Hair and makeup by Lee Jayeon / Korean hanbok provided by 한복다홍치마
The city of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands lies 150 km off the northwest coast of Africa, and is said to have “the best climate in the world.” The city of Vladivostok lies on the far eastern coast of Russia, and is the starting point for the Trans-Siberian Railway. Both cities hold annual film festivals. And in 2009, both festivals presented their best actress award to a young woman from Bucheon named Kim Kkobbi, for her performance in the film Breathless.
“Breathless seemed to hit viewers’ emotions in a very fundamental way,” Kim says. “I think that’s why it was so well received at international film festivals and in Korea.” The surprising success of this low-budget independent feature by Yang Ik-june proved to be a breakthrough for Kim, who had studied acting since elementary school and made her film debut as the daughter in Jealousy Is My Middle Name (2002).
In person, Kim makes a remarkably different impression from the tough-talking, combative high school girl she played in Breathless. Quick to smile, and with an unaffected, friendly manner, she has a face that seems at times to be expressing two emotions at once. “Acting suits my personality,” she says. “It can be a difficult and unstable profession, but I like the freedom of it. I like giving all my energy to a role for two or three months, and then having time to relax and travel.”
The sort of challenging, low-budget films that Kim often appears in may not sell a lot of tickets in Korea, but they do allow filmmakers to travel the international festival circuit. On such trips many Korean actors and directors tend to spend time in close-knit groups with other Koreans. But Kim, who says she “loves parties,” has made use of her English skills to spend time getting to know many directors, actors, and producers from around the world.
This has sometimes opened up unexpected opportunities. “A couple years ago I happened to meet a Japanese producer, Kiki Sugino, at the Pusan International Film Festival. We became friends and then later I got a phone call from him, asking if I wanted to shoot a film.” The end result was Magic and Loss, shot in Hong Kong by a Malaysian director with an international cast. It screened at the Pusan festival in 2010. “It is a difficult film,” she said. “The audience response ran to both extremes.”
Speaking a few days before flying to the Berlin Film Festival to present her latest work, Ashamed, Kim said, “I’m interested in taking on a wider variety of roles in the coming years. I’ve played a lot of high school girls up to now, and I want to move beyond that image.” For now, her next project involves a trip to Hong Kong to shoot a video installation by the artist Adrian Wong, another friend met through the festival circuit.
When Korean Wave stars become well-known in foreign countries, they stand at the head of a formidable distribution and marketing campaign that may involve large numbers of people and cost billions of won. Kim Kkobbi is not famous abroad, but in a more modest, and perhaps a more meaningful way, she too is a Korean actor who has gone out to the world. The difference is that she has done so on her own power.
창피해 / Ashamed (2010)
Magic and Loss (Japan-HK-Malaysia-Korea-France, 2010)
귀 / Be with Me (2010)
죽으로 갑니다 / Be My Guest (2009)
똥파리 / Breathless (2008)
삼거리 극장 / Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater (2006)
화기애애 / Friendly and Harmonious (2005)
질투는 나의 힘 / Jealousy Is My Middle Name (2002)