Interview with Jung Yumi (Elle Korea 2018)

I’ve liked a lot of projects that Jung Yumi has been in, but the one I can’t forget is Que Sera Sera, her first TV drama. It’s possibly one of the most horrifying and hard-to-stomach (i.e. amazing) melodramas I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen it 2.5 times myself and the opening song still always gives me goosebumps.

That said, I think it was her role as Joo Yeol-mae in I Need Romance 2012 that really made me a fan. I was surprised at the frankness with which that show addressed love and female sexuality and relationships that didn’t conform to societal norms; plus, I have a soft spot for shows with female leads who have close circle of girl friends. Writing aside, I adored Jung Yumi’s punchy line delivery and the spark she gave her character. [Shameless plug: I’m currently captioning I Need Romance 2012 in Korean on Viki if you’re looking for a fun drama to study with.]

Last month, Jung Yumi wrapped up filming Live, her small screen comeback after four years. She was interviewed in this month’s Elle Korea on her past projects and her acting style in an article titled ‘정유미의 호흡’ (translated below).

Now, I’ve translated the article’s title (maybe too literally) as ‘Jung Yumi’s Breathing.’ 호흡 is an interesting word. It literally means breathing or respiration, but in the context of the article, it’s more referring to Jung Yumi’s laissez-faire way of doing things. She goes with the flow, marches to the beat of her own drum, so to speak.

Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.



Jung Yumi’s Breathing

Source:  Elle Korea

A soft yet striking presence. Actress Jung Yumi breathes naturally in her own way.

Right after Live finished airing you went on vacation with the other actors and staff, right? Were you able to wrap up that intense journey on an enjoyable note?

It doesn’t feel like it’s ended yet. It’s not that I wasn’t able to get away, just that the amount of time we spent filming was longer than most dramas; plus, we were all together up until yesterday morning. I think I’ll have to have some time completely to myself before reality sinks in. I’ve done a lot of projects to-date, but this one feels different. It’s hard to put in words.

Did you perhaps choose to do Live because of writer Noh Hee-kyung?

That’s right. When we first met, there was no script, only a synopsis. But unlike other dramas, the synopsis itself was quite detailed. So even though I didn’t get to see my lines, I felt the essence of the character in quite detail. That’s writer Noh Heekyung’s forte right there.

How was it playing Officer ‘Han Jung-oh’? It can’t have been easy to play a character who’s been hurt, yet living a non-trivial life.

I really wanted to make an effort to interpret the character exactly as it was written, thinking that there must have been a reason that I was given this role. There were already a lot of details included in the script, so I worked hard to come as close as I possibly could to what was already there. We started filming in winter, and I’d never before filmed in such cold weather so things were tough. Even moreso because the police incidents always happened outside.

Episode 18 of Live brought up a number of social issues, about human relations, juvenile delinquency, domestic violence, death with dignity,* etc. Aside from Han Jung-oh’s story, were there any other issues that you were personally invested in or sympathized with?

There were a number of cases, but I thought a lot about human dignity. What fundamental human rights should all humans have, and am I doing my part in protecting them? I consider myself fortunate for having encountered this kind of story. The staff and actors really came together and bonded over this on set before filming. I really consider myself lucky for being able to discuss those kinds of things with them. [*physician-assisted suicide]

You had a short but intense role in the movie Psychokinesis early this year. I’m curious about the kind of woman ‘Hong Sang-moo’ is and how she came to be such a monster.

It was meant to be a short scene so I didn’t think too much beyond her character description. It doesn’t make sense to think really deeply about it since she’s not the main character. I think I just trusted the director and threw myself into the scene when the time came. It was fun because that was the first time I’d ever acted in that way, but people attached a lot more meaning to it after watching the movie. I didn’t do much, but the fact that people thought about it so much afterward was fascinating.

It seems like you always want to take on new kinds of roles, like playing an expectant mother in Train to Busan.

What kind of actor wants to do the same old thing over and over again? But it’s not that I had a particular desire for that or sought a change; the offer just came to me naturally, and when I read the script, I thought the story was more interesting than most. If something similar comes along at another time, I think I’d probably do it again if I found it interesting. I wouldn’t completely rule it out.

Your official film debut was in director Jung Ji-woo’s 2005 film Blossom Again, one of my personal all-time favorites.

Dare I say it was a film before it’s time.

At that time, did you understand your character completely?

Some parts I did understand and some parts I didn’t, but I just went through with it. I think I did make some kind of effort to get as close as I could to the character, but it’s kind of hazy now. But I do remember how much I liked and loved it. I think if I hadn’t done Blossom Again, I wouldn’t be here as I am today. My other works are important to me too, but that one has a special place in my heart.

You’re rumored to have a lot of hardcore fans; through Yoon’s Kitchen, you became a more intimately familiar and popular star than ever before.

