As soon as she sat down at the table, she ordered a glass of wine. “Because I’m a better speaker when I drink wine”. Looking at her drinking her glass of wine as the sunlight comes through the window she’s sitting next to reminds me of a scene out of a Nouvelle Vague movie. Her face turns red as she drinks up her wine. Despite being over 60, Yoon Yeo Jung is a unique Korean actress who appeared as a lead character in movies directed by the best directors such as Im Sang Soo, Lee Jae Yong. She dubted in 1966, but it was MBC drama “Jang Hee Bin” broadcast in 1969 that revealed her name to the world. Of course, she played Jang Hee Bin. So before Lee Mi Sook, Jeon In Hwa, Kim Hye Soo, Kim Tae Hee, there was the Jang Hee Bin played by Yoon Yeo Jung. After “Jang Hee Bin”, she became director Kim Ki Young’s muse and she had the lead roles in “The Housemaid” and “Woman of Fire” as she passed through the prime of her career. As time went by, she experienced many things as a woman and as an actress. In this late period of her life, she’s playing grandmothers and mothers, but she had never been an ordinary mother, grandmother. You’ll see if you just watch “Can You Hear My Heart”, “The World They Live In”, “Golden Fish”. Sometimes, she’s a foul-mouthed grandmothers, sometimes she’s a middle-aged actress with a bad temper, sometimes she’s an elegant Gangnam wife. Yoon Yeo Jung played a woman of this generation that no one else but her could have played, a woman that is not anyone’s mother or grandmother. In her own words, acting was something she did “because she was earnest about it as much as she had to take a risk to do it”. Putting aside the clear and objective fact that she is good at acting, there’s another thing that she’s unique for. Unlike middle-aged actors who become more familiar and friendlier as they get older, Yoon Yeo Jung has this actress’ aura of elegance, haughty feminine beauty and perfection. Despite a reality TV program showed us how her socks were smelly, despite a drama showing her as a crying mother who lost her son, she isn’t an actress that we can’t feel close to in the end.
As expected, you’re charismatic.
This is the word I hate hearing the most. Charismatic? What’s being charismatic?
You can’t help it, though. It’s just how we feel, it has nothing to do with your opinion.
Actresses think they must be beautiful. It seems that people call me “charismatic” because I can’t be called a “natural beauty”. Still, it’s better than being called pretty.
I heard the drama “Wonderful Days” went into the live-shooting process. Jang So Shim has a lot of scenes. She’s more defined than any other supportive character.
Mothers always have a lot of scenes in TV dramas. It’s a family drama and the aunt alwyas has many things to do. She’s the one taking care of the whole famile, so she’s always busy.
The role of Jang So Shim wasn’t offered to you first.
I was first offered the second wife role that went to Choi Hwa Jung. I had never played a second wife, so I wanted to give it a try, but then I thought the drama would become dull with the big brother being much more older than me. It had been a while since Choi Hwa Jung had big ambitions and she joined the project. To be honest, I thought our drama would do a little bit better. It’s not up to my expectations. Still, the atmosphere on set is great and I enjoy filming this drama.
Have you already started filming Kang Je Kyu’s movie?
I haven’t. It’s so exhausting that I can’t film two projects at the same time. I think I’ll get right into it as soon as the drama is over. He’s changing the movie title a lot. At first, it was “The Last First Love”, and now I think he’s changing to “Long Lives”.
In this movie, you play a grandmother who runs a flower shop and falls in love in the twilight of her life. Is it intentional for you to play a new type of character every time?
I worry about finding something different every time. The characters I can play are either mothers or grandmothers. I don’t have much choices, and I’m trying to find something different in this narrow range which is almost impossible.
It’s not unusual for you to play an ordinary grandmother or mother. Who could imagine someone else but you playing your role in “Taste of Money”?
More than saying it’s a role that no one else but me could have done, it’s about Im Sang Soo who is a special director and how his directing was good.
“Boomerang Family” was definitely an awesome start for this. Your gaze was shining so much that it was scary and we could see it in the movies you did afterwards like “The Housemaid” and “Taste of Money”.
