Park Eun-bin: Embracing the special and the average
It’s kind of crazy to think about how long Park Eun-bin has been in the industry, given her young age and the relative volatility of the entertainment industry, where actors and actresses can shine and fade quickly in the spotlight. At 25, the young actress is a veteran in her field with nearly 20 years of experience under her belt, but I have to admit that for the longest time, I was more familiar with her roles as the younger counterpart to the main leads, like in Glass Slipper, Legend, and Queen Seon-deok.
It was when I saw her in Secret Door that I first thought she would make a commanding leading lady, which is why I was really excited to see her cast in the ensemble youth drama Age of Youth. Though Song Ji-won couldn’t have been any more different than the regal, bold Lady Hyegyeong, there’s no doubt that Park Eun-bin’s personal charisma is what made each character so easy to root for. Ji-won, especially, underwent a particularly poignant journey of atonement and self-discovery in the second season of Age of Youth, and the viewers were with her every step of the way.
When asked if there was something that specifically spoke to her about this newest season, Park Eun-bin replied that during the production stage, she read the treatment of the script, which included the lines, “We retain many memories of when we get hurt, but retain none of when we hurt others. The supply and demand of pain don’t align.” The actress remarked that reading those two sentences gave her goosebumps, and that she reflected a lot on Age of Youth 2’s spotlight on the wounds unintentionally inflicted and unintentionally received in the course of people’s lives.
Speaking of wounds, Park Eun-bin cited that, as a viewer, one of the most memorable scenes in Age of Youth this season was when Jin-myung (Han Ye-ri) told Heimdal (Ahn Woo-yeon) rather callously that he lacked talent as an idol, and that he was a nobody among the nobodies. A friend of hers thought it quite a cruel scene, but Park Eun-bin said it made her think back to when she would herself struggle with doubts about her own talent in her chosen field, and whether she was more average than she thought. She mused that it’s an internal struggle that’s not exclusive to the entertainment industry, but to anyone who works hard to achieve their dreams.
The former child actress continued that it was when she entered university that she really began to question whether she was average or special. Thankfully, she found her answer: “I started acting when I was five, and ever since then, I was average but not, and special but not. When I was a student, I was just your everyday student, and when I was acting, I believed I was more special than anyone else. Those two sides were still me, and I can now embrace both of them as myself.”
We learned a lot more about Ji-won’s backstory this season, so it makes sense that Park Eun-bin may have had some difficulty assimilating this new information so that her character had continuity from last year’s portrayal. However, the actress relayed that the events that unfolded this season regarding Ji-won’s past were surprisingly aligned with her own conjectures.
“Ji-won last season had so many gaps in her character’s development that I started making up my own backstory for her. I went back to my notes from last year, and although I hadn’t written anything specific, the general reason I came up with for her propensity to lie was pretty similar. I had thought she had experienced an event as a young child where she wasn’t able to tell the truth, and to avoid the pain that she wasn’t able to handle, she began to subconsciously reject truth. Because I had set up this backstory for her, I feel I was able to more naturally incorporate this season’s revelations into her character.”
Song Ji-won was such a particular, unique character that it’s hard to separate Park Eun-bin from her onscreen persona, and it’s even more surprising to hear that the actress is nothing like her Age of Youth character. Last year, she had reportedly said that her relatives had been shocked to see her act as Ji-won, wondering whether she had always been that way. That shock hasn’t worn off, apparently, and she says her family is still as surprised when watching her portrayal of the delightfully strange Ji-won.
But it’s always fun to watch the actress behind the character bleed through, and Park Eun-bin confessed that in the epilogue that showed all of the Belle Epoque housemates revealing their past lives, her laughter at the end of hers wasn’t scripted and was just her losing her composure at having to mimic a horse. I don’t blame her, lol. “That scene was done in one take, and I honestly thought the broadcast wouldn’t include anything past me whinnying. But when I saw the show include my laughing, I was so shocked that I let out a little scream.”
The epilogues this season were rather shocking for us viewers as well, and were the subject of much speculation and angst. “After watching the viewers’ reaction to the epilogues, I wondered whether I should just leave the truth to their imaginations. Originally, the epilogues were supposed to show the housemates watching a horror film, or donating blood. But due to various circumstances that made it necessary to change them, the epilogues with the housemates’ epitaphs and the child were added to the show. When I saw that one of the housemates’ urn read that she would die in 2025, I was curious to know who it was. After doing a little investigating, I found out that it was Ji-won. My mind became totally blank, wondering why and how she died. I felt like I had just received a diagnosis for a terminal illness, and like the viewers, I went into denial and also searched for answers.”
