action, romance, optimism, kindness

Ji-won: Yes, those would be interesting challenges. I’m open to any role that would challenge me, but I’m not ready yet to give up on action-type roles. After all, men perform in those roles well into their fifties, why not women?

Lover: I can’t argue with that, but I have to be blunt, I’m not really into action movies – though with you as the hero I’d comfortably make an exception. But I find James Bond, for example, the most insufferably boring character on the planet. Scenes of violence in movies either bore me (when they’re meant to be exciting) or cause me too much real pain (when they’re meant to highlight human cruelty). I can’t watch war movies, for the same reason that I could never join the military. Violence sickens me, and I’d be happy to put my queer shoulder to the wheel to find alternative solutions. I prefer dramas with complex characters and clever language. Dilemmas, moral complexities – and of course romance.

Ji-won: Well, romance is a pretty strong theme in my work, but often I find it hard – even harder than action stuff. Love and loss, and all the uncertainties… It can be very draining, emotionally. And even when it ends happily, the series or the movie ends, and the character I fell in love with vanishes.

Lover: And your own character vanishes and you’re back to being good old Ji-won.

Ji-won: Well you know that’s one value of being single – I’d hate to put a partner through all my anguish regarding my relationships with other characters!

Lover: Ha you really think deeply about others, even imaginary others! I’d love to talk more about your singlehood, being as I’m in love with you and all that, but it’s a scary subject and I don’t want to lose your trust, so let me talk more about your work, both as an actor and as – well, as a celebrity, in relation to your fans. I know you found celebrity difficult to deal with in the early days, and yet you seemed to actively seek it. Can you talk about that… contradiction?

Ji-won: Well, mmmm… [ long pause] I don’t think I was seeking celebrity, what I wanted was to be successful in my career, the best I could be. I didn’t really make the connection, not consciously, that success in this business would lead to celebrity. Then I started getting fan letters, and they were really touching and caring, and really supportive of me, and so I wanted to succeed for their sake in a way. To make myself worthy of their support. Also, celebrity became a kind of challenge for me, to move in that kind of spotlight world and yet be myself, or to try to be my best self in that world. Not to lose myself. And also I want to use celebrity for good and not badness ha ha.

Lover: Well I think you’ve promoted the cause of strong, independent women, both in your roles and in your off-screen life and activities, but you’ve also promoted, through your personality, a lot of other positive values, such as optimism and enthusiasm, a strong work ethic, sensitivity and care for others, team spirit… I’m sure I could go on ha ha.

Ji-won: That’s enough, thank you, haha, you’re very kind.

sainthood, celebrity, ambition, versatility


Lover: You have an amazing and enviable reputation among everyone you work with it seems. You’re regarded almost as a saint! Why do you think that is?

Ji-won: Uhh, haha… I can’t answer that. It’s  … no, I can’t say… It’s nice of course. But I’m not a saint!

Lover: I’m sure you’re not – saints really aren’t that loveable, but you are.

Ji-won: Mmmm, thank you. So, what d’you want to talk about?

Lover: Well, you, of course, as I’ve said. And not just your acting but your very intriguing character. You are, I suppose, a celebrity, though I remember you saying, way back in that 2001 interview, that you didn’t feel like a celebrity, and I’m sure you still don’t feel like one. And you explained the psychology of it very well, but you know, you must be one of the most photographed women on the planet. It makes me wonder if you have a private life at all.

Ji-won: Haha well I don’t think I’m that popular. I like to keep busy though, and if I don’t have so much privacy, well it’s the life I’ve chosen and I’m not complaining.

Lover: Yes I note that when you talk to your fans you often urge them to keep watching your stuff and to spread the word. As if you want more celebrity. What’s that all about?

Ji-won: Haha yes I do that. I’m not sure, I don’t really analyse it. It’s as if I want to create a happy community around me. Maybe I’m insecure and I need people to believe in me. You think it’s really odd?

Lover: I don’t know, I think maybe you’re being very smart in a way that’s a bit foreign to me, but I’ve never been a celebrity or ever seriously considered that I could be, though I was sort of ambitious at one time to be recognised as a writer. Nowadays though I’m just happy to write and be a teacher and to learn about the world through reading about science and history and such. So in that sense your sort of ambition is a bit of a mystery to me, as mine might be to you. Though I have to admit, I’d love to be loved the way you’re loved.

Ji-won: I know I’ve been lucky to have the life and success I’ve had…

Lover: But you’ve worked damn hard, it’s not all luck.

Ji-won: Mmm, I’ve been given great opportunities, and I’ve always felt the need to prove that I’m worthy of the faith that others put in me.

Lover: You’ve created a reputation and now you have to live up to it. You’ve created a monster haha. But I’m wondering, now that you’re getting a bit older (I can say that, I’m old enough to be your father), whether you might want to tone down the action hero thing and go for a – well a more intellectual character – a scientist say, or a lawyer? That might be the next challenge to your well-established versatility. I’d love to see you in a really clever role like that.

roles, ideals, immersion, identity

Lover: It was a bit unbelievable I suppose, the way your character manipulated the hard-bitten detective, and basically got away with murder. It must’ve been daunting for you, as you played alongside a famous Korean actor, Ahn Sung Ki. But then you’d already been successful in School 2, a very popular series made in 1999. By the way, I don’t intend this to be a critique of all your roles. I’m more interested in Ha Ji-won herself.

