This article was produced in collaboration with the Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA). The 2020 festival will take place from the 29th. From October to October 5. The November 2020 digital emissions will take place exclusively in Australia. All films at KOFFIA 2020 are free to watch. For more information please visit the website of the festival.
For actress Lee Joe Young, the choice of roles does not have to do with the duration of the screening or the potential success of the film, but with the essence of her character.
I don’t think there are many screenplays for actresses, especially not new ones. It’s not a question of how many lines there are in my script, she said in an interview with GQ Korea. The reason for the figure’s existence must convince me.
Through this approach, Lee has created a small but high-quality filmography that promotes integration and challenges the limits of the roles women can play. In just a few years, Lee has quietly become one of those people who see her work in independent films that focus on the underprivileged, such as Immigrants in Calm Dream or Runaway Teenagers in Jane.
Even in the transition to mass television drama, Lee does not denounce his commitment to highlighting self-determined women and LGBT+ stories by showing a transgender woman, Hyun-Yi, in the very popular Itaewon class praised by people like Forbes.
Although Lee claims that her gender-neutral representation of these roles is unintentional, she acknowledges that her decisions are evidence of her concerns about gender representation in the Korean film industry.
I always try to stay awake when it comes to gender sensitivity, she said. I don’t think it’s my only speech, I think the world will find out what he has to say. It’s so nice to work on this subject while I’m acting, because I can see it’s going better.
This is clearer than ever in his latest film The Girl with the Baseball, in which Lee plays a schoolgirl who fights gender discrimination in her attempts to become a professional player.
With the arrival of Lee’s Baseball Girl and Maggie at the 11th Korean Film Festival in Australia (available online for free from 29 October to 5 November 2020), we look back on an impressive number of earlier works by actresses.
Silent dream (2016)
She started her career with different shorts and made her feature film debut in 2013 with Beauty of Journey. But it was not until 2016 that she began to worry about the festival circuit, having starred in three films destined for the 21st century. The Busan International Film Festival has been selected, including the premiere of the nightly film Good Night’s Dream.
A Serene Dream in black and white, full of spirit and sensitivity, follows a closed group of strangers. The Chinese immigrant Yeri (Han Yeri, the actress Li sees herself as a fan) takes care of her handicapped father and runs a small bar. His most frequent clients are three men dancing in line between friends and admirers. Aboard this core crew is Joe Young (Lee Joe Young), a poet whose feelings for Yeri go beyond their existing friendship.
Despite his short screen time, Lee leaves a pleasant impression. Portrayed as an athletic stalker (the image Lee has kept throughout her career), she appears aggressive and brutal at first when she insults men who doubt her sex. In several scenes in which Lee appears, she shows her versatility. Zho-Yang’s attitude and emotional self-confidence changes when she interacts with Yeri.
Compared to the frustration she shows in men, Lee’s performance becomes more graceful and gentle when she is with Yeri. Meeting Yeri as a friend is an attentive consideration for each of Zho-Young’s words, her gaze points to the romantic tension she struggles with inside.
The two seemingly opposite sides of Joo Young’s character – shamelessness, self-confidence and emotional tenderness – merge in his stupid confession. Suddenly, by grabbing Yeri’s chest and pulling her towards him, Lee shows her strength by using pauses to express emotions, in this case the peace and desire she feels, and embraces Yeri even though her love doesn’t return.
This emotional honesty towards Yeri was the key to realizing the vision of director Lou and at the same time getting her role more out of the screen. Lee not only shares the name and hobbies of her character (in fact, the bike she rides in the film is hers), but also says she likes to express herself honestly. In the coming years, this ability to easily absorb their emotions will be a crucial aspect of their game.
Lee remains interested in dizzying characters like Ji Soo in Jane’s fantastic drama.
The homeless Seo Hyun (Lee Min-ji) was rescued by the mysterious Jane (Coo Gyu Hwan), who told him about the incredible prospect of a young girl. Seo Hyun, taken in by Jane, joins a refugee family of which Ji Soo is also a member. After this tragic incident Seo Hyun wakes up in a dark apartment with another family. But this time, the love and acceptance she felt for Jane was replaced by exploitation and hype. When Seo Hyun follows the instructions of her new owner, she meets the children she used to live with, even though she doesn’t seem to remember them at all.
Among the children in the center, Ji Soo is the only one who shows compassion and conviction. After the film is half finished, all the new versions of the refugees seem to have absorbed their pain and become submissive out of fear and despair. On the other hand, Ji Soo does not hesitate to confront his cruel owner (who calls himself father) in order to maintain his morals and goals. Ji Soo, who secretly works part-time to save money for her sister’s apartment, more directly challenges the authorities in a confrontation with her father. Because she falsely accuses Ji Soo of stealing her money (a trick he had already used to justify his ridicule of Seo Hyun), she refuses to admit her lies. While he tries to defuse the situation, Ji Soo is locked in a room.
