Ha Ji-won‘s about to come back into the media spotlight with two movies slated for this year: tsunami movie Haeundae and the quieter melodrama My Love By My Side.
I’m sure we’ll hear more about My Love By My Side (the Kim Myung-min film featuring him as a Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferer) when that film is ready to release, but for now it’s all about Haeundae, which will come out on July 23.
Haeundae is a large-scale disaster movie that uses as its real-life basis the 2004 tsunami that devastated South and Southeast Asia. The film also stars Park Joong-hoon, Uhm Jung-hwa and Lee Min-ki.
How is your character Yeon-hee in Haeundae?
She’s an orphan. She lost her father because of a tsunami and operates a fish restaurant alone — she’s a really hard-working Busan young woman. Man-shik (Sol Kyung-gu) is the oppa she’d liked since she was young, but she doesn’t confess her feelings for him so Yeon-hee keeps waiting. They can’t tell each other they have feelings for each other.
It must have been difficult fighting with an invisible tsunami.
I watched a lot of disaster movies, and imagined a lot of those images as I acted. The really tough part was not knowing where the tsunami is coming from or the extent of it, so director Yoon Jae-kyun and [effects artist] Hans Uhlig checked my facial expressions a lot as we filmed to make sure it matched. There was one scene where I was holding hands with Sol Kyung-gu sunbae and running away, and I suddenly broke out in goosebumps. I think our feelings were well-matched in the moment.
This is the first disaster blockbuster being made in Korea. What did you feel when you first read the script?
It surprised my expectations. I had promised the director before reading the script that I would do the movie. Before reading, I had known that I would be fighting a tsunami like a Hollywood actor, but because she’s a fish restaurant girl who speaks in the Busan saturi accent, I was a little surprised. After I read the script, I thought, “It’s just like Director Yoon Jae-kyun.” It felt more realistic. It had a stronger emotional impression than a Hollywood disaster blockbuster movie.
There’s high expectation that Haeundae may be a large-scale, 10-million-ticket hit this summer.
Like Park Joong-hoon sunbae said, we’ve done as much as we can. What we hope for is that many people can come and watch and be entertained. The rest is up to the audience. I hope that they be really entertained by it. I get nervous every time a premiere comes around, but this time I feel it even more.
How was it working with Sol Kyung-gu?
Before meeting him, I thought he’d be really charismatic and tough, but he has a very childlike, pure side to him too. I always tease him, calling him “baby.” I think he was born to make movies, and if he didn’t he would die of boredom. I’ve felt this from other actors too, but when we act together I can feel our energies collide. It’s a feeling I can’t express in words. I feel a kind of joy or energy. He’s experienced and is such a good actor that it was an honor to be able to act with Sol Kyung-gu sunbae.
How do you get into character on set?
Even when I’m shooting a sad or depressing scene, it wasn’t a grave atmosphere. Normally directors will say, “The actors are getting into their emotions so brace yourself,” but to me it doesn’t matter if everyone around is being noisy. It feels like I’m alone in the world, so I don’t even hear the sounds around me. I prepare a lot, but when I’m filming I don’t usually think about anything. I take on those thoughts in advance, and just before shooting, I lay them all out there.
You’ve had many awards for dramas, but not yet for films.
I’d be happy to accept them, but I’m not greedy about that. I think that I’ll get them someday and it makes me work harder now.
You’ve worked this whole time without resting.
I love working. I may start to hate it tomorrow, but right now in this moment, I love acting.
What is “acting” to you?
I think I would act even in my next lifetime. If I were reborn into a new world, I would still want to act.
It seems like you always try to show a different side of yourself. Do you have a compulsion to keep changing?
I don’t have that kind of compulsion. It’s not so much that I think I have to show a new side of myself, but in the case of Haeundae, I had the goal, “Let’s perfect the saturi accent.” That was my challenge. At first I was so awful at it that before shooting, when I was rehearsing, I was in low spirits and had nightmares and thought I should’ve picked an action film instead. It was hard on my body. I felt like a worm had crawled into my head. I would think I had done the saturi exactly right, but my teacher told me it was wrong. We did recordings by the date, checking my accent as we went along on July 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, always checking to see how much I had improved. I listed to voice recordings of the teacher, director, and the restaurant ajumma.
How do you usually look after your health or your figure?
I stretch, and exercise readily. When doing Haeundae I worked out whenever I had time, and later on the rest of the staff followed along. [Laughs] I used to really like eating meat, but these days I try to eat a lot of vegetables.
How is your real personality?
I’m pretty cheerful. I really enjoy fun things. I’m not that talkative. If I see an interesting person or situation around me, I tend to laugh a lot.
As an actor, what kind of image would you like to leave with the public?
I think it’s a good thing to be remembered as the character in the film. I’m not obsessed with transformation, but I want to be remembered as the character in the role, not as Ha Ji-won acting in the drama.
What is your ideal type?
I don’t think I have one. I like amusing things, so when the director or friends see an amusing person, they tease me, saying, “That’s Ji-won’s ideal man.” The feelings are what’s important — I don’t have a set ideal.
What about marriage?
I’m not thinking about marriage yet.