Chungmuro/Film News
Jack-of-all-trades Gu Hye-sun’s secret: “I’m a workaholic”
by | March 13, 2010 | 101 Comments

Gu Hye-sun hasn’t been acting for the past year, and is currently wrapping up work on her first feature film. (She made her directorial debut with a short film last year.) Here’s a recent interview where she talks about her myriad artistic interests and how these different pursuits culminate with her film.

Jack of all trades Gu Hye-sun’s secret: “I’m a workaholic. If I don’t work, I feel uneasy”

The entertainment industry’s “Renaissance girl,” director-actor-songwriter-writer… Gu Hye-sun

“Gu-onardo Da Vinci.”

He was a “Renaissance man” specializing in many diverse fields, from medicine to science, art, and architecture. Leonardo da Vinci is the name Gu Hye-sun alludes to. Attached in front of her name are many modifiers. Actor, film director, writer, songwriter — she covers many genres in popular culture.

She played the part of Geum Jan-di in the 2009 drama Boys Before Flowers, published the novel Tango, released an album with Japanese New Age musician Asao Sasaki. The short film she directed in 2008, The Madonna, has been invited to various international film festivals, and she recently went to Japan’s Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival as a director. I met with this multi-talented “Renaissance girl,” Gu Hye-sun.

Wearing a yellow sweater that felt of spring, she is busy these days in the latter stages of production for her first feature film as director, Magic [μš”μˆ ].

“I draw with ballpoint pen, which doesn’t allow corrections… even if you make a mistake, I consider it a new style”

“There are a lot of things you do. What do you want to be called?”

[Thinking for a moment] “Someone who lives diligently? I don’t know either what I should be called. I’m careful about it. I’ve just got a lot of interests.”

What kind of reviews would make you feel good?

“I like hearing ‘She works hard.’ I also like hearing ‘When does she find time to sleep?’ I think I’m a workaholic. If I’m not doing anything, I can’t stay still because I feel uneasy and think, ‘Am I a useless person?’ At home I help with the housework, and I train the five dogs I’m raising.”

Actually, it isn’t that Gu Hye-sun has belatedly revealed her hidden talents recently. It’s probably that she was born like this. When she was young, she liked drawing pictures and writing, and liked to show other people. She made her own children’s songs and sang them. To borrow her words, “While drawing, music would come to me, and when I was working on music, pictures would come to me.” In her first year of high school in 1997, she won first place in a national drawing contest.

You like to draw with ballpoint pen, which is unusual.

“Paints are expensive, and I’ve gotten used to drawing with ballpoint pen since I was young. If I drew with pencil I kept erasing, so I used pen so I couldn’t fix it. Even if it didn’t come out like I wanted it initially, I kept drawing thinking it was a new style.”

You sought out SM Entertainment wanting to be a singer.

“At the time, it wasn’t that I had a clear picture of what life I wanted. It was a vague desire. And I liked not going to school. Rather than studying in school, I liked learning through experiencing things first. I liked practicing rather than cramming.”

Did you hate school that much?

“I think I lost the excitement for school in the first year of high school. I thought, ‘Where will I use all this math?’ and couldn’t get excited about studying. Plus I was young, so I had that dislike of school.”

Gu Hye-sun says that the time she studied hardest was in her first semester of her first year at Seoul Women’s University’s broadcast and entertainment department. At the time, she thought of her parents’ opposition to entering the arts department, so she decided not to give them the burden of tuition and received a scholarship. In the department she made first place, but starting in the second semester she dropped out to appear in the MBC sitcom Nonstop 5.

But don’t you still need education?

“If I were born to a rich family and could do anything I wanted, I would have gotten locked up in my thoughts. While creating things freely on my own, I think that’s possible. I would definitely have been antagonistic toward those who received established education. When I first directed a movie, the words I heard most were ‘You can’t do that.’

“But I often responded, ‘Why can’t I? I can just do it.’ So the staff of The Madonna laughed a lot to see how I did things. In the end some things came out strangely, but now the staff thinks, ‘You can just do it.'”

What gave you the opportunity to direct?

“When I was appearing in MBC’s Nonstop 5, I thought it would help me in my acting so I decided to try it. In the process of finding a character that suited me, I ended up writing the script. Then I’d rehearse that script. Through that process, directing came naturally.”

You’re 27 now. Aren’t you young to be directing?

“I went to Japan for the Yubari International Film Festival at the end of February, and someone three years younger than me won a prize. The staff of this film, Magic, are mostly younger than me.”

Last year’s Boys Before Flowers was a big deal.

