|Center, actress Kim Tae-hee / Clockwise from top, Kim's brother Lee Wan, college friend Lee Ha-nui, co-stars Jung Woo-sung, Sol Kyung-gu and Lee Byung-hun [10Asia]|
Kim Tae-hee: She got good grades in school. A model student. Rarely got mad at others and was so down-to-earth that Jung Woo-sung once said she was “born with the wrong face”. Plus, she is awfully pretty. Such a woman entered the business where good grades, looks and personality is not the key to everything. This is a story about her ten years since doing so.
Actor. Real name Kim Hyung-soo, younger brother of Kim Tae-hee. He followed Kim to a music video set and debuted as an entertainer. From time to time, Lee talks about Kim’s private life on talk shows. The Kim Tae-hee that he tells of is one that was tough enough to push Lee and break a window when they were young. And she had such a big appetite that her inline skating teacher was quoted as saying “she was always eating ice cream”. So literally she was “daughter of Mom’s friend”, the pretty-faced, straight-A student with a down-to-earth personality whose father ran a pretty big enterprise in Ulsan. Perhaps it was due to her upbringing, but Kim was the type who “studied in too much detail” and once took a test without having studied all the necessary chapters. Having believed that her goal “was to get into a good college and study,” it was after she started acting that she learned that "an abundant life comes from [feeling] an abundance of emotions.”
Miss Korea-turned-actress. She was in the same ski club with Kim at Seoul National University. If Kim hadn’t been accepted into the Department of Clothing and Textiles on early admission, she was also considering applying to medical school because it meant “potential and secure future”. Before taking up acting, she also thought about “getting a job related to a major and which would help her succeed at it” so she had the worries of an average, save for her looks, student. So when she started acting, she says she had an inferiorness that everything about me would work against her. She even said about her school life that, “I studied like a machine, not thinking about anything. When I became an actress, I felt that I was a logical personal with little sensibility. I think I grew up repressing my feelings too much.” Literally, the hard working, straight-A student had set foot in the colorful entertainment industry. But during her college years, little by little, Kim changed her near-compulsive, uptight personality and remains closest to her college friends till today.
Actress. In the film, “Last Present”, Kim played the younger version of Lee’s character and also appeared in the short film “New Citizen”. Discovered on the subway during her college freshman year, she made her official debut in SBS TV series “Let’s Go”. At the time of her debut, she felt that “acting required a tremendous amount of courage” and was worried whether she could “go into the world which looked like it was for people in a different world.”
Director of SBS dramas “Stairway to Heaven” and “Love Story in Harvard”, which Kim appeared in. Lee has said that he thought of casting Kim in SBS drama “Beautiful Days” opposite Lee Byung-hun. “Heaven” and “Harvard” gave Kim both glory and heartbreak at the same time. “Heaven” made Kim a household name as “the beautiful actress who graduated from Seoul National University”. Playing a Harvard student in “Harvard” reminded people of her educational background and focused their attention on her. But she was not sufficiently prepared for her sudden stardom after growing up as an “ordinary straight-A student” her whole life. Playing a villain on “Heaven”, she constantly thought that she “wouldn’t do such things” and was embarrassed that she “didn’t have enough technique” during “Harvard”. Born with good looks but with a different personality from that the average celebrity has, lead roles kept coming to the unprepared actress. This became the start of a long, long debate regarding Kim’s acting skills.
Make-up artist who takes care of Kim’s make-up and skin care. When Jung first met Kim, she says the actress took very little care of her skin, not even applying skin and lotion regularly. But even with such little maintenance, she is called “the perfect face” and 7 out of 10 plastic surgeons voted her as the most beautiful woman. Her face is so pretty that one producer even called her “Korea’s representative beauty who is pretty and humane”. Even now, dozens of young starlets want to be “the next Kim Tae-hee”.
Her co-star in the film “The Restless”. During the shooting of “The Restless”, Kim showed her ambition for movie acting by saying “there is so much to learn and so many mountains to climb over.” Jung said about Kim, “She adapted extremely well [to the filming], thinking that she was a working actress who had to overcome [the filming]”. But, “Restless” was a commercial failure and Kim’s acting didn’t live up to expectations. At the time, Kim felt burdened by acting and talked about her character. “So-hwa is given an enormous task in Midheaven [the film’s setting] and feels overwhelmed by it. It’s similar to the burden I’m feeling now.” To prepare for interviews, she even wrote down answers to questions that journalists were likely to ask. Preparing her acting as if she were studying for a test, she “wanted to receive compliments like she did in school” with her acting. Perhaps the burden of having appeared in a big movie took away from the actress the ability to act naturally. She was deeply hurt by the controversy surrounding her acting skills. She was quoted as saying, “I’m so upset that I want to die. But I also want to prove them wrong. I will convince them before I die.”
In one commercial, Epik High’s song “Love Love Love” plays in the background music as Kim joyfully dances in the house. Many of Kim’s commercials, including this one, received positive feedback. This isn’t just because she is a pretty star. In some, she reads poetry and folds her body on the horizontal bar, displays faux innocence on a blind date and brags about the size of her face. In TV dramas and film, Kim played “special” women; a crazy villain, or a beautiful, smart leading lady with a dying disease in a trendy drama, or someone of enormous destiny. When Kim’s down-to-earth and hard-working personality in real life is added onto these roles, she often comes across as a perfect yet boring character. Whereas in commercials, Kim showed many different sides of herself such as a worldly, clever or ordinary girl in everyday life. Her acting is natural when she is comfortable showing herself like this. Maybe Kim’s problem lies not in acting but that she lived as an average school before college and hasn’t met the right part for a woman who is about to turn thirty.
Co-star in the film “Venus and Mars”. To Kim, Sol was an “actor who was most like a friend” and on this film, she learned how to “empty” herself rather than just rehearse endlessly. Sol also said that Kim “probably had more fun shooting this film than previous ones”. As a matter of fact, Kim’s acting in “Mars” was the best out of all her movies. In the film, Kim was able to play a character close to her age and was able to get as angry as she wanted, unlike her usual self who had “repressed too much emotion growing up”. In the past, she had said that she felt “a bit obligated to act, thinking it’s better to fail than to do nothing”. But with this film she began to feel differently, such as “starting to think, since about a year ago, that [she] had to keep walking this road”. She even changed from being a people-conscious person who thought she “should never show people what they don’t want to see and never get into a scandal” to someone who now thinks it is “selfish to be an entertainer and not want to get hurt”. Has the girl who has had “lots of rationality but little sensibility” finally found what she wants to do and discovered the emotions she wants to express?
Lee Byung-hun: Co-star in the KBS TV series “Iris”. The controversy over her acting has surfaced again with the blockbuster drama. In fact, Kim’s acting still is very unnatural in many places. For a typical melodramatic story, her facial expression is too stiff and her tone too unvaried. But in “Iris”, Kim caresses Lee’s legs with her foot during a meeting and gives him mysterious grins while carrying out a mission. Such things have never been seen in Kim’s work before and her facial expression, looking as if she’s playing a man, is a new discovery. For Kim, regardless of the show’s success, it is key to find more varied and fun aspects to her character rather than playing the typical, tragic female part that becomes drowned in the big, heavy action melodrama. She is tired of being called a pretty face. She is popular enough. For her New Year's resolution, she wanted to “immerse in acting” and apologized for “getting bad reviews about acting”. Will she be able to rid herself of the burden and compulsion about acting and show us a better performance?