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Starting her show business career while still a teenager, Han Ji-min quickly became a familiar face in South Korean television dramas and films, beloved by audiences for her sweet, wholesome image.  Han turns that image on its head with her gritty portrayal of a child abuse survivor in MISS BAEK; a career-changing role that has won Han the Blue Dragon -- the Korean equivalent of the Best Actress Oscar.

At the first annual New York Asian Film Festival Winter Showcase, Han spoke with LMD about her passion to get MISS BAEK made, and her hopes for its positive influence on Korean society.

Dig it!



Han Ji-min


The Lady Miz Diva:  Your performance as Baek Sang-ah is raw and completely heartfelt.  Had you done research with child abuse survivors?  Have any come up and shared their impressions of the film with you?

Han Ji-min:  It was difficult to actually meet child abuse survivors, especially in Korean society.  Itís very difficult for the victims to come out, or reveal what theyíve been through.  And also, as someone whoís doing research, I felt very reluctant and cautious about possibly poking into their wounds and past trauma.  So, there werenít any face-to-face interviews with actual victims.

Even for my director, I donít think she was in contact with any actual abuse survivors.  But she worked with secondhand anecdotes from people who worked in hospitals, who had worked with such abuse survivors.  So, thatís how my research, I guess I would call it, happened.  It was more so building her backstory to really figure out how this person had lived until this day, and what kind of experiences had shaped her as a human being.  I would say, because we were doing a lot of detailed backstory building, we really were working on how Baek Sang-ah would interact with the world and with people. 

For example, in our conversations, we were talking about how she would not be able to look a person quite in the eye, face-to-face.  So, for example, when she first meets the character of Kim Ji-eun, she never looks at her directly in the eye; itís just sort of this downward glance that she gives, which I thought was appropriate for her character.  And then when she offers Kim Ji-eun water, itís not just like a direct offering of water; itís just sort of this elbowing of an offer -- itís like a half sort of offer.  So, it was really the process of building the backstory scene by scene with the director that I was really able to flesh out this character of Baek Sang-ah.


LMD:  I felt your performance spoke for so many people who have survived child abuse.  As you mentioned, it was difficult to approach real survivors because of the feelings of South Korean society.  In any society, when you show something that is unpleasant, you are risking a backlash.  Were you worried about bringing this very sensitive subject to the face of society, and how that might backlash on you?

HJm:  There were some people who would actually just straight out not want to watch it, just by hearing that it dealt with issues of child abuse.  And I think thatís one of the reasons why it was difficult getting distribution for the film, and also why it opened at the box office little later than we were thinking it would.  But I feel like when it comes to these social issues, if you donít at least try -- if you donít make an effort -- nothing will change.  And nothing will change for the future of many children out there who are still struggling under this kind of abuse.

I think I wanted people to watch the movie with a sense of compassion and empathy, where you could ask yourself, ĎIf this were my child, what would I do, and how would I feel?í  That is the question that I wanted to ask the audience.  And I think as a result of this, hopefully, it will be the start of some sort of change as a result of this project.  As weíve seen with the other Korean film called THE SILENCED in 2011 -- as a result of that new laws were implemented -- as a result of the influence that that film had.  So, in that sort of vein, my hope is that MISS BAEK also sheds light on this sort of overlooked issue in Korean society, and that hopefully small but steady change can lead to a much bigger change in the world. 

There was also a journalist who said that this was really, really hard to watch, but I feel that you canít satisfy every single audience member.  But if there is one thing that I hope with this film, is that people are able to watch as if watching their own child, and if I achieve that, I think thatís what I set out to achieve, and have achieved.


LMD:  MISS BAEK was directed by Lee Ji-won.  This was her first feature film.  What made you trust her with such a delicate subject matter?

HJm:  How I first approached this project was because the script got into my hands, and the director, Lee Ji-won, she had actually written the script, and I was surprised, because it was so well written.  It felt different from other scripts that I had read in the fact that the emotional through lines of the characters was so detailed, and so intricate, and I really just lost myself just reading the entire script.

