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Mar 12, 2018
  • Writerby SONG Soon-jin
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“I want to find the balance within me, and enjoy my work”

A film of KIM Tae-ri, by KIM Tae-ri, for KIM Tae-ri has been released. It’s Little Forest, a film by the director of Forever The Moment (2008) and The Whistleblower (2014), YIM Soon-rye. After starring in PARK Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden (2016) as Sook-hee, KIM Tae-ri entered the spotlight and quickly became a rising star in 2016. She followed up by giving another impressive performance after being cast as Yeon-hee in 1987: When the Day Comes (2017). In Little Forest, she plays Hye-won, a young woman in her 20s who has worries of her own. Hye-won is worn out by the fast, tiring and hungry city life. She decides to move back to the country house she used to live in with her mom when she was young, and spends four seasons there. While eating meals made from the crops she raised herself, Hye-won searches for her soul and gets the courage to live again. It’s a film that heals your soul. We met with KIM Tae-ri who continues to make a name for herself in the Korean film industry to talk about the film.

This is your first film as the lead character. How do you feel?

I was excited the moment I received the scenario. The film turned out even better than I imagined, so I’m satisfied. 

This film came out a little different from the original Japanese manga series. How did the character named Hye-won come to be?

When I met with the director for the first time, we talked for a very long time. She was more curious about what kind of person I was more than talking about the scenario. A few days after she asked me everything about my family affairs and personal details, she called and asked me to come on board. So, I received a script that had already been edited for the Korean audience from the beginning. Hye-won and I have a lot in common. We’re both independent, and we both want to be acknowledged. We also have a lot of pride. In the original, she is someone who closes herself off from others more than me, but I’m similar to her where she tries to resolve her worries, pains, and stresses alone. The area I focused on the most in order to depict Hye-won was in her relationship with her mom. I had to imagine and create a relationship that was omitted from the script. For example, when Hye-won finished her exam and found out her mom had left, she walked through a forest with an upset face. What was she thinking then? How was it like when she lived in the city? That’s what I was thinking about. At first, I thought she would have been very mad. Her mother did not come to her graduation or her first day of school. While she reflected on the days when she was alone in the crowd, I think she would have felt lonely. 

Hye-won continues to apply for the teacher certification exam. She works at a convenience store to make a living, and buy meals from food trucks to get by. This character speaks for a lot of youths in their 20s. 

Hye-won is actually in a unique situation. Her mother left her, but she still went back to her country home. This is something the audience might not relate to. I think that’s why her life in Seoul depicted something very relatable to the audience. By showing a very ordinary life of someone in their 20s, the audience can see themselves or their friends through her.

Did you find yourself getting comforted during the shooting process?

I think the biggest gift was being able to work with other actors at my age. We were always together, and we would just chat with each other on the bench every now and then. Those times really helped heal me.

Director YIM Soon-rye is an animal rights activist and a key female filmmaker. Would you say there is anything unique about her film set?

Director YIM Soon-rye’s rule is that “every living thing is precious”. She also emphasized that we must live together with nature. There are many animals and bugs in our film. There is a scene where Hye-won picks a caterpillar off of her friend. I had to throw the caterpillar from about 3 stories high. We had a blanket prepared on the ground. No one cared about my acting. All of the staff were looking for the caterpillar. Also, if a fly came onto the set, we didn’t catch them. Instead, we just waited for them to leave. While shooting the film, I adopted two abandoned cats. I think I was influenced by the director.

You were in The Handmaiden with PARK Chan-wook, 1987: When the Day Comes with JANG Joon-hwan, and Little Forest with YIM Soon-rye. You were lucky with your films and directors.

Until now, the directors I worked with had broad views of the world and were pure, regardless of their gender. I think I was so lucky, that it’s more like a miracle. Since I’m a new actress, I wanted to meet people who would lead me. I was just starting off during The Handmaiden, so I felt relieved that the script, continuity, film art, and everything else would be perfectly prepared by director PARK Chan-wook. With 1987: When the Day Comes, the continuity wasn’t very important. A lot of the scenes were determined on the spot by the director and the cinematographer. With YIM Soon-rye, I really felt like I was making a film. Some scenes like friends quarreling were made impromptu, and I did a lot of ad-libbing. At first, it was hard to do something on the spot, but it became fun towards the end. I think I’m learning a lot through different projects.

Since The Handmaiden, after portraying several adventurous characters, people also noticed what a strong person you are in real life. You have a lot of female fans. Have you noticed how popular you’ve become?

I know many people started to support me thanks to Sook-hee from The Handmaiden. I intend on keeping this in mind whenever I speak or choose my projects. I don’t want to disappoint my fans. However, I still think that I should find a balance within myself. Instead of making rash decisions, I try to think about things from different angles. 

The Handmaiden recently claimed the BAFTA for ‘Best Film Not in the English Language’. Are you considering using this opportunity to find your way into the international film scene or to star in a co-production?

I’m open to all possibilities. If the opportunity comes, I want to try it. However, I don’t have a burning ambition. I’m worried that I might not have enough ambition, but my hope is to enjoy my work without getting tired or stressed. 

You’ll star in a drama series called Mr. Sunshine.

We’re in the middle of shooting. It’s my first time, so I’m not sure if it’s going well. In movies, you must make your character as impactful as possible within 2 hours. That’s why you have to act very carefully for each scene. But, if I act so powerfully for every scene in a drama, I will get tired and so will the audience. I’m trying to be more relaxed when I perform.

Do you have any films lined up?

I recently watched an indie film called Bitch on the Beach (2016) which was directed by JEONG Ga-young who also stars in it. I was shocked. I didn’t realize one could make such a simple piece that’s also entertaining. I hope more films like hers will be made. Little Forest also cannot be categorized as the main stream film. If such movies can perform well and make enough to recoup the investment, I will be able to make more diverse films too. I want to work with more female directors.
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