After her marriage, Jun Ji Hyun's life changed completely. She had been settling at the bottom of a slump, but one film later, she had managed to again become one of the biggest actors in the scene.
Following a string of films that flopped in the box office, Jun Ji Hyun managed to pull herself together with The Thieves, which gathered the biggest audience for a Korean film in history, and is now out for another try at 10 million with the blockbuster film The Berlin File.
Jun Ji Hyun up close
The shroud of mystery was unveiled. Jun Ji Hyun was no longer an actress trying to avoid being sighted by the public. A seasoned actress who had been in the scene for 15 years took her place.
Her giant gestures and booming laughs showed how much she had changed.
"I found confidence in acting after my marriage, and above all, I regained my faith," she said.
It wasn't easy to accept that she wasn't the girl of My Sassy Girl anymore, but it was clear that the changes that had come over her were steering her and her life in a positive direction.
'The Thieves' was a giant success. This time you're out for another try with 'The Berlin File', and the two films must feel different.
"I was so tense for both. Actually, I don't appear in a heavy role for The Berlin File. I can't even start to compare it with my role for The Thieves. Still, in terms of nervousness, I think I'm more nervous about The Berlin File."
You acknowledged that your role is pretty small. Why did you still decide to appear in the film?
"I knew I would have a small role ever since I read the scenario. It wasn't important. I just wanted to work with director Ryu Seung Wan. He's a strong player in action films so I was a little worried, but he became very daring and open as soon as I said I would take up the role. I wanted to try the challenge as an actor."
Your role, Yeon Jeong Hee, is completely different from Yenicall of 'The Thieves'. Was it difficult to express her?
"Yenicall is straightforward, and she has to say what she wants to say. Yeon Jeong Hee, however, has to keep herself hidden, and always has to hold herself back. I felt trapped when I had to act as Yeon Jeong Hee right after I had been so outgoing with Yenicall. I think, however, that the trapped feeling was expressed well in Yeon Jeong Hee."
I was actually pretty worried about whether you would be able to talk well in dialect. You did pretty well though, and made it sound classy.
"I think a lot of people wondered how Jun Ji Hyun would be able to act with a dialect (Laugh). A teacher was stationed on set so that we could ask her about North Korea, and she said I was the best. Thanks to the praise, even I began to think I was doing okay later on. The audio director once applauded me after hearing my dialect. After that, I just went ahead."
"I think the dialect helped me express how she would hold back, and the way she would organize her emotions first. People tend to think the North Korean dialect is unsophisticated, but the Pyeongyang dialect is actually pretty classy. I felt more mature trying to express my emotions through the dialect. I felt different."
You filmed for 'The Berlin File' right after your marriage. It would have been a happy time for you, but your role had to hide her pains. Did you feel the gap?
"Nothing really changed much after I got married. I just felt more like a grown up. I felt more comfortable thinking that I was entering a new phase. That's how I went ahead with the scene where I had to express sorrow at having lost my child, or the scene where I had to exchange glances with Ha Jung Woo. I guess you could say I've become more faithful, and more confident."
You did exchange glances with Ha Jung Woo; you were supposed to be a married couple, but you never really got close to each other.
"We wanted it to look that way. I personally think it's a very sophisticated emotion. For two actors to give off such emotions, they need to have a certain aura about them, and they need to be immersed in their roles. Since both of our characters had been through trying times, that looked more natural and we agreed it should be so."
You left to film on-locale overseas for 'The Thieves' and 'The Berlin File' right after your marriage. Didn't your husband hate having to see you leave when you were still supposed to be happy newlyweds?
"Happy newlyweds indeed! (Laugh) Everyone thinks I'll have a tightknit schedule, but it's actually pretty loose. My husband even tried to push me outside, telling me I should start going outdoors more often (Laugh)."
How is Jun Ji Hyun the wife when she's not Jun Ji Hyun the actress?
"My husband leaves home early in the morning so I try to get him fresh fruit instead of breakfast. I want to take care of him.... I just try to take care when he says he wants to eat. I'm good at cooking dwenjang jjigae (bean paste soup)."
It definitely feels like your acting has changed.
"I started to feel that acting is fun through The Berlin File. I had a good feeling. I used to think I fit in and could only have fun with bouncy roles like Yenicall. I found after trying it out, however, that characters who try to keep their emotions to themselves fit me better."
'The Berlin File' is about North and South Korea. Have your views toward North and South Korea changed in any way after shooting the film? And is there anything you wish to emphasize to your audience?
"It's a topic that can only be discussed in Korea, and it brings on emotions that can only be felt here. I didn't, however, try to get behind its reality and really feel its emotions. There are many people who actually feel the realities surrounding North Korea directly. It was just great to act inside a theme that can be related to. I hope the audience also doesn't try to delve too deeply, and just takes the film's story for what it is."
Photo credit: Kim Byung Kwan