Korea most beloved stars of popular TV dramas, such as "The Jewel in the Palace" - "Dae Jang Geum" (2003). In cinema, she has already teamed with Park Chan-wook
's on " JSA - Joint Security Area" (2000), a thriller set on the Demilitarized Zone of the 38th parallel between the two Korea. The film proved a huge hit, breaking Seoul's box office records, and propelling Park to director stardom.
Subsequently, Lee also starred in Heo Jin-ho
's delicate melodrama "One Fine Spring Day" (2001). With the role of Kum-ja, she has now finally returned to film with a challenging character that bravely defies the stereotypes attached to her acting persona.
Question: The role of Kum-ja in "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" sharply differs from the kind of image South Korean audiences associate to the characters you have been playing. What made you decide to accept this unusual part?
Answer: I thought the part was unusual for a woman in general, plus I was enthusiastic because this was a rare case of a female protagonist at the center of the plot from beginning till end. This was actually the most important reason in choosing to act in the film. I also thought that the many changes the character undergoes during her story were especially challenging for me as an actress.
As for this character being different from my persona in TV dramas, I knew some fans might be disappointed, still I gather from their feedback that they didn't leave me and understood my choice, as well as the character. In the end, I made my choice just considering that this part was a great chance for me as an actress.
Q: Do you apply different criteria in choosing your parts for TV dramas and films?
A: I don't regard my work on television and films as different. I would not consider my work as an actress different even if I had to choose a part to play on stage. To me, it is acting itself that is important, not the medium. When I choose a part I only judge whether it is a good one.
If I look at back at myself 10 years ago, I can see that through my experience of acting in cinema and television, there are now many differences. I can perceive my acting has become more mature, that I acquired better skills and I feel happy about this improvement. If my fans don't approve of one of my professional choices, I don't regard it as a problem. What really matters is the role I have chosen helping me to become a better actress.
Q: "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" has virtually been the very first Korean blockbuster relying on a female lead, and of course it is a very peculiar female lead for Korean standards. Do you think this success might change something in Korean cinema, especially in terms of better chances for actresses?
A: If there have been Korean blockbusters featuring leading female characters, those have usually been comedies, thus "Lady Vengeance" is certainly an exception. I think this was a really good point in choosing to star in the film. Of course, I felt the burden of this difficult part, but now I feel repaid as I see the interest of international journalists here in Venice. Since in Korea not many movies like this are made, I hope leading female roles will become more and more common. I also wish that in Korea, as it happens in Hollywood and Europe, actresses in their 30s and 40s could keep working and being employed as when in their 20s, even when they start having their own family life. I am convinced it will be so.
Q: This is the second time you work with Park Chan-wook
, after acting in " JSA - Joint Security Area" in 2000. Back then, he had only directed two commercial failures, and nobody predicted the huge success of this film that, for the first time in a South Korean mainstream production, did not depict North Korean soldiers as enemies or beasts. What were the reasons that prompted you to star in "JSA"? And what are the differences between the two experiences of work with Park?
A: In 2000, when I accepted the part in "JSA", I knew I was not going to be the lead, that mine was just a supporting character, but I was really interested in the script. With "Lady Vengeance" instead I was offered the leading character, and once again the script was very good. Compared to five years ago I now have more experience and I prepared a lot in order to express the most difficult sides of Keum-ja. I also have to mention that that "JSA" was selected to compete in Berlin, while "Lady Vengeance" is now here in Venice. Hence, these films not only offered interesting acting experience, but also good chances to promote Korean cinema in important international showcases. Therefore, I am very thankful to director Park for the chances he gave to me.