Ji-won: Haha but maybe my characters are more interesting than I am. I haven’t murdered anyone, so far.

Lover: Mmm, that’s a question, how many people have you killed so far in your roles? What’s your body count?

Ji-won: Haha, I’m too embarrassed to say. Not so many. I wish I’d killed more, haha.

Lover: I read that you were given a difficult time by the director during that film. But it must’ve been exciting to work with Ahn Sung Ki, with whom you worked again in Duelist and Sector 7. I note that in a 2001 interview you referred to him as your ‘ideal type’, and this caused some surprise. Of course this was in response to an interview question which was probably designed to uncover your taste in boyfriends, so it was nice that you chose a veteran actor.

Ji-won: Yes, I took the question a bit differently haha, looking at the ideal person I’d want to be, an actor familiar with different roles and wanting to challenge himself, and also relaxed with who he is, confident, and supporting everyone around him. And fun too. I don’t know if I’ll ever be that person, but that’s what I try for.

Lover: You’re famous for pushing yourself really hard, immersing yourself in your character in a complete identification, losing yourself in the role even to a dangerous degree – for example you’ve said you needed help to get over your immersion in the character in Sector 7. So here’s a question you may not like. Have you ever thought that there may be a problem in this, in that the character, or the scenario, isn’t convincing or plausible enough to be worth that effort? I suppose I’m thinking from the perspective of a writer, so I often look critically at the screenplay or the scenario, rather than the acting. Though I admit that when you’re on the screen, that emphasis changes!

Ji-won: Really? What do you mean?

Lover: Oh, it’s hard to explain, I suppose I identify with you too much, I identify with you identifying with the character, and everything else goes out the window. But you must think in retrospect that some of your films or dramas have been better written or more artistically successful than others, leaving aside popularity.

Ji-won: Oh, yes, once I’m detached from them, but then I don’t tend to watch my old stuff or analyse it, I’m usually busy with my next project… I try to give my best at the time and once it’s over I leave it to others to judge. But yes when I’m working on something I sometimes criticise different scenes – we all do, really, if we don’t feel that a particular scene or speech works – it’s a team effort, though ultimately the director has the final say – it’s his project in the end.

 

food, time, work, fans

Lover: Thanks for your time, I’ve tried cooking this meal for you but I’m not sure you’ll like it. I can’t cook Korean – I mean I haven’t tried.

Ji-won: That’s so nice of you, it looks delicious. I like trying different foods. When in Australia haha. Is this potato?

Lover: Yes it’s potato au gratin, and this is chicken stuffed with avocado, takes me back to my restaurant days, years ago. I hope you like the sauce.

Ji-won: Mmmm, yes it’s – delicate. You shouldn’t have gone to such trouble, thank you.

Lover: I’m not vegetarian, I’m afraid. I don’t know if you are.

Ji-won: Ummm. Should I be? Would you like me to be haha?

Lover: Well, I’d like to be. I feel I should be. I’m waiting for the meatless burger to come to Australia.

Ji-won: The meatless burger?

Lover: Yes, it exists, but not here yet. Not for a long time I suspect. The meat industry is wasteful and cruel, you see.

Ji-won: Yes, yes I see. Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?

Lover: Well no, not really. I mean, I want to talk to you about everything. To hold your attention so to be with you. To dominate your time, shamefully.

Ji-won: Ha, I’m an actor, my time is precious. So many roles to play, to explore, before it’s too late. But I have time for you now. Is there anything you want to talk about first?

Lover: About you. I’ve been looking at your work, or trying to look at it, from the early days, but so much of it isn’t translated into English, and I know no Korean.

Ji-won: Haha well it’s great that we can talk to each other without any language barriers here, in the world of fiction.

Lover: I want to look at your work as more than just a fan. That’s short for fanatic you know.

Ji-won: You’re not a fanatic of mine? Haha how disappointing. What’s this all about then?

Lover: I don’t want to be a fanatic, and yet here I am. It worries me. Do you have any advice?

Ji-won: Mmmm, forget about me? Turn your back on me?

Lover: But you don’t really mean that Ji-won. You’re always exhorting your fans to watch your stuff, watch the next movie, watch the next series, tell your friends…

Ji-won: You think that’s shallow? Egotistic? I don’t want them to devote their lives to me. Just to watch my work. Occasionally. It’ll be fun. I do it for them.

Lover: They’re fans, Jiwon. Fanatics, remember?

Ji-won: Are we having an argument, haha? I haven’t had one of those in a while. I think the word ‘fan’ has changed its meaning. They’re not zombies.

Lover: Well, maybe it means something different in Korean. Okay, I’ve looked at Truth Game, your first movie, though you did one important series before that, and some appearances. Anyway, it’s the earliest work of yours available with English subs. Here in Australia. Welcome to Australia by the way.

Ji-won: Thank you.

Lover: Be careful of our sun, it might wreck your youthful skin.

Ji-won: I think we have the same sun in Korea hahaha.

Lover: Brilliant, you’re an astronomer! Truth Game wasn’t a bad film, and of course you were excellent.

Ji-won: Well, thank you, it was an important beginning for me in movies. I mean, sort of decisive, because it was a demanding role.