Ji-Su’s desperation and determination to escape is brought to life by Lee’s explosive energy as she holds a violent rant against her kidnappers outside the camera and screams through a closed door, which she tries to break down with loud beeps.
The contrast between the character of Ji Soo and the people around him is present in every aspect of Lee’s portrait. Ji Soo makes a joke with his younger sister and offers her gifts in a cute demonstration of kinship (a rare event in the second half of the film), while in the first half, a silent demonstration by Lee Thoughts after the tragedy, as other children continue, shows Ji Soo’s awareness and respect for the family. These scenes and the unbridled depth that Lee gives, all contribute to the creation of the Ji Soo character, on which much of Jane’s later emotional struggle is based.
Three years later Lee finally makes his debut in the leading role in Maggie’s comedy. Impressed by her performance in the film Jane, director Yi Ok-Sop Lee played the lead role of Yoon Young, a young nurse who lives with her unemployed boyfriend (Koo Gyeo-Hwan).
The day after the couple found themselves in an unpleasant situation in the hospital where Yunyoung Yeongyeon works, the whole staff became sick. The only two employees who found out today, Yoon Young and Kyung Jin’s deputy medical director, suspect that the employees actually avoided a confrontation about the incident and decided to look for the truth. Meanwhile, Yoon-jong begins to doubt his relationship with Soon-won’s boyfriend.
The film marks the reunion of the actors Lee and Ku, whose relationship on screen is now that of a couple. After bringing him together and forcing him to work in the chemical industry, Ku Lee called him a good partner and praised his versatility: On the set we were able to achieve good results with great flexibility, without having to turn things around all the time.
While the actors Lee and Ku work well together in real life, their relationship gets tense on the screen as soon as Yoon-Young discovers Sung Won’s past. After Song Won’s fiery and charming immaturity is played out in the early scenes, Yun Young’s behaviour becomes suspicious and agitated. To conclude the narrator’s remark that nothing has changed, but that she does know something, Lee records movement and distance in Yun Young’s previous playful body shape.
As the film approaches its surrealistic end, one last shot remains, in which Lee’s expressions are central to deciphering its meaning. For just a few seconds, his changes in feelings are subtle and at the same time eloquent – a smooth transition from apparent shock, perhaps even fear, to even relief. Her lack of attention to detail in her performance earned Lee the award for Best Female Role at the 23rd International Film Festival. Busan International Film Festival and nominations for small independent festivals.
Girls’ baseball (2020)
Next year Lee will present her work as lead actress at the Busan International Film Festival again with a sports drama entitled Baseball Girl.
Lee has all the confidence and daring you would expect from an ambitious teenager like the school baseball player, Joo Su-in. As the only girl in the high school team approaching graduation, Soo-In has only one option for her career: going to the pros. SooIn is constantly pushed by her mother and the director to give up what they think is impossible, but her determination only grows when she challenges the biased notions of gender and professional baseball skills.
You would expect Lee to use her experience in physical education for this role (she began her university education with a sports degree before entering the theatre), but instead she has shown that using her feelings in youth is the key to achieving soo-in.
Instead of saying that I used my experiences at the gym to understand the character of Joo Soo In, I would say that I understood him through the feelings I had as a teenager and in the early and mid 1920s, she told the media.
In fact, Lee didn’t know anything about baseball before the shooting, so she had to train with a real school baseball team for a month.
During practice, it was important to try it out, but the coach also told me to look at real players throwing. But it was very difficult for me to throw 60 to 70 km, Lee remembers with a smile.
I felt several times that I wanted to quit because I couldn’t keep up with the players’ skills, she told Donge Ilbo. During training, I was able to understand Su-in’s fight better.
In addition to the physical training required for the role, Lee also identifies deeply with Soo-In’s expressions of will throughout the film. Just as Soo-In goes through a series of daunting setbacks, Soo-In also encounters moments of doubt about her acting career with a greater determination to succeed.
When I was about to become an actor, I had moments when I thought to myself: Do I have to go on like this, or am I really talented, Lee said. Every time I thought like that, the first thing I did was try to do like So-In.
Step by step I came to where I am now, thinking I hadn’t tried everything I could and wanted to move forward.
Lee’s commitment to his role and his future career has paid off: She won the Independent Actress Award at the Seoul Independent Film Festival and the Rising Star Award at the New York Asian Film Festival in 2020.
Despite her critical success and the growing popularity of the Korean public thanks to her work for K-Drama, Lee says she still wants to achieve a lot in her career.
I feel like I’m starting now, she says. There are so many other directors and actors I haven’t met yet, so I want to pretend one after the other that I’m off my list.
For the future, Lee hopes that the independent and non-sexist female characters who formed his previous roles will be able to normalize themselves in major Korean cinema.
There are now many female characters who can be seen as independent or strong characters in commercial dramas and films. So is Joo Soo-in, Lee.
But I think it’s a start. I hope I hear a lot of people say that: I’ve never seen such a female figure.
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