Someone told me one day. “Your destiny opened because you met a good man in the late period of your life. I said “who? Me?” and this man was director Im Sang Soo. Now that I think about it, I feel like it was totally true. When I was offered a role in “Boomerang Family”, the pay was lower than what I get paid for a drama and I thought this movie wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to do it. Then, I met the director and I realized he was quite smart. He didn’t beg me like “please save me and accept the role”. This was my meeting with the new generation. He said “because I’m said not to be talented, just play the role in the way you want to”. When I look back at it, I think meeting director Im Sang Soo was the turning point of my career. If it weren’t for him, I don’t think I would have made this movie. Director Im Sang Soo revealed something in me and I thought it’d be okay to give this movie a try.
You said in a lot of interviews that you saw acting as your livelihood activity. In one interview, you even said “acting was about taking a risk in order to live, to survive and keep going. I left a great husband. As I was just there having fun, I was given this role. If I’m like that [=not serious about it], it won’t work”.
Among middle-aged actors, there are people saying it’s an humiliation that I talk money and accept roles according to the money I get. This isn’t about that. I work because I really have no money. If I were rich enough, I think I wouldn’t have been an actress. I had to earn money, I was earnest about this, so I was an actress because acting was something I could do. I think I’m at my best when I’m earnest like this.
You claim yourself that acting is your livelihood activity, but your acting career is closer to art. I can’t imagine you living like a housewife and not like an actress.
That’s quite funny. When I was married, I was a dedicated housewife. I cooked, I did the laundry. The windows were so clean that many people ran right into them. At that time, I cleaned the house and raised my children and I thought this would always be my life. I never dreamed to be working as an actress at this age. Life is just a series of surprises. You never know what’s next.
Do you think it’s nice that you were able to get back to acting?
All my friends are retired and I’m still here having fun. I’m the only one who is still working, so when I meet my friends, I’m the queen now. When we were young, all my friends got married and joined rich families, so they couldn’t go out to have fun. These days, I’m so busy that I can’t go out with my friends. I think people should never stop working because you work is what makes you who you are.
You’ve been acting for more than 40 years. Do you still have the same worries about work?
Now, I’ve almost shown anything I could to the audience. That’s why it’s really hard for me to find a different way to express things. I think it’s hard to show different expressions with the exact same body, the exact same voice. I have my pride, so I hate doing things in the exact same way. I’m very sorry for people who see this. I hate even more making mistakes in front of younger actors. If I had studied as hard as all the efforts I’m making today, I would have been a Supreme Court judge by now.
We got to see another side of your personality in “Nunas over Flowers”. I really thought you’d be perfect.
I heard Na Young Suk purposely wanted to go further in the editing. I told him not to broadcast the smelly socks scene, so there was a choice to make between broadcasting the smelly socks scene and the constipation hardship scenes and I told him to broadcast the constipation ones. However, he actually broadcast everything. I asked him why he edited it this way and he said he wanted to make disappear this uptight image I had. Where would you see a wherefore without a why? I’m 68. I couldn’t fight with a PD who could have been my son. There was nothing I could. I totally understand.
Have the actresses from “Nunas Over Flowers” gotten together since filming?
To be honest, I saw them once at the wrap-up party, but I haven’t seen them ever since because we’re all busy. I met Seung Gi separately a couple of times. We’re both Kim Dong Ryul’s fans, so we meet sometimes.
Have you been reading a lot of books lately?
I can’t read when I’m shooting a dream. I like novels, but when I can’t memorize my lines, I can’t focuse on a book if I read one. I read “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared”. The story is completely crazy, but it was really fun to read. It’s a book I read recently. I enjoyed Go Jong Suk’s “Happy Family”. I also like Bok Geo Il’s novels. I discovered him by reading “In search of the epitath” and that made me read “내 몸 앞의 삶” [t/n: something like “life in front of my body”]
I heard you keep receiving offers to film “Witch’s Hunt”.
This variety program is very fun. However, being a part of it would be crazy, so I rejected their offer. I also watch “War of Words” and jTBC’s “News 9”. And it’d been a while since it was broadcast, but I was totally a fan of “Reply 1997”. The day the last episode was broacast was the the day I had a meeting for “Boomerang Family”. I wanted to watch the episode so bad that I thought I was going crazy. I told the director that I didn’t feel well and I ran home because this episode couldn’t be missed. I totally watched the rerun. I went off on the writer and asked her why in hell she made it this way.