“When filming ended, I had the chance to meet the writer (Park Yeon-seon), and I asked her why Ji-won will die in 8 years. She replied that she felt like Ji-won would die then. She felt that after fighting on Moon Hyo-jin’s behalf, Ji-won would become a journalist who would continuously fight to bring truth to light and in the course of chasing after injustice, be killed by those she was trying to expose.”
That’s the most heartbreaking, bittersweet, and beautifully tragic character synopsis I’ve ever read. And one I desperately wish would actually play out on my screen! Especially when Park Eun-bin confirmed with the writer that the daughter featured in the epilogue was indeed Sung-min’s child. Park Eun-bin added that if their story were to continue, “I thought they really have no choice but to end up together.” I almost laugh-cried when Sohn Seung-won, who portrayed her grumpy classmate, quipped in his own interview that it felt almost unfair that his character, “had a one-sided crush, then finally married Ji-won, only to become a single father.” So. Sad.
Also, this song makes me tear up every time, thinking of their too-short relationship and marriage:
It sounds like Park Eun-bin has made her peace with Ji-won’s fate, though, even if the rest of us haven’t: “I believe Ji-won’s living well. I think that past the events of the show, Ji-won will have decided to enjoy life as it comes, thinking of her childhood friend who can’t do the same, and find happiness in her everyday; so much so that she could call her every moment a fortune on her urn.”
And, acknowledging that many viewers were left disappointed that Ji-won’s loveline with Sung-min didn’t progress as much as desired, Park Eun-bin said, “There are so many films that depict friendships between men and women that all eventually develop into relationships, as if saying that men and women can’t remain platonic, that I first thought it would be fine to leave Ji-won and Sung-min as just friends.” But she came to recognize that their relationship was left very much unresolved.
“Ji-won experienced a life-changing event in the show. And in the midst of it all, Sung-min was always there for her, and more than anyone else, put Ji-won first. When I watched Sung-min, I thought to myself that it’ll be difficult to meet someone better than him. If you think about it, they fit so well together that it would be impossible for anyone to come between them and replace the other.”
Park Eun-bin doesn’t think Sung-min’s efforts went unnoticed, either, and said that she tried to impart a change of heart into Ji-won while acting in the last episode of Age of Youth 2. It’s true that Sung-min’s actions went pretty above and beyond what would be expected of “just a guy friend,” and Park Eun-bin commented that, “Ji-won’s not a complete idiot, so she won’t have been oblivious to Sung-min’s feelings for her.” I’m not sure how much I agree with Park Eun-bin’s assessment of her character’s perceptiveness, though, since she seemed to be completely unaware of Sung-min’s gazes directed at her throughout the whole series. Sohn Seung-won stated in his interviews that he took particular care with his expressions when Ji-won wasn’t looking at him.
Asked about her chemistry with her co-star Sohn Seung-won, she cited his theater experience as the reason why their characters had such an easy rapport and quick banter. “He could take whatever I spontaneously came up with, so it was that much more fun. When he tried one thing, that got me thinking to try something else.”
Admitting that she herself doesn’t have many guy friends, Park Eun-bin confessed to being jealous of her Age of Youth counterpart and that she’s made up her mind to make guy friends, though she acknowledges guys like Sung-min don’t actually exist. (Don’t kill my fantasy!)
In conjunction with the disappointment surrounding their unfulfilled loveline, there’s been a lot of requests for Park Eun-bin to take on a romantic comedy next. If Sohn Seung-won’s free, can someone call him up please? In response, she said that she plans to continue acting, so “when the opportunity presents itself, I’ll probably do a romantic comedy sometime in the future.”
Another loose thread Age of Youth 2 didn’t get to resolve was the trial against Moon Hyo-jin’s art teacher molester. Park Eun-bin recognized the reality of these kinds of situations, though, and took a philosophical approach to the events in the season’s finale: “Judgments in cases like these don’t materialize automatically. I thought the ending, with another survivor coming forward, was a hopeful one.”
“As we delved more into Moon Hyo-jin’s story, what left the biggest impression was receiving messages from women who have been in Hyo-jin’s shoes, and from those who have been in Ji-won’s shoes. In some ways, Ji-won’s courage to speak out about this injustice, late though it was, gave comfort and healing to these women, and I was grateful to have left meaning with someone through Ji-won’s story.”
And finally, in response to the flood of calls for a third season of Age of Youth, Park Eun-bin said she felt “incredibly thankful” at getting the opportunity to do a second season but that there was no guarantee of a third one. She went on to say that playing the same character twice was a gift and getting to do a third season would be “close to a miracle.” She called Age of Youth a project that delivered “fresh surprises and fresh energy,” and that it was a show that captures her own youth in the summers of 2016 and 2017.
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