In the upcoming horror film “House of the Disappeared,” actress Kim Yun-jin portrays a mother fiercely protective of her children, inside a house that appears to be haunted by uneasy spirits.
She plays two versions of her character Mi-hee -- as a 40-something housewife, and a much older, grey-haired woman who has lost her children through unexplainable causes.
The younger Mi-hee has already been through a lot at the start of the film, having lost her first husband to heart disease and putting up with a second husband who has alcohol and rage issues.
“Simply put, she’s a strong woman,” Kim told The Korea Herald.
Kim animatedly described her role, one that she felt was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“At the same time, I tried to express her younger self as somewhat unknowing, despite her hardships, to highlight the gap between her and her older self,” she said.
Being able to display a rich range of emotions of a multifarious character -- from the confused mother to the terrified woman, and later in the film, an ill, grief-stricken ex-prisoner -- was fulfilling, she said.
“When else would I have the opportunity to lead a film with this kind of female character?”
It has been more than a decade since Kim came into international fame with the character Sun in the smash-hit US drama series “Lost,” which aired on ABC from 2004 to 2010. Since then, she has been among the few Korean entertainers -- alongside actor Lee Byung-hun -- to be active in both the US and Korea.
Kim says she is still in awe of the monumental status that “Lost” came to occupy on American TV. The show was a pioneer, one of the first to shed light on actors of different ethnicities, she said.
“It was a brave, but also very intelligent decision on the part of J. J. Abrams,” she said, referring to the show’s creator and renowned director who has helmed films such as “Armageddon” (1998) and “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013).
After “Lost,” iconic multi-ethnic shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Heroes” followed, Kim pointed out.
Maintaining a firm foundation in the Korean film scene helped her US activities, in terms of both experience and recognition, she said. Before heading to Hollywood, Kim had taken up significant roles in major Korean films such as “Shiri” (1999). Her filmography has come to encompass thrillers such as “Seven Days” (2008) and family dramas such as “Ode to My Father” (2014).
“Producers have to pay attention to the Asian market as well,” she said, in an age when TV shows are streamed internationally.
Having had the opportunity to work in two countries, Kim noted several differences.
“There are more roles that portray females as strong, warrior-like figures in the US,” she said. “There is a larger scope (for acting).”
But the most prominent difference is the age of the production crew and staff members, she said.
“In the US, my makeup artist was an elderly lady. She would put on my eyeliner using reading glasses. It’s something unimaginable in Korea.”
Kim called for better working conditions on Korean sets for the production crew. “That kind of experience can’t be bought. We need to let people feel like (working on a film crew) is a lifelong job. I think that will lead to the development of Korean cinema as well.”
The tendency to spotlight male characters as leads “is the same everywhere,” Kim said.
Since she was a young student growing up in New York after her family emigrated there in 1980, the actress, now 43, has been ruggedly pursuing the craft of acting.
Desperate for the stage, she would get up at 5 a.m. every day to ride the ferry from her home in Staten Island to Manhattan, transfer to a bus, and then take the subway to attend the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Adhering to a strict schedule has become ingrained in her even when off set.
“I have unlimited energy in the mornings,” she said. “I so wanted to go to that school. It was something that was only possible as a kid completely obsessed with acting.”
With over 20 years of experience, the seasoned actress still goes through grueling auditions when pilot season dawns in Los Angeles -- and she still grapples with difficulties.
“‘La La Land’ is no exaggeration,” Kim said, referring to the recent film on struggling performers. “There have been times when casting directors were talking loudly on the phone right outside the room where I was auditioning,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
But always craving her next gig, Kim hopes to fly back to LA once promotions for “House of the Disappeared” wrap up. “That’s my plan, at least. I still have a lot of hunger for acting and good roles.”