ProfileWho is Kim Go-eun, the Chinese-speaking star of K-dramas Little Women and Yumi’s Cells?
- Kim Go-eun, recently seen in Little Women and Yumi’s Cells, spent 10 years in China and became a fluent Chinese speaker before moving back to South Korea
- She made her screen debut in the film Eungyo, starred in several more films and had roles in K-dramas Cheese in the Trap and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God
She is a fluent Chinese speaker who dreamed of becoming a filmmaker after watching Chen Kaige’s Together (2002) over and over again as a child … no, you have not clicked on the wrong link, this description does indeed apply to K-drama star Kim Go-eun.
Born in 1991, Kim moved to a town outside Beijing, the Chinese capital, when she was three years old where her family were the only foreigners. She attended a local school, and learned to speak fluent Chinese before returning to South Korea in 2004.
There she entered the prestigious Kaywon High School of Arts in Gyeonggi province with the intention of becoming a film crew member or perhaps a screenwriter. Following a recommendation from a teacher, she tried her hand on the stage – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The year 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of her screen debut, which feels like a remarkably short time ago, particularly as that period includes a two-year break she took from the industry to complete her university studies.
Why we love her
Kim’s greatest asset as a performer is her ability to conjure disarming vulnerability.
Her style is so natural and expressive that we quickly forget what we are watching is a performance.
The actress often plays the kind, cute and awkward girl next door, or the sweet and klutzy colleague. She embodies all our flaws, wrapped up in an irresistible package. She makes us feel better about ourselves as we see our own weaknesses reflected in her.
This ability allows her characters to do bad things which we never judge her for.
Because of her relatability, we afford most of the characters she plays a latitude we would be unlikely to extend if they were played by other actors.
Initially, her characters seem innocent and naive, but eventually we discover their inner strength.
In real life, Kim is said to be fearless as well. Jung In-woo, the director of Eungyo, has called her “curious and brave”. Undaunted by great heights, the actress sometimes steals to the roofs of tall buildings to unwind and destress.
The star-making role
In 2012, Kim exploded onto the scene in Eungyo, her very first role. She almost turned it down, as she felt she was not ready to make the leap to the screen. But leap she did – and the results were eye-opening.
She plays the title role of a coquettish high-school girl who becomes the subject of an ageing poet’s affections. The poet begins to write about her, only for his jealous assistant to steal his work.
Akin to a Korean Lolita, the provocative film was literary and erotic in equal measure and, while it inspired both passionate champions and detractors, all were united in their admiration for young ingénue Kim, who swept most of the best new actress awards at Korean screen events that year.
The iconic parts
Kim returned to school after Eungyo, completing her studies at the Korea National University of Arts in Seoul. It was only then, with her degree in hand, that she chose to enter the industry in earnest.
There were some flops during those early years – the misbegotten period action-drama Memories of the Sword, in which Kin appeared alongside Lee Byung-hun and Jeon Do-yeon – and successes – the female gangster film Coin Locker Girl with Kim Hye-soo, shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Soon her stardom reached a new level.
In 2016, Kim turned to K-dramas, appearing as the lead in two major series: the hugely successful romantic comedy Cheese in the Trap, and the fantasy drama Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, in which she and Gong Yoo brought to life a romance that would become one of the biggest television events of the decade.
Kim shone as the bright high-schooler Ji Eun-tak, who unknowingly summons Gong’s “Goblin”, a general of the Korean Goryeo dynasty (918–1392) who was betrayed by his king.
This year, Kim received some of her best notices (and ratings) to date as Oh In-ju, the beating heart of the sensational and endlessly surprising modern-day adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
The unheralded performance
Though not one of her best films, Kim’s role as Bok-soon in the grisly 2014 revenge thriller Monster is one of the most committed performances in the actress’ career.
Bok-soon is a country bumpkin who guns for a serial killer after he murders her younger sister. Kim’s character was unflatteringly marketed as a “crazy b***h”, and the film’s violence against women is a real turn-off, but Kim threw herself into the role with abandon.
Kim will return to screens this December in the big-budget period film Hero, her very first musical.