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Ko - production in Busan
  • by HA Jung-min /  Jun 20, 2016
  • “I don’t want to act a character that I do not fully understand”

    Wild Flowers (2015) and Steel Flower (2016) both feature a homeless girl as the main character. Neither of them tells the story of their past, how these girls left home. They just follow the girls living on their own in this cruel world. Ha-dam, the lead girl in the two films, was played by rookie actress JEONG Ha-dam. In both movies she successfully represented the girl on the street, about whom no explanation is given at all, even displaying the rough texture of her life. 

    You made your film debut with Wild Flowers. How did you start out as an actress? 


    I was in a drama club during high school. Since then, I've always thought that I would want to be an actress. However, by that time, there was no concrete plan so I majored in politics and foreign affairs at college. Then I realized that acting is what I truly want to study. So I prepared for college entrance examination again, hoping to major in drama and film studies, but the attempt wasn't successful. I still could not give up and I checked out auditions. Wild Flowers was my very first audition.  


    You began your film career with quite a serious movie, playing the role of a runaway kid. Didn’t you find it rather overwhelming? 


    I found it quite hard to understand when I just read the scenario. This girl was living a life that is totally different from what I have lived. I talked a lot with the director PARK Suk-young before shooting, in the hope that I won’t be a burden to the film. It is how PARK writes his scenario, too. Rather than writing it on his own in the room, he works in interaction with others, giving and taking feedbacks. He would often ask me what I thought during revision, and I would frankly tell him my own opinion. I also taught him the kind of language that teenagers use these days. That’s why my name appears in the adaptation list in Wild Flowers


    I hear you actually lived on the street to really feel Ha-dam's life.    


    PARK often called the girls in Wild Flowers the 'street kids.' If you refer to them as 'runaways,' it implies that they once had home to run away from, but the term 'street kids' are as though they've always been there. At first, I didn't quite understand what he meant by that. As I became very nervous, he suggested that I walk like Ha-dam. So after reading the complete scenario, I just wandered around Seoul, in Ha-dam's clothes. I really wanted to share her feelings, even a little bit. I stopped by at an orphanage, visited the alleys behind Seoul Station, and I walked in the crowded streets. I think I learned how it feels to be an outsider in a busy downtown street. To me they would not even give out those handouts that people just throw away. Feeling that kind of glances thrown on me, I started learning and understanding the character. 


    So what was your understanding of Ha-dam's character?

    Her life on the street has been a lot longer than what you would think. She was there way before the older girls. So even though she is younger and quiet, she knows the rhythm of street life, almost engraved in her. That's how I understood Ha-dam. 


    Steel Flower is somewhat like a sequel to Wild Flowers. It looks as if the 16-year-old Ha-dam in Wild Flowers has grown up into Ha-dam in Steel Flower.


    I felt pity for Ha-dam in Wild Flowers because her character was younger than I was. However, Ha-dam in Steel Flower is about the same age as me but she felt much more mature. She was not a girl in misery but a truly great person. She was like a warrior fighting an endless battle. So I felt that if I could act her power and persistence, then I would also become a person who is able to fight against the world. She is a beautiful and strong persona. 


    In Steel Flower your appearance is only shot from the back or in silhouette from distance. And there's hardly any dialogue either. Ha-dam must have been a tough character to act. 


    So I tried hard to follow her foot prints, so to speak, so that I could feel and understand her as much as possible. I wanted to understand her mind set when she was desperately sorting out her stuff in the suitcase, and I thought she was wearing a coat with which she doesn't look so different from others, although the coat was pretty rugged. I bought all Ha-dam’s clothes and shoes at the vintage market myself. Likewise, I always thought hard to understand her feelings. She tries hard to keep dignity in her life, despite all the hardships. That’s why she keeps a spoon and a pair of chopsticks in her bag. There is a sequence where she eats free food at a bar. Usually, Ha-dam would not accept such food. However, on that particular day, she accepted them as she was ever so weary and exhausted, but she tries to hold on to the last straw of her dignity by eating it with her own spoon and chopsticks. That is how I understood her, anyway. It may look even more pathetic to others, but for her, it is the principle of life.


    Without almost no dialogue or facial expression, you nonetheless communicated Ha-dam’s mind through a great body language. You use your body well. 

    I tried hard to find the right kind of body gesture for Ha-dam, as the film is full of full shots and shots taken from behind. I created her walking by using shoes of different heights, and when she was carrying around her suitcase, I held on to it desperately as if a turtle was wearing his shell, because her suitcase must be her true home.


    You are a rising actress but you already seem to have your own perspective on acting. Can you tell us what it is?


    I don’t want to act a character that I do not fully understand. I don't want to pretend as if I do when I really don't. I don’t think I can act naturally if I do not understand the line or the situation. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to be in films where I am given enough time to learn and understand my character. 


    Are you working on any film now?


    Ash Flower by PARK Suk-young, the third of his “flower” trilogy, following Wild Flowers and Steel Flower. However, it features a totally different story and characters from the previous two films. In genre terms, I would say it is a family movie. You will see Ha-dam, and her old mother and brother.


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