“I deliberated a lot after receiving the offer. Because I had a bright image, I deliberately picked a sageuk. [King and I] I’d finally made a serious image for myself, so I worried a lot about going back to playing a bright young girl. I decided to do it because the director really wanted me to.”

You received some reviews that your sageuk acting was awkward.

“At the time, I wanted to try an older role, like a young child wanting to imitate an adult.”

You got your start as an uljjang, and there were prejudices regarding that.

“In any case, I think being an uljjang had a lot of advantages. I entered the industry relatively easily. I worried at first that it would be an obstacle in my career, but it helped.”

Are you going to continue working in different areas?

“The conclusion to all these various things is this movie. Looking back, all these things — music, novel, drawing — were for the benefit of the film. A film is a composite artwork, isn’t it? But I consider the most important aspects in a movie the music and the art. I put everything in the hands of mise en scene.”

Who is Gu Hye-sun?

She was born on November 9, 1984. While preparing to be a singer, she shifted to acting at the advice of YG Entertainment’s director Yang Hyun-seok in 2003. Debuted with Kim Yoon-seok in the 2004 KBS Drama City program Anagram (2004), which was directed by IRIS‘s Kim Kyu-tae. Success came with MBC sitcom Nonstop 5. Appeared in subsequent dramas Pure 19, King and I, and Strongest Chil-woo. Rose to stardom in 2009’s Boys Before Flowers. Aside from acting, she debuted as a director in the 2008 short film The Madonna, and released an album and novel in 2009.

Via DongA


101 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. mΓΌge

    after saying I dislike her in everywhere, I’ve started to feel disliking myself

  2. Rhean

    Wow. first. She should take a rest from time to time.

  3. stee

    I would have thought they’d say her acting in BOF was awkward, not the sageuk.. oh well. she seems quite nice. I hope she succeeds as a director eventually. good thing she’s so diligent – there’s obviously still a long way ahead.

  4. quiescent

    Despite her horrid fashion, GHS is really admirable.
    Good luck in the future Hyesun. <3

  5. jane

    thanks a lot for this news from Gu Hye-sun.
    I hope you have good day.

  6. mimi

    I’m still wondering why she decided to dress the way she did to the SBS awards ceremony last year (earlier this year?). She wore a Jandi outfit with a huge librarian type bow over her blouse, while everyone else was in gowns and tuxes.
    She’s a bit of an oddball. I wish she would be more normal, get married, etc. for her own sake.

  7. Lisa

    After reading this I feel like I have a lot in common with this girl.

  8. javabeans

    She does have some pretty wacky fashion sense, and not just at that awards show but at various appearances over the years. At the same time, I’d just like to put it out there that “be more normal, get married” may not be the healthiest line of thinking, because by no means should we head down the road of thinking that women are only valuable (as entertainers, or as women) if they’re pretty and conventional, and if they’re eccentric they ought to just get married and stay out of the limelight. I don’t like much of Gu’s work but at least she’s confident enough to be a little odd when, if she stuck to the conventional route, she would be one of the prettiest doll-like actresses of her age.

  9. etsy

    Wow…I already knew that she did all these things, and I’ve always been impressed by it. However, I’m blown away that she’s come in first during her first semester at college and has won an art contest in her drawing days. I know the title says jack of all trades, but I think she’s someone who has the ability to be master of all of them if given the time.

  10. 10 sukispop

    I really like Gu Hye-sun, and loved her in Pure 19. Unfortunately, her biggest role, as Geum Jan-di in BBF, was not her best and a lot of people only saw her in that and concluded that she was a lousy actress. I wish that more people could have seen her in Pure 19, and realize just how good she can be.

    I think that she’s a very pretty and incredibly talented person with many interests. She’s also very much her own person and follows her own path(fashion, artistic, and career choices), and doesn’t seem too concerned over how people feel about it.
    I respect that. I also respect and admire her for being a multi-faceted artist with a very strong work ethic. She doesn’t strike me as being someone who’s in this industry for the big money and glamorous lifestyle. She does what she enjoys doing, puts it out there, and does so as a true artist, come praise or harsh criticism.

    I wish her all the success that her hard work and artistic talents deserve, and hope that acting in dramas is still on her “to do” list.

  11. 11 Anne

    i know that there’s a lot of hate for her but i actually adore her. in the line of korean actresses where they all just try to be pretty, i’m glad that she stands out and refuses to stand with the status quo. there’s nothing wrong with being different. all the luck to her. =]

  12. 12 suz

    she seems very ambitious but also a stubborn person to work with..who’d always want it her way. haha

  13. 13 Icarusfalls

    She reminds me of me… I can’t “decide” what I want to do either but I love being busy!! I am passionate about a lot of things…. but I consider this as a fault and not a positive thing likes she says it is.
    People who are fundamentally unhappy with themselves usually act like this… I wonder if it’s true for her.

