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Aug 30, 2021
  • Writerby Park Hyeeun
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A meeting of legend and legend, director Hong Sang-soo's In Front of Your Face, which was invited to this year's Cannes Film Festival premiere, looks like a tribute to the legendary female actor Lee Hyeyeoung in the Korean film industry. 


Lee Hyeyeong is the daughter of Lee Manhee, a legendary director who symbolizes Korean films in the 1960s and 1970s, and a leading actor who led Korean films in the 1980s. She made her musical debut at the age of 19 in 1981 and soon entered the film industry. In her early 20s, she drew attention by showing provocative and disturbing characters, including Hyangsim, a barmaid in Blazing Sun (1985), Eunyoung, a military wife in Winter Wanderer (1986), and Miss Hong in Ticket (1986). Lee Hyeyeong's intense image was far from female actors with pure and feminine image, and she showed performances that overwhelmed the leading actors with her secular and sensual appearance.


In Sabangji (1988), the controversial film that should be reevaluated as a queer movie, Lee Hyeyeong starred as Sabangji, a bisexual character. In the film, Sabangji falls in love with a widow of a noble family, not only sharing the sexual desire but the mental communion. The love between the two female characters in the movie was a shock itself at that time. In addition, Lee played the role of Seong Sobi in The Age of Success (1988), the representative film of Director Jang Sunwoo, who led the Korean New Wave. Appearing as a vengeful incarnation of revenge who tried to destroy Kim Panchok (Ahn Sungki), who dreams of making a comeback, Lee Hyeyeong showed a femme fatale-like performance of Film Noir.


Lee showed remarkably self-assertive and confident characters in Korean films in the 1980s when Korean cinema was very conservative, such as Dangerous Scent (1988), which could be called the Korean version of Fatal Attraction (1987), and A Second Sex (1989), the story of a married couple betraying each other. In the 1980s, she played characters whose sexuality was emphasized mainly in the popular eroticism genre, but she was not easily consumed due to her unique charisma and outstanding acting skills. Rather, she stirred up the male-centered patriarchy, overcoming the limitations of the films through female-subjective acting. Her unique atmosphere and presence shone no matter what role she played in any film. Since she was ahead of her time, it's hard to believe that she was an actor in the 1980s.


In the 1990s, she appeared in masterpieces such as North Korean Partisan In South Korea (1990) and Myong-Ja Akiko Sonia (1992), but it was No Blood No Tears (2002) that showed her amazing comeback on the screen. It is comparable to Quentin Tarantino's casting Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (1997). It was indeed a divine move that Director Ryu Seungwan cast Lee Hyeyeong as an ex-thief leading a crazy life. Middle-aged Gyeongsun, who rolled on the bare ground, punched and fought, was the best character that deserves the praise of ‘girl crush.’



After appearing in The Devil's Game (2008), Lee Hyeyeong mostly performed on theatrical stages in the 2010s. She consistently drew attention by playing characters full of self-righteousness and charisma in the plays such as Hedda Gabler, which won the 2012 Korea Drama Awards, The Seagull in 2016, and MEDEA in 2017 at Myeongdong Theater. Recently, Lee appeared in Director Hong Sangsoo's In Front of Your Face (2021) and was invited to the Cannes Premier at the Cannes Film Festival 2021. Lee Hyeyeong's unexpected appearance in Director Hong's film must be another surprising move that raises expectations. In addition, she will show impressive performances in Happy New Year directed by Kwak Jaeyong and Anchor with actress Chun Woohee. ‘In front of her face,’ what kind of amazing acting will we meet? 


“A long time ago, I visited Cannes twice unofficially in my life. At that time, I wrote my acceptance speech just for fun. Since Cannes Premiere is a non-competitive section, I don't have to announce my acceptance speech, but I feel like my dream has come true because the film I starred in has been invited to Cannes.” She said this about her fisrt invitation to Cannes.



The story of her meeting with director Hong Sang-soo was like a movie. “Director Hong sent me a text message, written “I'm Hong Sangsoo who makes films.” Receiving the message, I answered him, “I'm ready. Let's meet up." 

She didn’t ask Director Hong why he cast her. Actually, she wasn't even curious about it. “ I just wanted to meet him. I wanted to be his friend and share a drink. In fact, I have never seen any of his films.” She laughed out loud. “I was completely fascinated by his movies and the site making movies. His films I glanced at on TV seemed too casual, realistic, and unkind, I thought. It was almost to the point of looking insincere. To me, who regards the ‘fantasy of films’ as a reality, Hong’s reality in his films was seen as rather unrealistic.”


and then, the actor with 40 years of experience experienced everything for the first time in the film set of director Hong Sangsoo. “I finally felt like I found a room ‘to be classified as an actor.’ I still remember the first day of shooting very vividly. At least I never thought that I acted fauxmotional not even once in the 40 years of my acting career. However, working with Director Hong, I even thought, "Isn't my acting from the past all fake?" Working with him was a process of discovering novelty every moment. It was the freedom that I had never felt before in my acting career. Working that way was very interesting, and it was incredibly free.”


Isn't it a tribute to the actor that director Hong Sang-soo's movie, starring Lee Hyeyeong, was titled In Front of Your Face? “Well, we didn’t have any titles while shooting the film. (Laughter) So, I don't know why the director named it that way. One thing for sure is that I was acting totally differently from the films that I appeared in before.” 'Her face', which everyone is curious about, will be opened with the release of In front of your face in the second half of the year.


And I think it will be more meaningful to her in that she will once again emerge as an actor from 2021.  Besides In Front of Your Face, she’ll release several new films in 2021, including Anchor and Happy New Year. “The filming sequence is In front of your face is the last. But the opening will be the fastest. It was also nice to shoot with young actors. There's always a saying that I'm fooled by. "No other actors can do this film and this character but you. You're the only one who can play it!" She laughed out loud again. ”New movies are another new experience for me. The amount of appearances doesn't matter at all. For me, choosing a new film is either Actor Lee Hyeyeong is in the process of finding a character who I can picture properly, or she's already found one and leaves the wanderer's path again.“


Although she has lived as an actress for 40 years, she still dreams of becoming an actor. “ I still live pursuing my dreams. And I still want to be someone else’s dream, who still believes in dreams.” Lee Hyeyeong’s unexpected appearance in 2021 must be another surprising move that raises expectations for us. She will surprise us. Like she did for 40 years.


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