Top South Korean actress calls #MeToo ‘good pain’
Son Ye-jin says she hopes the campaign will change the outdated male-centered perspective’ about women
By Park Si-soo
#MeToo is all the rage in Korea. Hardly a day has passed in recent weeks without fresh accusations. And the film industry is at the core of the storm.
Multiple award-winning actors and directors, including Kim Ki-duk and Cho Jae-hyun, have crashed from grace with some awaiting investigation over alleged sexual misconduct. The shocking suicide of veteran actor Jo Min-ki, accused of molesting his students, was its culmination, at least so far.
A recent survey hinted that there are many more victims under the surface 62 per cent of 749 actresses, female writers and staff members said they experienced unwanted physical contact from male colleagues.
How far #MeToo will go? And what kind of changes will it bring?
Asked about the issue, popular actress Son Ye-jin did not answer immediately. She paused with her head down and right hand holding her chin. After several seconds, she spoke in a low and serious tone. It was a striking departure from the vivaciousness she showed when greeting this reporter for a recent interview at a cafe in Sogyeok-dong, Seoul.
“It would be a good pain for our society,” Son said. “I hope this campaign will change the outdated male-centered perspective about women once and for all...and also bring down all the practices harmful to women.”
She said she admired any women who spoke out about their humiliating past at the risk of revealing their identities.
“I would like to give a big hand to their braveness,” the actress said.
I felt tempted to go deeper with follow-up questions exploring her first-hand experiences as a victim, if any, or that of her female colleagues, but I held back because such a question could be offensive.
So the following question could not ― again ― be straightforward: “What is the legacy of male-centered culture in the movie industry?”
Son pointed out a typical cinematic storyline in which a man fights against all odds to achieve a goal while his female partner is left helpless waiting for his help.
“That’s a typical frame in action flicks,” she complained. “Why is it so difficult to have films seeing the world from women’s perspective like ‘Thelma and Louise’?”
Research in 2016 took issue with what she called the “unfair” frame, arguing that it only enhanced the social bias against women. But little has been done to change the situation.
It was not easy to ask a question that could elicit a headline-grabbing reply, while avoiding possible criticism for being too straightforward. The actress also seemed uncomfortable with being asked about issues that had nothing to do with her new film, for which the interview was arranged.
‘Be With You’
Son’s new film “Be With You” has had robust ticket box sales since being released on March 14. The romance drew nearly 610,000 viewers in four days, topping the domestic box office. At the current pace, reaching the break-even point of 2 million viewers is considered a matter of time.
The film is a remake of a 2004 Japanese film of the same title, about a woman who dies and leaves behind her son and husband. She then returns a year later, putting her fate as a spirit on the line for the sake of her earthly family. Son plays the mother and So Ji-sub her husband.
“Be With You” will be released in Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore next month.
She has built her fame on romance films ― “A Moment to Remember” (2004), “The Classic” (2003) and “Lover’s Concerto” (2002). And the new film seems unlikely to be much different.
Asked about her nickname “Queen of melodrama,” she said, “It’s not so much that I wanted to sustain my nickname ‘Melodrama Queen,’ as that the genre has always been something that I wanted to do.
“As a cinemagoer, I missed the beautiful images and music, and as an actor, I’ve been thirsty for such roles.”
Son is 37, so it was natural to ask about her romantic interests.
She said she did not have a boyfriend. Asked why she was not dating and did not have any romantic scandals, she jokingly replied, “It’s simply because I’m bad at dating.
“In order to date, you need to make up your mind to date, meet many people, and have blind dates offered to you, but that’s not easy.
“It’s more difficult as you get older. I don’t think it’s possible to do something by force either. However, I’m waiting for a good match to show up.”
As for marriage, she said, “Nothing is set in stone yet.” Asked if she’s worried marriage would affect her acting career, she said, “I think all actresses are worried about that at some point.
“When I look around me, people who are married are unable to do all the work they want to do.
“Being a mother and wife are big roles. I would like to spend a lot of time for my family, but I think I’m still immature. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that.”
However, she emphasised that personal happiness was just as important as being ambitious about work.
“It’s always agonising to separate my life as an actress and personal life,” she said. “Just because I’m happy with my acting life doesn’t mean I’m happy with my personal life.
“I’m always making an effort to balance between the two. I’m enjoying my work more than before, so I’m under less stress now.”