  14. 14 linz

    i’m not a huge fan of hers, but i do think its good that she works hard. hope she does well in the future!

  15. 15 Robertngo

    Wow She is a very talented girl but If She were not Gu Hye-sun I probably would never care to look at her pictures, read her books or watch the film she directed

  16. 16 cingdoc

    I was one of the few that actually saw GHS in Pure 19 before BOF. I’m very glad that I did that since I like her much better in Pure 19.
    As for her fashion sense,I think it’s based on her multi-faceted “artistic” view. My younger daughter is like that- very good in drawing and painting,but I often disagree with her choice of clothing. I finally accepted her way since I realized that’s her individualism.
    BTW,I think GHS reminds me of another” fashion-challenged”,but good actress/director(?) – Diane Keaton πŸ˜‰

  17. 17 daisytwenties

    (smile, you ended last week.
    life is beautiful is on now.
    just a quick note. :D)

    wow. i admire gu hye-sun for all the things that she’s talented in, but wow. she should take a break.

  18. 18 dramalover

    she works in many fields but she has yet to be really successful in any.
    I don’t like the idea of her being a director. It looks like she has to act even when she is a director (just look at the pictures in the articles)
    I would say that she will be working in many fields but she will never succeed in any.

  19. 19 Biscuit

    I think this has been one of the best articles/interviews on an actor/actress I’ve read.

    She’s doing so much lately, and sometimes you kinda wonder “Why?” What exactly drives her to do so much, for what reasons?

    I never really understood her personally. Unlike those in the music industry where they appear on variety shows and other programs every week, that’s not always the same for actors/actresses.

    I think I was able to understand her way of thinking a lot and have come to appreciate her more.

    I still hope that she can be in a drama by the end of the year. I also look forward to her film, especially since she will be in it herself.

    • 19.1 estee

      agreeeeeee……i can see that she is a free minded woman. It’s a good thing.

  20. 20 ksoul

    I don’t get why people diss her~~ this girl is really talented!! so what if she’s trying to do many things…at least she’s free to do what she wants~~ I love how YG supports their artists and lets them do what they want! Hyesun is just beautiful inside and out and just really a hardworking person! I love that about her!! Hyesun pdnim hwaiting!!

  21. 21 shinchan

    I agree, people should stop hating! I love this girl!! She definitely stands out from other korean actresses instead of just doing dramas, cfs…..after BOF she end up doing the opposite compared to her BOF cast mates. She wrote a book, open an exhibition, new age concert with isao sasaki, released an new age album…that is really amazing!! I wish her luck with her full length movie! her short film “cheerful caretaker” was received positively that’s why she gets invites from international film festivals!

  22. 22 jini

    Love her!!!! I wish to see her on new drama though I miss watching her! So what of she wore jandi uniform at the KBS awards show last year…I know she did that she give tribute and thankful to BOF fans~~~I think she’s a risk taker when she does something…I really admire her for that! she’s definitely unique actress!!! not just trying to act and be pretty all the time but be OUT there doing what she really loves and passionate about~

  23. 23 GoMiNam

    i’m not her biggest fan esp not after the ackward and sometimes painful performance in BOF but i admire her drive in exploring and growing in all these areas in the entertainment industry. kudos to her.

  24. 24 kdramalovers

    I like her stubborness and oddball ways. Who’s to say what’s normal? Normal is subjective. I must admit at first, I thought Gu Hye Sun was just everywhere, but after researching a little bit more about her, my initial…who’s this Jack of all trade attitude was gone when I saw how passionate she is about her work. Like someone mentioned in the above posts, Gu Hye Sun has the ability to be master of any of her trade given time and her continue learning. I love that she is confident in doing what she wants to do regardless of critcisms and or praises. I think because people are so used to the norm of doing ‘one thing at a time’ or trying to be ‘normal’ that for someone like Gu Hye Sun who loves to draw so she draws, she loves to act so she act, she loves to write music and play music so she writes music and play music, she wants to try her hand at directing films so she wrote her film script and work her butt off trying to get people to support and sponsor her directing endeavors (After many failures and rejections) thus now she directed one short film and just finish directing her full length film….it’s just so different that we want her to slow down. She should keep doing what makes her happy.

