Actress KIM Hae-sook of HERSTORY
Jun 26, 2018
- Writerby SONG Soon-jin
“It was my biggest challenge as an actress”
In The Thieves (2012), she was Chewing Gum. In Assassination (2015), she was Madam Anemone. In Thirst (2009), she was Mrs. La, and in The Handmaiden (2016), she was Madam Sasaki. So many character names played by actress KIM Hae-sook come to mind. This time, she added yet another name to her list: meet Herstory’s BAE Jung-gil. Directed by MIN Kyu-dong of All About My Wife (2012) and The Treacherous (2015), Herstory relates the 23 trials of the sex slave victims who were sent back and forth between Shimonoseki and Busan from 1992 to 1998 went through. The film is a drama film based on the true story of the “Shimonoseki Trials”. In this film, KIM Hae-sook plays the whole-hearted BAE Jung-gil, a woman with deep scars who found the courage to stand in front of the Japanese court. “In the 40 years of my acting career, it was the biggest challenge yet,” said KIM Hae-sook as we discussed the film together.
Following Spirits' Homecoming in 2016 and I Can Speak in 2017, films and documentaries about the Japan sex slave victims have started to be released in theaters. As an actress, did you ever imagine it would be possible to tell their story one day?
I didn’t know I would be the one doing it. Most of the works I’ve been in were set in the Japanese colonial period, so I never thought about acting in films that talk about the same survivors but in the present time. I didn’t think I would be acting as a comfort woman at my age. Even when I Can Speak was released, people didn’t really know it was about the surviving comfort women until they actually watched the movie. When I first received the script from director MIN Kyu-dong, I saw that the title was Herstory and wondered what it might be about. I only realized it was about comfort women later. After reading the story, I thought it was something new and intriguing: instead of talking about the victims’ youth, this film relates how those people we saw on the news back then actually live now. I learned how they had to live all these years, and how their pain and scars are still not healed to this day. Each one of them had to find the courage to share how they were victimized and they had to go to Japan to fight for justice without any help. They were able to have such a rare victory. It’s such a meaningful event and I was very embarrassed to hear about it that late. I don’t think any of us paid attention to this event until now and in that respect, I believe this film had to be made for more people to hear about it.
The character of BAE Jung-gil, at the center of the story, carries painful memories she can’t share with anyone. It must have been hard to perform as such a character.
Through the many films and dramas I've done, I was able to make my range of emotions wider. I also have experience playing rough characters. Whenever I get a difficult character, I read the script multiple times. That way, I’m able to draw them in my head, and I’ll be able to step in their shoes when I perform. However, the more I tried to imagine her, the more BAE Jung-gil got mysterious. At first, I was scared and wasn’t sure I was doing it right. The more I tried, the more I felt like I couldn’t understand her pain and that tortured me. Strangely and unlike other film shootings, I did not get used to the set and my body started to hurt. I was able to get the character sorted out in my own way, and I played her as a person with a painful past who also has other painful personal memories. That’s why she lacks emotions and is fearless. This is also why the hardest part for me was holding back the tears. In some scenes, I would start to cry right after the “cut”. I could really understand what it meant to have a bruised heart. After going through this much trouble, I thought it would be best to get rid of my feelings and to put BAE Jung-gil’s heart first. However, I’m still uncertain about my performance. Even during the preview screening, I wasn’t able to watch it properly. I think I would be happy if the survivors tell me my performance reflected their feelings in some way.
KIM Hee-ae, YE Soo-jung, MUN Suk, and LEE Yong-neo are some of the actresses you worked with in this movie. Their acting in the court scene was especially passionate.
The characters were so important and complex that we didn’t get the chance to have any personal chats. Director MIN Kyu-dong was so anxious that he was taken away on an ambulance once. When we were shooting the court scene where the victims talk about their stories, I think all of the actresses were hurting along with the characters. In this particular scene, my character is only a witness but I could feel the same emotions as the characters testifying. That’s how our comradeship began. We started looking after each other’s health. We would constantly check on each other and cheer each other up. It wasn’t just among the lead actresses, all of the actors and staff shared these emotions with us as well.
You have such an extensive filmography in both film and television dramas. Where do you get your motivation?
I wasn't aware of it but at a certain point, I realized that I love my job. Once, I told myself that I was working too hard and decided to take a break. But after a month, I didn’t have anything to do and I thought about what I like the most in life. That was working, going to the set, and getting excited about playing a new character. Even my way of getting rid of stress is through work. If I have a hard time with a piece, then I quickly move on to the next. That is my way of getting over stress and it worked well for me. I would say I was very lucky with the directors I worked with and the projects I've done. Since I got to be in so many great projects, now I have this desire to find new characters to play. I want to star in a noir film one day.
When are you the happiest as an actress?
There are two things that make me happy. One is when the director tells me that I’ve executed my role well, and the other is when the audience gives me positive criticism. When the director compliments me, I feel like I’ve fulfilled my responsibility to my character, while the compliments from the audience make me feel like they noticed my best efforts. It makes everything worthwhile, and I get energized from it.
I will never forget it. I’m thankful I was able to participate in such a meaningful film. It made me think not only as an actress but also as a human being. Despite knowing the painful history Korea had, I didn’t know about the Shimonoseki Trials until now. Through this film, I was able to learn a little bit about what comfort women went through and I’m happy that I’m able to tell people about these brave old ladies who went through 23 trials to win their case. I hope people of all gender and age watch the film and support it. I think the survivors and the victims who passed away will be able to smile and be consoled by it.