The way people perceive of child actors can be guessed by the term itself. "Child actor" instead of "actor", as it is for everyone else. Whether the world likes it or not, Western cinema, and mainly Hollywood, is the one that is available everywhere and so in our faces that we are often having trouble finding anything else. So the usual idea people have about child actors as well, comes from Hollywood.
We see children as adorable amateurs who can't really act, but are still endearing and cute for trying. We usually tend to forgive or ignore their performances in works because they seem to have no guidance or much effort put in them. A child is told to do things, they do it, but most don't seem to grasp what they are doing. Which is fine. They are kids after all. One can't expect them to know what acting is, let alone accomplish it (even if they can do some fine real life acting when they want something). And there are certain aspects of performances and movies that are not healthy for a very young child to understand.
But this is where things do differ with child actors in South Korea. As someone who was mainly into western cinema up until a point in recent years, I was amazed by the level of acting these young artists achieve. Not only exceptions and isolated cases, but the majority of the ones I have seen.
I have seen kids playing possessed individuals, kids playing villains and kids playing less colorful roles, who look perfectly in sync with the scenes they are doing, to the point that some deliver performances which are even better than most of the experienced and talented adult cast.
Eun Seo-woo of "Phone" (pictured above) was my first moment of such a realization, at a time when I thought this was just one case of a particularly talented little girl. She is by far the best actor in this movie, causing more stir in the viewer's emotions than even the very talented Ha Ji-won did. A perfectly normal little girl who managed to portray such adult concepts as jealousy, malevolence and vengeful thoughts, to a degree and accuracy that makes one's blood freeze. She does try too hard, bless her, but it's still fascinating how such a young child can become so psychotic on cue.
Another fine example I saw recently was Lee Ji-eun-I from the OCN series "God's Quiz". She plays a character who suffers from Hypopituitarism (as far as I could tell) and thus looks like a child despite being an adult woman. She is a suspect in the case and her shift from innocent scared child to a fully aware adult, when her bluff is called by the lead character, is just mind-blowing.
"Hansel and Gretel" is a wonderful movie which handles child abuse and its consequences in a very creative and artistic way, causing quite an impact on the viewer with its style and wonderful child actors. Sim Eun-kyeong, Eun Won-jae and Jin Ji-hee are all amazing in this and have me in tears by the end of the movie, no matter how many times I watch it.
And then, among many others not mentioned here, there is this year's "The Crucible". I will not have the privilege to watch it for a while still, but I have a feeling the young actors chosen for this will be very good in their roles. Their performances are very important in such a work, after all.
People have been praising Kim Sae-ron of "The Man From Nowhere" a lot and the reason is, despite her being good, most people have not looked more into child actors in South Korea. Compared to other performances I have seen, I actually find her mediocre. Which just goes to show how high the level of quality in child actors is.
I am not an expert on this and can therefore not say exactly how Korean children manage such performances, but it is not really surprising a child is capable of this. As Sir Ken Robinson talked about in a presentation of his on education, we all have the capacity for genius and it declines as we grow up and are taught to only think a certain way and not be open to the world. Children are, in some aspects, a lot smarter than us adults and a lot more capable. And it is common to see people who are wonderful as child actors somehow lose that magic touch when they grow older.
It may also be due to the people who make these works and their guidance. They are capable of explaining the needs of a scene, a reaction, a performance to the child in a way that can help them perform in the best possible manner.
Whatever the reason, child actors in South Korea are immensely talented and versatile, being comparable to their older counterparts and offering for very immersive performances and works. Not all of them chose to remain in that profession as adults and not all of them might be as good in adult years as they used to be when younger and more in touch with their creativity, but it is safe to say that they offer audiences unique experiences and memorable moments.
For more on my subjective views, unmoderated swearing and kooky behavior, you can visit my Blog: http://orion21.blogspot.com
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"Little Wonders - The Child Actors of South Korea"
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53rd Baeksang Arts Awards 2017