  25. 25 mimi

    Yeah, i thought about that “get married” part before i wrote it :- ) …It just seems sometimes she tries overly hard to be the oddball. And she doesn’t seem too happy to me (again, just my observation). I respect her efforts in trying new venues but honestly speaking, some of her ideas seem so outlandish I wonder if it’s just for the sake of causing a stir.
    Don’t get me wrong. I was one of the defending her when there were so many negative comments about her paintings and new book…. But I still can’t help wonder about that Jandi costume, and what Lee MinHo thought too…

  26. 26 kimchi

    am i the only one who is getting this gay vibe from her? her choice of clothing is very…err “male”ish. I’m not a fan or anti-fan of Gu so please don;t bite my head off. it’s just an assumption.

    • 26.1 shai

      OMG! Your comment was so long ago, but I sort of do, too. I think she just might be…Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  27. 27 Carinne

    Well, for this director role, we surely know who is wearing the PANTS AND TIE in that environment. *LOL*

    She’s too cute, I suppose that fashion statement assures her assertive direction.

    God bless her soul. You go Girl!

  28. 28 jacq

    I’m not a great fan of hers after watching her over-the-top performances in BOF. But it’s good that she’s trying different things. That’s absolutely nothing wrong with experimenting with different projects especially while one is young and has the resources to do so. Why not?

  29. 29 isabella

    Though her role in BOF was utterly annoying and almost completely ruined my original lovely Tsukushi (>”<), I still love GHS as a person. I can relate quite a lot to her desire to try many things at the same time. While you're still young, still energetic and ambitious enough, it's your opportunity to try out things you like as much as possible until you can find out what you truly love and focus on it. Time waits for no one, so if she doesn't dare to take any risks to realize her dreams now, when can she?

  30. 30 mimmay


    I think she succeeded plenty. I would be happy to be able to accomplish half what she’s accomplished. By your standards, there’s probably not too many successful people out there. Oh well, I think success is all subjective anyways.

  31. 31 mhai

    Hye Sun got the talents.. She is a great role model especially to young people today.. She is really inspiring more and more people. πŸ™‚ No wonder why she’s been very successful with her career. There are a lot of sunnies/ fans all over the world..
    Way to go hye sun!! We’ll support matter what happens.. πŸ™‚

  32. 32 Betchay

    I admire Goo Hye Sun.. she is simple and multi talented actress. I wanna see her in a drama soon. Best wishes to her movie “magic”.

  33. 33 gala

    she looks so much like my cousin~ with that being said, she does annoy me for a silly reason that she played Geum Jandi. it’s partly her fault and partly my closedmindedness.

    i dont admire her but i do respect her artsy endeavours. for a girl her age, she accomplished what many artists are still struggling to do. as an actress though, i’m not convinced. i did see her in Pure19 and i wasnt blown away. she was quite awkward in her sageuk and quite awful in BOF. so ive given her acting one too many chances. im pretty sure she’d continue pursuing acting even with critics like me harping on her ability.

  34. 34 Sere

    I don’t think anyone should just create. I mean, that’s great, a creative process is always a good thing, but if she really wants to direct, there are some things that need to be learned. Of course, one can learn through direct observation and trial-error like she’s done, but I still think education IS really important, esp with directing (there are a zillion little technical things that I can’t imagine her learning with self-studying and direct observation).

    I’m not hating on her, I’m glad she had the opportunity to do what she loves, but IDK, this interview kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Great, she’s a workaholic, good for her, but I’m more and more convinced that she got all the opportunities she’s had not because she’s particularly talented or good at what she does, but only because she’s popular. And that irks me: there are many, many people who’re JUST as talented -or more talented- than her who not only worked their butts off to study and create, but who don’t even get acknowledged just because they’re nobodies. I’ve seen that happening to friends. At least don’t brag about the fact that you didn’t even go to school? I know I’m supposed to feel her stubbornness and say, “oh look, despite everything, she made it”, but huh I don’t? I don’t know how that makes me sound, jealous maybe, but I’m not. And I don’t hate her, either. I just think it’s a little bit unfair.

  35. 35 soonie

    I think overambition can both be good and bad. The arts is definitely a daugnting field and you need an overabundance of ambition to succeed for sure. But when its directed every which way….it doesn’t lead to success but just mediocrity.

    Leonardo da Vinci was a Renaissance man, but he was called as such because he really excelled in that many areas. Gu Hye Sun has yet to achieve brillance in any one area (which I assume is because she hasn’t figured out her one true passion), so to compare her to da Vinci is almost…….insulting?

