bae doona is the globetrotting, selfie taking star of korean cinema
Bae Doona is loved by the Wachowskis, Korean cinema makers and Louis Vuitton. After starring in the globetrotting Sense8, she’s returned home to star in A Girl at My Door, a complex picture of a young gay woman.
Bae Doona is in a particularly wet London to promote her latest film, A Girl at My Door. She's lived here before, after appearing in the Wachowski's Cloud Atlas. "I loved London, I really enjoyed it but I don't think London loves me," she laughs, "because it's always raining when I am here." Even if the British capital insists on raining on Doona's parade, there's plenty more love for her elsewhere. The 35-year-old South Korean actress has long been a favourite of national filmmakers and has been brought to wider attention through her recurring appearance in the projects of the Wachowskis (creators of The Matrix), including a lead role in their new Netflix series Sense8 this year.
She's also always been someone to push the envelope. Her first film required Doona to go without make up, something other actresses were unwilling to do. She's played a sex doll with feelings in Air Doll and tackled challenging sex scenes in Plum Blossom. Now, in A Girl at my Door, the debut of Korean writer and director July Jung which premiered at Cannes this year. It's the story of Lee Young-nam, played by Doona, a police chief transferred to a small fishing village after some sort of sexual misconduct with another woman. Once ensconced in rural Korea, she finds herself embroiled in the domestic drama of her neighbours, as young adolescent Doo-hee is regularly abused by her stepfather and grandmother. She takes Doo-hee in, who - like most things in this languid, studied film - isn't quite as simple as she seems.
You decided to make A Girl at My Door right after reading the script…
I usually have an issue with my decisions but this one was quite easy. I just followed my instincts. I was in London shooting Jupiter Ascending and I got an email from Lee Chang-Dong, the producer of the film, and one of the most famous Korean filmmakers. I was surprised because I've never met him before. So I read it, took five minutes and said yes.
I could feel the loneliness the character experienced. I loved the way that July Jung wrote; it's very refined and sophisticated. It's not direct but inferred. I consider the director the most important part of a film. Who the director is is the most important thing for me when choosing a film.
The film details a complex relationship between Lee Young-nam and the teenage girl Sun Doo-Hee. Do you think a female writer and director was better placed to explore the subtleties of this?
Maybe. I didn't think about it like that. Sometimes when I read a script from a male director I feel like the female characters are unfinished. With this, I could get into the character very easily.
How did you see the relationship between the two female leads?
I'm not sure my perspective is the same as the director's. It's quite complex. The character has a maternal feeling towards Doo-Hee. I don't know. I was confused too, on-set. I wasn't sure if my feelings were right. What I remember was being really, really lonely when I played that character, so when I saw Doo-Hee, I wanted to hug her but also felt "can you please hug me?" It's that kind of feeling. Although I don't want to impose my thoughts about the relationship onto the audience, because it's important for the audience to think about it themselves.
The Wachowskis clearly like working with you but what do you like about working with them?
I like directors who are like painters. I like that they paint using me - does that make sense? I leave myself open to their direction.
Doesn't that make you feel vulnerable?
Vulnerable? No. Some actors complain about that, but personally I think the directors are the creators and actors convey what they want to say. I'm happy to be a canvas for them. They can use me as a prop so they can communicate what they want to the audience through me.
Did you get to experience any of the cities you filmed Sense8 in?
We went to nine cities in eight countries - amazing, right? So every two weeks we moved from one to another. Actually we had a lot of free time. There were eight main characters and if we are shooting in Berlin, the German actor was the busiest because he is telling his story there. The rest of us were just sitting around so we went sightseeing.
It's slightly unfortunate that the local tour guide for each city was tied up in filming…
Yes but I tried my best in Seoul. After the shooting at 10pm, I would drive the rest of the cast around Seoul. I did my best, I was knackered! They really loved it. I was surprised that they loved the Korean sauna [a split room where you can shower with steam room, you can drink and take a bath fully clothed]. I know it sounds a little weird! Actually I have never been there myself. They went there themselves.
You've had to master a lot of skills for your films: ping pong, archery and kick boxing. Which has been the best?
I had to learn sign language for a film and Spanish for Sense8. I love learning something. I think I can learn anything and get paid!
You're a keen photographer but I need to ask you about a strange photo on your Instagram… the one with the director Xavier Dolan life size cut out. Explain.
A Girl at My Door was coming out in Japan at the time. Someone posted a picture on Twitter of a life size cut out of me [from the film]. I thought I have to take a selfie there with myself. I flew there - it only takes an hour and a half from Seoul to Tokyo - and did the selfie. Then I found Xavier Dolan. The cut out picture was from Cannes of him holding a trophy so I took that to share his victory!
A Girl at My Door is in cinemas from today.
Text Colin Crummy
Photography Dukwha Jang