‘Herstory’ actress Kim Hee-ae: I was scared I might spoil this ‘precious’ film

June 20, 2018
This photo provided by Next Entertainment World shows actress Kim Hee-ae. (Yonhap)

This photo provided by Next Entertainment World shows actress Kim Hee-ae. (Yonhap)

SEOUL,  (Yonhap) — When they do films based on real-life stories of respected historical figures, even veteran actors are often concerned too much about the quality of their performance because of the historical weight of the titles.

Actress Kim Hee-ae, who took a main role in “Herstory,” a courtroom drama about Korean women forced into sex slavery for World War II Japanese soldiers, was one of them.

“I have built up my own career, but I was afraid and scared that I might make a fool of myself (by not acting well) and cause some trouble to the elderly women (depicted in the film),” the 51-year-old actress said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency at a cafe in central Seoul on Tuesday. She confessed the forthcoming film was a “big challenge” in her acting career spanning 35 years.

Directed by Min Kyu-dong, best known for “All About My Wife” (2012) and “All for Love” (2005), the new film is based on a reparation trial filed in Shimonoseki, Japan, by a group of 10 former Korean sex slaves in the 1990s against the Japanese government.

A still from "Herstory" (Yonhap)

A still from “Herstory” (Yonhap)

The trial that lasted six years is not well known to the public even though it produced a meaningful ruling that ordered the Japanese government to compensate the plaintiffs, the first of its kind in the history of court trials related to the victims, also known as “comfort women.”

Kim plays the role of Moon Jeong-suk, head of a Busan-based tour agency who volunteers to help the victims. Learning that Bae Jeong-gil (played by Kim Hae-sook), who worked for her about 16 years as a housemaid, was one of the victims, Moon supports the trial with her private money and in the Japanese court interprets the testimony of the women in Japanese.

“There are not many movies featuring actresses these days, you know,” Kim said. “I had no reason to decline the offer to be in the film. Most of all, I was touched by the dignified lives of the grannies and Moon.”

However, speaking Busan dialect and Japanese were the most difficult parts of filming the movie, she said.

“I practiced Japanese so hard that I still remember the Japanese lines. I think it is now stored in the long-term memory bank,” she said. “At first, I was unable to properly read Japanese words written in Korean. I had to learn the rhythm and accent like music to memorize, and it was not easy to memorize even one sentence.”

A still from "Herstory" (Yonhap)

A still from “Herstory” (Yonhap)

She said she always slept while listening to the Japanese dialogues and was sometimes haunted by nightmares.

“In my dreams, my acquaintances spoke to me in Japanese, and I couldn’t answer. Even though they were dreams, how envious the people were …”

Probably due to such an effort, Kim speaks fluent Japanese in the film.

Kim also made drastic change to her looks to play the tough business woman. She got a shortcut hair and wore big, old-fashioned glasses covering nearly half of her face. She also gained about 5 kilograms of weight to look older than her age. So, she said the film’s co-star Kim Hae-sook experienced difficulty recognizing her on the film set at first.

“There is a prejudice that actresses should be pretty and feminine, but I felt comfortable and happy as an actress because I was able to throw away such prejudice and focus on acting.”

When she was complimented for her elegant looks during the interview, she waved her hands dismissively and said: “People often say I look elegant, but I don’t really. I’m a mother of two sons in the first year of college and third year of high school, respectively. I wake up early in the morning and do all the household chores … I don’t have time to decorate myself, so I go around town wearing my sportswear all day long. When I think about my usual appearance, I appreciate that compliment, but I am sorry.”