[Interview] Bae Doo Na Opens Up About Her Lee Bun Hui Character in ′Korea′
In 1998, a new model appeared in the model industry like a comet from the sky. She possessed a tall height of 171cm with long, straight arms and legs, and, above all, a dreamy image. She found a place for herself besides us for over 14 years thanks to her profound, mysterious expression and unique individuality. These days, only a very few still look at her as a model.
Model-turned-actress Bae Doo Na quickly rose to fame with the movie The Host, which received the love of more than 10 million moviegoers.
Bae Doo Na’s career spans over 14 years and 31 movie and drama productions, yet she seems to portray a new and fresh character role in each production. She has appeared as a school teacher, ghost, doll and an archer in the past, and it appears she does not confine herself to any one role.
For her latest film Korea, Bae Doo Na played the role of North Korean table tennis hero Lee Bun Hui.
Korea, which is based on a true story, tells the historical story of how the North and South Korean female table tennis teams came together in 1991 to form a unified team for the first time in history and ended up winning against the formidable China team to become the 41st International Table Tennis Competition champions.
South Korea’s Hyun Jung Hwa was portrayed by Ha Ji Won while Bae Doo Na played the role of North Korea’s Lee Bun Hui.
Starting with their short hairstyle and makeup-less face, the actors were able to thoroughly transform themselves for their Korea roles. In fact, Bae Doo Na couldn’t even freely laugh or cry during the production. It was because she was no longer Bae Doo Na. Instead, she was Lee Bun Hui.
As a result, she felt completely alone. She had to turn around and hide her tears and control her overwhelming emotions in front of the camera. No one could console Bae Doo Na or tell her that they understood what she was going through.
Bae Doo Na had to become stronger for her role. Moreover, she started filming with only director Hyun Jung Hwa’s simple description of Lee Bun Hui as a ‘proud athlete’. In the end, she had to create her very own Lee Bun Hui from the stories of her North Korean dialect teacher.
It appears Bae Doo Na portrayal of Lee Bun Hui was a smashing success.
At a recent Korea press conference held in Chiba, Japan, a Jochongnyeon official revealed her close relationship to Lee Bun Hui and said, "Bae Doo Na resembled the famous North Korean table tennis player. We were extremely delighted to hear that Bae Doo Na properly represented Lee Bun Hui and that one more person got to know about the identity of Lee Bun Hui."
On April 23, enews met with Bae Doo Na at a cafe in Samcheongdong. During the interview, Bae Doo Na revealed her own personal perspective, as well as that of the actor Bae Doo Na and Lee Bun Hui. Her eyes glowed with interest whenever she started talking about acting, and she even got emotional when discussing stories related to Lee Bun Hui.
Why did director Moon Hyun Sung cast Bae Doo Na as Lee Bun Hui?
“I turned down the role at first. Although the director said that it had to be me, I replied that someone else could play the role just as well. As those who saw the movie will know, [Lee Bun Hui] was a charming character and I told the director that anyone could portray her. In the end, the director succeeded in persuading me [to take the role].”
In situations where you could not study or feel Lee Bun Hui’s character, how did you go about fleshing out the character?
“I didn’t have to add many things. I just followed what was on the script. Director Hyun described Lee Bun Hui with a single word – ‘proud’. As such I tried to portray a proud person who didn’t reveal her emotions easily, an exceedingly confident athlete who believed that she was the best. I also looked at Lee Bun Hui’s profile picture on Naver, which happened to be the only available information on her. Her white skin and gentle image was charming.
Was it lonely trying to recreate Lee Bun Hui’s character on your own?
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t lonely. Since I didn’t have Lee Bun Hui’s assistance, I had to rely heavily on my North Korean dialect teacher. Throughout the production, I was absorbed in all things Lee Bun Hui."
"Although outwardly I was expressionless, there was a rumbling within my heart. Losing to Hyun Jung Hwa in the semifinals, and losing in the final after becoming a unified team because of my bad condition were heartbreaking experiences. Of course although these scenarios were in the script, it was still difficult to control my emotions.”
Is Bae Doo Na a person who cries a lot normally?
“Bae Doo Na cries a lot but Lee Bun Hui doesn’t. Although there were situations when I got emotional, I couldn’t cry during the shooting. It was quite difficult to hold in my tears on the set. In particular, it was tough controlling my emotions when we lost in the final after what our team had to go through to get there."
"Although it was in the script, it was hard to compliment Soon Bok or tell Jin Yoon Young that everything was alright. It was fun living together but the smell of sweat drove me crazy.”
Was Korea a challenging experience for Bae Doo Na?
“I have learned many things. Korea was a challenge and also a turning point for me. I feel like I have become a stronger [actor]. Up until now, I was constantly showered with love. laugh Of course, I have continued to receive the director and the staff’s love on the set but something was different this time. I feel like I matured after overcoming the many challenges in Korea.”
Do you normally talk about movies with your family?
“Yes, I do. Since my older brother works in the movie industry and my mother is a stage actor, you can’t imagine how much interest they have in movies. Sometimes I get a bit uncomfortable and ask them to stop talking about it. laugh.”
What did your movie director brother (Bae Doo Han) and stage actress mother (Kim Hwa Young) say to you after watching the movie?
“My mother told me that her friends really enjoyed the movie. Instead of rating the movie or my acting, my mother’s friends cried a lot while watching the movie. I’m pretty sure folks from my mother’s generation experienced a different emotion than [the younger generation]. My older brother is the straightforward type and as soon as I came home from the movie press conference, I told him ‘Stop right there, if you were going to point out [my mistakes].’laugh.”
Bae Doo Na’s The Host and Ha Ji Won’s Haeundae - A competition between two actresses who each had a movie that attracted well over 10 million moviegoers.
There was no competition between us. [Ha Ji Won] took a 5 minute break after a four hour filming session while I needed a 15 min break. laugh It was difficult for me because I lacked the stamina, but [Ha Ji Won], whose endurance is well known throughout the movie industry, showed her tip-top physical condition."
"It was also difficult for me because I got aches all over my body but I kept on trucking. The rivalry never crossed my mind since I joined the cast later than everyone else and had to learn how to play table tennis left-handed. As such, I merely wanted to learn as quickly as possible.”
How would you describe Han Ye Ri, who plays the role of your teammate Yoo Soon Bok, in the movie?
“She is an extraordinary [actress]. I especially looked after her. Although her character role was a cute one, I liked her ‘weighty’ presence. I have high expectations for her and I think she will become a good, successful actress in the future. Besides Ye Ri, I also took care of Jong Seok and the other North Korean team members.”
Photo credit: Kim Byung Kwan
Reach reporter Choi Eunhwa on Twitter @silvercandy88!