Obviously it’s better if ten people like you than if only one person likes you (laughs). When you’ve done this for more than 10 years, popularity and recognition come about naturally. I’ve never done anything specifically because I desired it.

How was your experience on Yoon’s Kitchen? Did it change you somehow from before?

It was great. I do think there were some parts of me that were changed. A lot more wanted to know more about me than before, but I didn’t clam up, rather, I felt more free. Hearing people’s opinions of me and the things they were saying, I often felt like ‘Oh, I really don’t have to care about this sort of thing.’ You know how you worry about whether people see you this way or that way? Being on that variety show, I sensed that people were viewing me in many different ways, and that some of them were right and some of them were wrong. They were so many different opinions. I thought to myself that there was no need to be tied down by them. I think I feel more comfortable now, when it comes to choosing a project or meeting someone. I’m really thankful for that experience.

What was it like seeing yourself on the show for the first time?

It was hilarious (laugh). It was like, ‘Oh so that’s what I look like, that’s what I sound like.’ I was actually really surprised. Normally, I don’t get to see how I speak or how I move. Seeing that was really fascinating. I felt like I found a bunch of things that I needed to fix too.

Early in your career, you had the image of being an ‘art movie’ actor. In I Need Romance and Discovery of Love, you became more realistic and relatable, and after Train to Busan, it’s like you’re bringing out the unfamiliar side of Jung Yumi again. Are you satisfied with your filmography?

Although there are some things I feel bad about and some projects I wish could have gone better, at the time, I had a lot of pride in the project I was currently working on. Even though it wasn’t always enjoyable, I think getting to experience that, at that time, allowed me to arrive at where I am today. I could be on this amazing set, working with incredible, passionate people, so even if a project doesn’t do well at the box office, that time and those feelings don’t disappear.

When people speak of Jung Yumi the actor they often use the expression ‘having her own kind of naturalness.’ What aspect of yourself do you think gives off that feeling?

I think maybe one person said that in the beginning and now people just keep on saying it (laughs). I don’t think I’ve ever actually thought about why, per se. I just think, ‘if people see me like that, I guess that’s a good thing, thanks.’

Most of your Instagram posts are of #myfriendsdog Takku, the Shiba Inu. Have you ever thought of getting your own pet dog?

I’m content with getting to see my friend’s dog once in a while. I’ve always loved dogs so I’ve thought about getting my own, but I figured when I leave for work, the dog will just be waiting for me, and that seemed really lonely. Later when I’m old, I want to get an older dog.

You seem like the type of person who’s good at spending time on their own.

Yeah, I am. Of course I do like being around other people. But when I’m alone, I can keep myself busy in my own way. Particularly when I’m working, if I happen to have a day off, I like staying quietly at home. I can sleep as long as I want, eat a home-cooked meal, wash dishes…. I’m happy to be given that kind of free time.

Are your thirties going well?

Thinking about it right now, things are really good. No one can be happy every single day, you know. Sometimes things are tough because of issues you can’t solve; sometimes even the smallest unexpected thing can bring you so much joy. I think your thirties are a time with plenty of shifts like that. Before, I used to only really focus on my work. In my twenties, I wouldn’t even go to the gym if I was filming a TV drama. I only thought about the project. I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. I haven’t shaken that compulsion off just yet, but I’m a lot more relaxed than I was before. Work is still taxing, but I think my attitude towards it is a little more relaxed? And as a result of that, I want to do even better than before. I think I learned a lot from my friends’ flexible attitudes.

What kind of person are you to your family and friends?

First of all, I feel really bad about my family in Busan. Because we’re living apart. When I’m filming a drama, I never let them come up to see me because I’m afraid they’d worry if they saw how hectic my lifestyle was. To my friends, I don’t know, I’m really needy (laughs)? I’m the type of person who befriends all kinds of people. I have so many dependable and reliable, brilliant friends by my side.

In retrospect, the women you portrayed as an actor were not weak, submissive women. Are there certain things you’re conscious of when expressing yourself as a female character?

Not in particular, because they’re just things that I consider natural to me. Each one has a different basic personality, and I can’t just go and figure out the whole story by myself. My role in each project is to express the story that’s within it as sincerely as I can; that’s what I think my ‘method’ of storytelling is.

What kind of story do you want to help tell next?

Nothing’s set in stone yet. Either a movie or a drama would be good. I think I’ll know in time what I’ll be doing and where. I don’t want to think about my next work right now. I need to rewatch and review my performance in Live.

When we started the interview, you asked me for my business card. Have you ever called a journalist back because you didn’t like the interview they published?

A few years ago, there was one time I really considered picking up the phone…. (laugh).

1 Comment

  1. A.J. McMahon says:

    It’s awesome you practice Korean by translating interviews! How do you source the interviews? What website do you use?

    Also have you tried reading novels in Korean yet?

    I’m makig a new subreddit for Korean literature (translated and original Korean novels). If you can help recommend some good Korean novels that would be awesome!

    Here’s the link:


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