Being an Asian American in Hollywood, Feeling Home in Busan
By Lee Hyo-won
BUSAN _ For actor Daniel Dae Kim
, who shot to international stardom through the hit ABC TV series "Lost", the walk on red carpet at the 12th Pusan (Busan) International Film Festival meant returning to his native town.
"I'll be honest. I was a little scared (walking down the red carpet). I'm used to it in the U.S. and Europe. But because I'm from here, it mattered a little bit more. I haven't felt that way in about four years... It was also the longest red carpet I've walked on", he said with a slight chuckle.
"I have very fond memories of this area _ my imo (aunt) still lives about half a mile away, my samchun's (uncle's) family lived up on the hill, and I was born in Seodaeshin-dong. I was telling my parents I was coming to Busan, and `Make your country proud', they said", the 39-year-old said with a big hearty laugh.
Unlike his stern character Jin from ABC's hit TV series "Lost", Kim was very down-to-earth and easy-going in person, flashing a bright smile every now and then. Voted one of the "Sexiest Men Alive" in 2005 by People Magazine, the actor's sharply chiseled features _ high cheekbones _ were just as charming in real person.
Kim had immigrated to the United States with his family as a baby, and grew up in New York and in Pennsylvania ever since. He said he is happy to back to the Haeundae area; he had spent about three months there in the early 1990s.
"Honestly, I feel like I'm home", "It sounds so cheesy when I say it but I really feel a connection. You know, I'm so grateful, so 'bangaweo' (delightful and welcomed)", he said, explaining that although he was raised in the U.S., he had to take off his shoes when he entered the house. "My belief system comes from my parents, which is Korean", he said.
"The one thing I don't like about coming to Busan though, is that I've been trying to get ride of my saturi (local accent), and now I'm speaking with all my relatives and it's all coming back", he said, chuckling.
Ever since the ABC hit show started first airing, it was the talk of the town for not only starring two Korean actors in the main cast, but for also featuring dialogues in Korean. It naturally garnered much attention from Korean viewers, and sharp criticisms ensued when Kim spoke with a rather strange accent.
"I was criticized for my accent, and part of that is because of my Busan accent mixed with my American accent, so people thought I just did not know how to speak Korean at all...
"But you know, I like the saturi (accent)", he said, agreeing that it's part of who you are. He added that his wife, with whom he's been married for 14 years, is from Seoul, so her relatives find his Busan-American accent hilarious.
After graduating from Haverford College, Kim made his acting debut in theatrical productions. He then went on to earn his M.F.A. from New York University and has starred in popular dramas such as "ER" and "24", and has made guest appearances in "Ally McBeal", "The Practice", and "Law & Order" to name a few. Then came "Lost", which would change his life forever.
"I know it's a cliche but I really do feel lucky. You know in the States, for Asian-American actors there aren't that many opportunities. To be on a show alone is lucky, but to be on a hit show that win awards and it's recognized all over the world, that's maybe once in a lifetime", he said.
Despite the initial negative feedback, the actor has become almost a household name here as the popularity of American dramas, called "Mideu" here, have skyrocketed in recent years.
and I) are in a very fortunate position. I come to a place like this (PIFF), and I'm recognized by Korean fans, I consider myself very lucky", he said.
Kim's advice to aspiring actors is simple but to the point: "Work hard. Because if you only get that opportunity once in your career, you have to be able to seize it, you have to be able to get that job because you may not get another chance. Because if you're not prepared, if you don't have the acting training, if you're not concentrating on yourself, that one chance might miss you and that will be the end", he said.
Having grown up in Easton, Pennsylvania, where there were virtually no Asians other than his family, Kim explained that he "definitely had a sense of being an outsider growing up". But he would break stereotypes of Asian being quiet model students in high school: "I did everything I could to fit in", said the actor, who was not a football player but class president.
Kim has won the Screen Actors Guild Award in 2006, and he was individually honored with an AZN Asian Excellence Award, a Mutlicultural Prism Award and Vanguard Award from the Korean-American Coalition, all for Outstanding Performance by an Actor.
Having been asked to represent the Asian-American community in many ways, Kim said that it was a great honor and privilege, saying "Asian-American image is very important. When you're lucky enough to be in a position like that, you should do whatever you can to better it".
Kim and family live mostly in Hawaii, the location for "Lost".
"Living in Hawaii is great. I love the fact that there are so many Asian people. I don't feel like a minority there. I think that it's the only place in the world where you can be Asian, be the majority and speak English", he said.
As for possibilities in the Korean entertainment business, Kim was very positive, though very careful, as he always is in choosing a good project where he can portray "genuine, three-dimensional characters, rather than mere caricatures". But he also expressed concern about Koreans having negative impressions of "gyopo" or Korean-Americans dabbling in the Korean entertainment business and leaving poor images.