It’s rude to ask her nationality. BAE Doona, born in Korea, October 11, 1979, isn't just an actress who can be confined as a ‘Korean actress’. She does not possess the so-called ‘export-friendly’ ‘Mulan' appearance, of long black hair with sharp eyes. By all account, she does not have the looks of a typical international star. The face which can make perspective powerless and is beyond intimacy. Her face is at the very unique spot where you can hardly argue whether it is pretty or not, or tell where she is from. Then we might call her an actress from earth, but even that seems far fetched at times. So all these identifications become meaningless.
The messages BAE Doo-na tries to convey in her films often overcome the language, which divides nations as well as cultures. She was the one character able to communicate with her mute lover RYU (SHIN Ha-kyun) with sign language in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) by PARK Chan-wook. She shared her loneliness through rhythms of guitar and drums with the members of The Blue Hearts band in Linda Linda Linda (2005) by Nobuhiro YAMASHITA. It was BAE who filled her mouth with a large dumpling and swallowed her sorrow in Take Care of My Cat (2001) by JEONG Jae-eun. And finally her striking pose with bow and arrow, aiming directly at the monster who took her sister away is beyond space and language in The Host (2006) by BONG Joon-ho.
Her love for traveling and taking photos resulted in several successful coffee table books such as ‘Doona’s London Play’, ‘Doona’s Tokyo Play’, and ‘Doona’s Seoul Play’, which made her into a bestseller artist. She’s a traveller who is always ready to leave and make the most of the place she has set her foot on. Flipping through her books, you will find her picking out a flower in a foreign land and walking back to her temporary residence, as if she has made it her home for the past 10 years. Her unusual method of traveling is a glimpse of her nomadic feet and settler’s heart, and this human being’s natural way of life, and a link to her acting skills. Her feet have led her from melodrama to comedy, from action to drama: from the maze-like corridors of Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) by BONG Joon-ho to the shabby streets of Incheon in Take Care of My Cat, from the small practice room of Linda Linda Linda to Han-gang river of The Host by BONG Joon-ho, and from Japan to Korea, just like a curious cat, never being afraid of unfamiliar genre and uncharted area.
In doing so, BAE has never used phrases like ‘venturing out to foreign markets’ or labels like ‘Hanryu Wave’, but someone who is innately comfortable with various genres and nations like someone who was always there from the beginning. She even felt natural when she spoke mostly in Japanese during early episodes of the Japanese TV series ‘Someday’, where she starred as Yamaguchi Hana, a Korean- Japanese character. It’s unsurprising to see her shout ‘tadaima’ (‘I’m Home’, a phrase used when someone comes home), or when she transforms into an adoptee in France, or even when she stars as a yellow skinned girl in the middle of Africa. It isn’t only because of her brilliant ability to absorb new languages, but her keen observation of gestures and behavior of foreigners. She certainly has her own style no matter what language she uses, but she never forgets to layer her performance with native idiosyncrasies of that particular culture.
This positive stateless mindset opens her up to so many opportunities, so that it wouldn’t seem all that implausible even if she plays an alien or a cartoon character. In that regard, it’s not startling to see her come alive as a ‘doll’ in Air Doll, the latest film by Hirokazu KOREEDA, who received international attention with 2004 film Nobody Knows.
At Cannes Film Festival in May 2009, BAE graced the screen not with buddying Korean films like Thirst or Mother but as the protagonist of this Japanese film. But it would be unruly to call her a Japanese actress, as it was falsely reported by international press. Perhaps it would be more apt to call her a universal actress.