So, for me, it wasnít so much as important who the director was, who was going to be directing me; I just really wanted the film made, because I thought it was such a great project, and such a meaningful project.  So, when I did actually did meet with director Lee Ji-won, she also wasnít as interested in this being a huge commercial success, but she really wanted to shed light on certain societal issues that she had witnessed, and also had experienced in her own life.  And so I think, in that sense, we were compatible, and it worked out really well.


LMD:  We must talk about Miss Kim Si-ah, who plays Ji-eunÖ

HJm:  Yes!  She is amazing in the film.  It was her first time acting.


LMD:  How old was she when this was filmed?

HJm:  Nine in Korean age.  Nine or ten.


LMD:  The themes and subjects that MISS BAEK explores mustíve been very confusing for a child her age.  How did you work with her to make Kim Si-ah feel comfortable and safe, and to enable her to portray some of Ji-eunís difficult scenes?

HJm:  I think itís great that you mentioned this, because the most important thing on set for us was to not get Si-ah hurt.  That was our imperative objective.  So, we actually worked with a counselor on set on the days that she was filming; and the counselor told us and the crew that it was really important to separate identities for her.  So, when she was on set as the character, Ji-eun, she would be referred to as ďJi-eunĒ during takes, but once they would yell ďcut,Ē and once she was out of the character of Ji-eun, the counselor would tell us to always refer to her as her name of Si-ah, not Ji-eun, and to keep on telling her that, ďYouíre not ĎJi-eun,í youíre Si-ah,Ē just to make that separation apparent for her, so that she wouldnít be confused between these two identities.

It was interesting for me, too, because while she is nine or ten years old, she actually has three younger siblings -- her mom is younger than me {Laughs}.  She is a precocious nine or ten-year-old.  To me, too, when I was working with her, there is such depth in the way she looks at you, and thereís such a depth in her gaze, which is really astonishing for a ten-year-old.  Later on, I didnít know that at the time, but later on I also learned that while I was fretting about whether she was feeling safe, and if she was feeling all right on the set, she was actually journaling as the character Ji-eun about her day.  She would be, ďToday, I met Miss Baek;Ē she would journal as her character.  To me, it kind of felt as if she had done more prep work on this character than I had. {Laughs} So, that was funny for me. 

But also, when she was on the set, I donít think she had any bad takes, and another really astonishing thing was that she never complained, and I was really able to play off of what she was giving me, and not really even worry about how she was as a person, but to just really play off and respond to how she was reacting to me as her character, Ji-eun, which was really great.

I do remember another scene in particular, where I am running up the stairs to hug her, and I sort of embrace her with such force, that we fall backwards together onto the pavement, and even in that moment, I was very shocked that we had toppled over each other, but even at that moment, sheís so grown up to say, ďOh my gosh, are you okay?Ē  Even though she was just a little girl, she was trying to take care of me, when she herself is the child.  So, she was just very thoughtful in her way.  She was a joy to work with.


LMD:  You are such an intelligent artist, with a very clear perspective and dedication about your craft.  Your determination to make MISS BAEK, which faced distribution challenges, put me in the mind of independent cinema.  Have you considered writing or directing your own films, or having a film production company to oversee bold projects like MISS BAEK?

HJm:  Never. {Laughs} Never.  Thank you for the compliment on my work and picking scripts, but to be fair, I would say from script to box office, in the process of filmmaking, there are just so many factors that are involved: There are so many things that can make something go right, and something go wrong, at the switch of whatever.  I would say itís not just me who is responsible for the success or failure of a film.

With regard to producing; my work is as an actor.  Though, with MISS BAEK, I have received awards in Korea, but just because you have received awards, that doesnít mean that your work as an actor ends: There is always a development; a desire to keep on learning and growing as an actor, and I feel that in that process, Iím still doing that, and I think just doing that, in itself, is still quite a process for me, and a journey for me. 

So, I would say I wouldnít have time to participate as a producer, or say, as a writer, but if there is more low-budget, indie films that are still meaningful to me, I would of course love to participate in the capacity as an actor, but when it comes to producing, I think that really requires finesse when it comes to getting the right people, and really leading people, and I think that is something that I really donít quite possess, so I will leave that to the producers.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

Feb. 1st, 2019


Click here to read our first Exclusive Interview with the Marvelous Han Ji-min for THE AGE OF SHADOWS/MILJUNG.


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