You have the energy of a young person.
I hate doing what everybody does and I like trying new things.
What is the thing you can be invested in just for yourself?
Seeing the people I love once or twice a week. We get together to eat and we talk. And when we do, we criticize other people a little bit. When others criticize in a subtle way, it’s criticizing. When we do it, it’s gossiping. However, I think gossiping is something you need in your life. It’s not something you do suddenly with people you don’t know. You do it with people you share the same feelings with. If you share similar reasons for liking or hating something about someone, then you form a bond. Meeting together like this, chatting while eating and having a drink got me spending money. I’m old so I’m usually the one who treats others.
What made your heart flutter recently?
I read the preface of social critic Kim Byung Wook not long ago and I cried. “At my age, how many reasons do I have left to be serious, to niptick painfully about things that seem exhausting? I’m taking these things as vain and accept them as such. The sun will rise again tomorrow and people all around the world will keep on living. When I look at them, I’m taking another quiet step into my destiny”. I’m not emotional like that, but I read these words and I thought to myself “this is the way I must live”. It really hit home. I might be remembering it wrong a little bit, but I’d dare to say that I memorized this passage.
Do you still have things in your life that you should take as vain and accept them as such?
I’ve realized there aren’t that many explosive things at my age. If a project doesn’t do well, it’s my fate. If it goes well, then it’s a good thing. I go through life giggling and enjoying meeting people who like me. My life really got simpler after reading this text. I just accept things as they come. Of course, young people shouldn’t live like this. It’s true that if they fail this time, they must think they will succeed next time. Is it okay if I smoke a cigarette?
Of course! Should we go to the rooftop?
The “Nuna Over Flowers” producers also told me that the cigarettes were the most problematic thing for the editing. They said I was always holding a cigarette when I said a famous quote. They wondered if they should leave out my hand or not.
The staff on the set said the same thing about you. “When you know her, she’s a warm person”. When I heard that, it reminded me of Oh Min Sook you played in “The World They Live In”.
I’m not nice with everybody. Staff members can like me and they may not like me. As I get older, it becomes instinctive. I figure out right away if they like me or not. I figure out if this kid works hard or if he’s just with me because. I care a lot for the ones who work hard. I want to hug them, tears come to my eyes. However, I really dislike those who make no effort. Even if we work together for a long time, I just can’t remeber their names.
There was a lot of talk about your voice when you debuted. I also heard some people couldn’t be actors because of their voices. Strangely enough, your voice is your identity now.
Back in the day, your voice had to be beautiful as if it were jade marble running on a silver plate. My voice was an obstacle. Anyway, I think my life is about overcoming this obstacle. We all have obstacles in our lives. If we overcome them, then we think we succeeded. I feel like I overcame this obstacle if you tell me that you like my voice. Ah, I heard it from my hoobae, but Kim Young Chul is learning how to imitate my voice. He said my voice would be hard to imitate.
No matter how much time have passed, “The Housemaid” (2010) shows the mood of director Kim Ki Young’s persona at the time he filmed you in “Woman of Fire” in 1970’s. What’s your secret?
Director Kim Ki Young was someone ahead of his time and someone special. I’m fortunate that he chose me. However, I’m very far from being sexy. I’d even dare to call myself a Pyongchang-dong nun.
[t/n: it’s a recurrent joke. She says this whenever people go “waaah you’re so cool for living that single life at your age”. She got married, had kids and got divorced in the 80’s, and she just lived her life without worrying about being in a relationship or not]
Will you take off your white shirt and go back to being a Pyongchang-dong nun when this interview is over?
I’m going to a gathering. It will be about talking about life while drinking a glass of wine and gossiping about other people.The reactions about the drama are lukewarm these days, so it will be more of a “comfort gathering”. There will be people like director Im Sang Soo, Choi Hwa Jung and a few other peole. I’ll meet them this evening.
This will probably go on late into the night, right?
We usually part ways before midnight. If a new guest arrives, we stay longer. Last time, so much peole stopped by that I stayed until 2 in the morning. There were Na Young Suk, Lee Seo Jin, Kim Hee Sun. Hee Sun drank so much that I told her to bring her own liquor next time because I was the one who paid the bill.
Translation: @onesunnlady – thesunnytown.wordpress.com