Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mystery and Intrigue: Ladies of Korean Entertainment

Compiling lists of favorites has never been an easy task for me. I prefer to let individual movies stand alone on their own accomplishments rather than compare them to other movies of a similar genre. It almost isn’t fair to compare people based on how well they do their jobs, and yet, it happens all the time in order to find the right people for the right job. 

The purpose of this list then is to showcase some of the Korean celebrities I am familiar with and to explain why I appreciate them. I do not want to say it is my “top five” list of favorite Korean actresses, as to compare them as such is like comparing an apple to an orange and a banana and so on. Each of them share much in common, but I think this list will show differences between them and explain why they belong on the list.

                                                         < Lee Young-ae>

Lee Young-ae earned the nickname “Lady Oxygen” in Japan following her starring role as Dae Jang Geum in a television program about the first woman doctor to serve the king in the palace during the Joseon Dynasty. 

<Dae Jang Geum>

It was her portrayal in “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” that got my attention.
Lee Geum Ja is sent to prison, convicted of murdering a young boy. Upon her release, she goes after Mr. Baek, the man who killed the boy and kidnapped her daughter, insuring that she would confess to the crime. With the help of fellow convicts who wish to repay her for her kindness in prison, kind-hearted Geum Ja plans to kill Baek. There were times when I found it hard to watch a beautiful woman giving refuge to such a dark soul. 

                                                  <Sympathy for Lady Vengeance>

In the end Geum Ja is offered a chance to reclaim her purity, but she cannot allow herself to be free of the stains on her soul. As much as I like Lee Young-ae, I have never been able to bring myself to give “Lady Vengeance” a second viewing. I cannot see any other actress bringing this character to life the way Lee did in this award-winning film. 

 <Sympathy for Lady Vengeance>

“Lady Vengeance” tears your heart out while stomping you into the street. It is the third “Vengeance” film by director Park Chan-wook, and I consider it the better of two out of three. I liked this film a lot better than “Old Boy.” I have not yet seen the first movie in the trilogy.

<Kim Hee-sun>

Kim Hee-sun is known as “the first beauty of Korea.” She takes her beauty to mythical proportions in the Jackie Chan movie, “The Myth.” 
This film featured Kim as Ok-soo, a Korean princess betrothed to the emperor of China who falls in love with her bodyguard, General Meng Yi, (Chan). Accused of treason, Ok-soo is punished with the elixir of life. Drinking the elixir guarantees her immortality as she is to be trapped inside the tomb of the Qin emperor forever. She is later reunited with the reincarnated Meng Yi in the form of Jack (Chan), an archaeologist who has been having dreams of his past life as a general in love with a mysterious princess.

<The Myth>

 Alas, the love is not meant to be as the tomb is destroyed by ambitious men seeking the elixir of life. Kim and Chan share vocals on “Endless Love,” the theme song for ”The Myth.” Her voice is lovely enough that I am surprised she hasn’t released an album.

<Ha Ji-won>

Perhaps it was fortunate that Ha Ji-won was given such an opportunity to record a poorly received record. The problem is she can actually sing, so she needs better material. Outside of singing, Ha brings with her a successful modeling career, but it is in acting where she shines the brightest. I was hooked on Ha after viewing “Duelist” (Hyong Sa). 


When the movie started, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. When it was over, I was glad I got into it. She takes on the role of Detective Namsoon, a “damo” working undercover in a Joseon Dynasty police district. The case involves counterfeit coins and a mysterious swordsman nicknamed Sad Eyes. It also explores the ways that relationships between men and woman can become complicated. When your first date involves a bright silvery moon reflecting off of fighting knives and a curved sword blade, then you know that love is in the air.


 “Duelist” is patterned off of “Damo,” a television program from 2003 that starred Ha as Chae-ok, a tea servant in the service to a police department. I recommend both of these for viewing. “Damo” captures the “pressure cooker of emotions” that people living in the Joseon Dynasty must have dealt in a strictly Confucian society. “Duelist” brings with it more flash, more style, perhaps less substance, but it is visually stunning. It should be noted that while Ha often portrays either strong female characters or characters with an offbeat sense of humor in comedy-romance films, she does have a black belt in Hapkido. She has a sweet smile and a sweet left hook. 

<Song Hye-gyo>

Ha Ji-won and Song Hye-gyo have in common the role of the famous kisaeng poet Hwang Jin-ni. Ha played the historical character in a 2006 television drama that covered much of Hwang’s life. Song portrayed the kisaeng in “Hwang Jin-Yi,” in the 2007 movie. I have seen this movie twice on the movie screen and once on DVD with English subtitles. 

<Hwang Jin -Yi>

Hwang is betrayed by a suitor and is forced to leave her home after it is revealed that she is of mixed blood, part aristocrat and part commoner. To continue in the lifestyle in which she was born, she becomes a kisaeng. In repentance, her suitor devotes part of his life to protecting her until he kills a drunken aristocrat who attacked her at a party. It is a shame that this movie did not do better at the box office. Both Ha and Song look stunning in traditional Hanbok of the kisaeng class. Besides acting on television, Song has been a popular model for both Lancombe and for the Roem clothing line. 

<Hwang Jin -Yi>

Korean movies have interesting ways to slap the viewer around. It can touch your heart, poke you in the ribs, and then tear your head off in a matter of seconds.

<Princess Aurora>

Uhm Jung-Hwa played it very sympathetically in “Princess Aurora.” A series of murders are tied together by stickers of a cartoon character named Princess Aurora. The homicide detective investigating the case eventually begins to suspect his ex-wife, Jung Sun-jung, is behind the crimes. Sun-jung is killing every person she believes is responsible for the death of her daughter. And there are no limits to which she will go to get her revenge. Uhm has been at the center of attention in Korea for some time, and the attention is not always good.

<Uhm Jung -Hwa>

There is a reason why she is called “the Madonna of Korea.” Her career began as a pop singer, and eventually she got into acting and modeling. 

by James Heald
contributing writer

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