By Lee Hyo-won
It's hard to believe that she only turns 23 in December. Kim Ok-bin
, like many actresses her age, debuted as a horror movie teen queen but in just five years the "Thirst"
heroine has made her mark as a serious screen persona.
"People often think I'm older than I really am, but the misunderstanding is actually kind of fun", Kim told The Korea Times last week during an interview in a restaurant in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.
But aren't actresses supposed to be obsessed with trying to look younger?
"Actresses are like flowers. Male actors have a longer 'lifespan' onscreen while actresses are more rapidly consumed per se, with fresher, younger actresses being sought out. But I don't want to be pressured by that", she said.
Wearing a new red-dyed short cut and a big, bright smile, Kim in person is really rather perky, and baby-faced, especially when compared to the stupefied housewife she played in Park Chan-wook
's vampire film "Thirst"
― a role that put on her the map. Last month, she won the Best Actress award at the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival.
"I had so much fun at the festival ― I wish to live life as if it were a festival! But oh my gosh, I still can't believe I won. I mean who accepts their award at home?" she said, having learned about the prize after she had left Spain. She is still waiting to receive the trophy in the mail.
In the meantime, she tries hard not to be consumed by the honor. "But it is true that expectations have become higher and I feel like I need to try harder not to let people down. My mindset has changed; I am more confident about what I like and what I want to do".
When asked about the possibility of debuting overseas, the actress said she was learning foreign languages, but mostly as a hobby because she feels that there is much left for her to accomplish here first.
She wants to explore various characters and roles, even if it entails assuming a persona that does not suit her.
Kim has always stood apart from other starlets, with a list of wide-ranging, uncanny roles under her belt. She did pass the conventional rite of passage ― winning a local online "eoljjang", or best-looking contest, and playing pretty schoolgirls and romantic heroines onscreen. But Kim earned a reputation through quirky projects such as the teen sex comedy "Dasepo Naughty Girls" ("Dasepo Girl
She even had a small stint as a break dancer in the TV series "Over the Rainbow
- Drama" and her dance sequence for a music program at the time still pops up on YouTube under the title "Korean Beyonce".
"You're kidding! Is that still around? It's haunting me forever. But it's something I could only do at a young age", she said, giggling.
Given her colorful filmography and lack of appearances on talk shows, she remains a somewhat elusive figure.
But in her upcoming film, "The Actresses", opposite the country's most high profile heroines ― Choi Ji-woo
, Ko Hyeon-jeong
, Lee Mi-sook
, Yeon Yoo-jeong and Kim Min-hee
― she plays herself.
"I play myself", Kim said. "Many actors discuss only their characters and refrain from speaking about their personal lives. I've been rather conservative, too, in that respect but I must talk about myself".
The movie, for which she collaborates for a second time with director Lee Jae-yong
, blurs the line between fiction and reality. It provides a framework for drama to unfold as six actresses, each used to basking alone in the spotlight, must learn to get along during a fashion magazine photo shoot. Most of the dramatic tensions are scripted, but are propelled by each actress' personal image.
The movie highlights Kim's reputation as being rather offbeat. "I'm the youngest so I try to kiss up to my elder co-stars, though rather clumsily, and end up getting misunderstood as being strange", she said.
But there's also a strong dose of reality. "One time Lee Mi-sook
tells me, ad-lib, `You're a country bumpkin, aren't you?' and it caught me by surprise because it's true", said the native of Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province, with a big hearty laugh. She said the movie also captured her spouts of boyish laughter and demeanor.
Another time, Kim, who feels she is "chubby compared to many actresses", expresses admiration for cellophane-thin Kim Min-hee
. When a staff member tried to boost her confidence by saying that she is the type preferred by men, Kim felt flattered, but only at first because in reality she is single (Kim Min-hee
on the other hand is known for dating a model).
The project was moreover a chance for actresses to share their personal problems. "It's not easy being an actress. It's accompanied by the most painstaking sense of solitude. The public has a certain fantasy about actresses and we must try to sustain that", she said.
Her "accidental" foray into the world of acting ― she trained in martial arts as a child and almost applied to the police academy ― was inspired by her fascination with the filmmaking process rather than by stardom.
But now an actress, she realizes that she has a certain responsibility as a "star" and public figure.
Seoulites, however, hardly notice Kim on the street. It's not because she is unrecognizable without makeup; it's because her plain clothes and demeanor fail to attract attention.
Kim prefers to distinguish her identities as an actress and as a person.
She shops for groceries herself. She spends her free time doing household chores; she loves taking care of two younger sisters under her care and their pets (two cats and a dog).
But consuming things artsy ― cult movies and plays ― is her main interest.
She is inevitably an actress.
Kim hopes to continue shining on screen through diverse characters _ her latest interest being comedy ― and even one day overcome her stage fright to debut in theaters. "The world of acting is limitless, there is so much territory left to conquer", she said, with a glimmer of unwavering determination in her steady gaze.