Son Ye Jin, the actress who made many hearts beat with her name alone, has already been in the scene for 14 years.
Time has flown. Her title of 'the nation's first love' has also already been taken over by a new figure, miss A's Suzy. Still, Son Ye Jin grew quickly to become a smart fox.
Through her many roles, ranging from a first love to a person whose days are numbered, an expert in romance and a hurt widow, she managed to help herself grow and mature.
This time she's taken on the blockbuster challenge with the film Tower. Enews met with the actress to hear about her transformation and about her life.
Son Ye Jin up close
A slight smile lit up her face and her eyes bent to add to her cuteness. No man would be able to shrug this expression off.
More than anything, she was very laid back. It seemed the skills and the attitude she had picked up after managing to stay alive in the scene, though she was a girl who had just graduated from college, had really become a part of her.
She said, "I think I had a hard time in my 20s. Now finally I've found my pace. I'm satisfied with my life now."
She was a good speaker, and she held definite views toward acting. Son Ye Jin was Son Ye Jin.
You must be busy these days. How have you been?
"I took a break for a month or two after finishing my shoots for the film Accomplice. (Laugh) I went on a trip, and had good food and good sleep at home. That's what makes up a good break for me."
'Tower' is a blockbuster, which cost more than 10 billion won to produce. Did you feel any pressure as its lead?
"I've felt a lot of pressure for my previous films. The burden of having to work with a rookie director, or with juniors, were heavy on me. This time, however, it was different. I had [Sul] Kyung Gu oppa (big brother) and [Kim] Sang Kyung oppa. I would always say, half-joking, that whenever I messed up it was 'because of the director and Kyung Gu oppa'. It felt that comfortable, and fun."
It's your first blockbuster; how was it different from your previous pieces?
"First of all, the scale was amazing. A lot of scenes that may look like special effects to the audience were filmed in real life. In the shoots that were to use special effects, however, I felt blind as an actor. Everything happens within the tower, but we've never actually seen it. (Laugh) It felt like I had become an ant in a giant mountain."
I heard it was very hard.
"I had to go into cold water in the early morning just around the time it started to really get cold, around September and October. When we filmed an explosion scene in the water, I had to hold onto a big ball of lead and then break the surface just when the explosion happened. In the underwater explosion scenes, I even lost consciousness once after being swept away with the water. It was really hard, but I guess it means a lot to me because I remember it as a joyful memory rather than a hard one."
I guess the mood on set was good.
"I was so happy. I don't remember being so happy filming a movie before. It was like filming a piece for my graduation with friends. My previous films emphasized emotions a lot, so I couldn't let go of the tense emotions, but since this film is a blockbuster, I could approach the emotions more comfortably."
Sul Kyung Gu and Kim Sang Kyung said you were like 'a little brother'. That was very unexpected.
"Well, we never really met each other made up beautifully; we didn't have time to feel fluttery around each other (Laugh). When we were filming we had dirt and soot all over our faces, and as soon as we were done we would go out for a beer. They felt like loyal hyungnims (big brother). Still, I didn't know I would be called a little brother... the times have certainly changed (Laugh)."
It seems Son Ye Jin is never afraid to ruin her image. For this film also you ruined yourself a lot.
"I don't really care about ruining my image. I did care for my hair, though, in scenes when I had to go above water. I believe you look more beautiful when you act naturally. Sometimes I would look great even with dust dummies all over me (Laugh)."
It's already been 14 years since your debut. How much have you changed from how you were in the past?
"I've changed a lot. I don't think I would go back to those times even if I get the chance. I didn't know I was a bad actor back then. I also think I was misunderstood a lot because I entered society as an actor. I was very enthusiastic about my work too, but still I didn't know what I was working hard for. I'm sad I didn't get to enjoy it more than anything. I think the pain I experienced back then has made me who I am now, since you never get something for nothing. I think I've become more laid back now that I've passed age 30 (Laugh)."
You were the icon of first love when you were in your 20s. These days there are a lot of actors who aim to take over that spot.
"Suzy of Architecture 101 was fresh and nice. I've noticed, though, that if our first loves were more classical, the first loves now are different. I'm the 1997 generation... so I don't know what would work now (Laugh). Still, I like how our generation was a mix of analogue emotions and technology."
You're often said to have both the looks and the skills. What do you think about your own acting?
"I'm always strict toward my acting. I believe it's dangerous to believe you're a good actor. I am, of course, proud of my acting, but I always try to warn myself that I still lack many things. I believe that's what helps me grow."
How about your future? Can we look forward to seeing another transformation?
"I'm actually not especially thinking of doing anything at the moment. I spent my 20s on set. It was hard back then, but now that I think of it they're all precious pieces to me and I feel proud. I do feel, however, that I can't take on any piece because I feel like I should accept those that are better than my previous ones. I want to be in a love story, but I've been in so many good romance films I don't think I'll be able to be in any average romance. (Laugh)"
Photo credit: Kim Byung Kwan