    I do agree with what she says…..having a gorgeous face is more helpful and defintely has been in her case. If she didn’t, would we even be reading an article like this? I think what people are getting amazed at is that there is actually a brain behind that face….which, unfortuntately, is fairly unusual in the Korean entertainment industry and is much lauded when it does occur (Kim Tae Hee, Honey Lee, anyone?). They just haven’t had a Kathryn Bigelow emerge yet. Now that is both gorgeousness and brillance and body in one package! =)

  36. 36 Snikki

    Worka-what?! (E-Trade Milkaholic ad…hehe)

    She’s one lucky girl to be given the opportunity to showcase her skills (and lack thereof). The industry is her playground. It’s actually good that she’s starting young, because she’s got a long way to go. I wish her well.

  37. 37 soni

    She’s great!

  38. 38 Icarusfalls

    @snikki – I couldn’t stop laughing at your comment!!!

  39. 39 MqN

    The great thing about Shakespeare is that he’s well schooled but chose to break the rules. That’s what makes Shakespeare, Shakespeare. So to think she can establish ground works without the foundation of the past is a bit of a egotistical statement.

    I can’t help but laugh to think there have been references of her to the great Da Vinci. He is the Renaissance man, only after having achieved and excelled in the areas that he worked on through years of hard work and endless contributions. She’s no where close to the sorta of honor, and yes as Soonie said, it’s rather insulting…even just to see the two names next to one another.

    There’s a lot of talk and hype around her work, but the main reason I find it hard to adore her is because she doesn’t have the body of work to support her multi-talented title. They don’t speak for themselves, and to see her just put a stab in education is really disheartening and just really uncool.

    The Greats have always use the experiences of the past as stepping stones for the future.

  40. 40 asianromance

    though i sort of wish she would settle down and choose a path, I’m happy for her that she has all these opportunities to try out different things and she seizes them when they come along even if she doesn’t wholly deserve those opportunities.

    i see her restlessness as that sort of restlessness you find in US college students and in adults in their early 20s- trying to find their places in life and trying out as many things as possible before they turn 30.

  41. 41 supah

    I like Goo too, or rather her approach to life.
    Hey, I’m a jack of all and master of absolute zilch, too.

  42. 42 supah

    Wait… I take it back!
    She is doing some kind of project with Oguri Shun these days. Oguri Shun!!?!
    As though LMH wasn’t enough for this chickie… she’s too greedy, I no likey.
    Oguri Shun – MINE!

  43. 43 meh

    she’s still young, she still has time to experiment and explore all the avenues open to her. kudos to her for not allowing convention to dictate her decisions/actions. a true artist should not be afraid to challenge himself/herself. i wish her success in all her future undertakings and i do hope she “finds” hersefl eventually.

  44. 44 yen_nguyen

    #1: ^-^
    I do not like her in BOF, but she’s cute in Nonstop 5. if she is a singer, would she work for Mr. YG Yang Hyun-seok?

  45. 45 ruth

    There are so many people who are equally talented than her or even more talented than her. But what I like about her is that she is a risk taker and really confident on what she is doing. Yes, it is a sad reality that many artists are not recognized because they are not famous, but I’m glad that she is helping many artists there to display their works through her cafe and I hope she continue that. I just hope that she still take a directing course and not just by experience.

    Wish her well on her first full-length movie Magic πŸ™‚

  46. 46 Molly

    I agree with Sere and MqN – that’s why I can’t completely like her; she’s getting all this overrated praise for her hobbies. It’s great that she’s seeking her passion and developing her interests, but there’s just a cynical part of me that thinks she’s trying too hard to stand out, and the odd outfits don’t help (although that can be seen as individuality; I’ll agree with that too). I’ve seen her in both Boys Before Flowers and Pure 19, and found her acting annoying in both, although Pure 19 was better than Boys Before Flowers. I hope her directorial projects are as good as the critics say, and maybe I’ll find a reason to truly admire her.

  47. 47 siidudul

    once you know her well, you just cant help but admire her!
    Goo Hye Sun fighting! Sunnies fighting!

  48. 48 cheng

    Why the negativity and all the criticism with Hyesun~~~ I read the original article of this~~ I felt this was translated in a negative way frankly~~ I don’t think she’s a jack of all trades……..she just does what she loves to do! I admire her for that! She’s truly a unique woman! so stop hating! Hyesun ssi hwaiting!!

  49. 49 cheng

    @ 42 she’s not working with oguri shun, they met at the yubari international film festival since they both debuted as new directors

  50. 50 snowy22

    No matter what she does, I believe she will try her best to accomplish her task and achieve good results for any particular things. i wouldn’t say she is an oddball or eccentric but i should say she wants to be special and unique to others.