The same love for man and woman

Kim Tae Ri (above) has nude and lesbian love scenes in The Handmaiden.
Kim Tae Ri (above) has nude and lesbian love scenes in The Handmaiden.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Korean actress Kim Tae Ri says her portrayal of love for another woman in romantic thriller The Handmaiden did not feel unfamiliar to her

It is the kind of break actors dream about - to be cast as a lead in a feature film by an internationally renowned film-maker.

For Korean actress Kim Tae Ri, 26, that dream has come true. She is one of a pair of pivotal women leads in the sexually frank romantic thriller The Handmaiden, written and directed by the multi- award-winning Park Chan Wook, maker of Joint Security Area (2000) and Oldboy (2003).

In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, Kim says being vaulted to the big leagues feels good, especially as the film is so woman-centric.

"Most films today focus on male characters. I hope to one day see as many that are focused on females," she says.

The model-actress' resume ran only to commercials and short films before Park, who also directed Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002) and Lady Vengeance (2005), selected her from more than 1,000 hopefuls.

His casting of the then-unknown Kang Hye Jung in Oldboy kickstarted the career of Kang, who has since blossomed into an in- demand actress in South Korea.

The Handmaiden was competing for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes International Film Festival in May.

I read a few adaptations of the script and I was very calm. I’m usually the type to get very nervous, but I was very composed during the auditions.

ACTRESS KIM TAE RI on beating 1,000 hopefuls to clinch the titular role in The Handmaiden

Set in 1930s Korea, then under Japanese occupation, it tells the story of Sook Hee (played by Kim), a pickpocket who pretends to be an experienced handmaiden to find employment in the home of Lady Hideko (Kim Min Hee).

The maid has to worm her way into the confidence of her employer, to incline her to favour Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung Woo), a gold-digger passing as an aristocrat.

The role is a demanding one for Kim Tae Ri. Sook Hee is a character wearing several masks - she is a thief pretending to be a maid, a spirited woman who hides her hatred of her domination by men, a Korean who has to look happy to serve her Japanese masters.

She says that she was cast after a series of one-to-one meetings with Park.

"We simply talked. I read a few adaptations of the script and I was very calm. I'm usually the type to get very nervous, but I was very composed during the auditions," she says.

"He liked my performance and liked how I was not nervous," she says.

She would not be blamed for acting nervous. Besides reading for an acclaimed director, her part required her to be filmed in the nude, in lesbian love scenes with her co-star Kim Min Hee.

The young actress had her worries and discussed them with Park.

She says: "For those scenes, the director and I spent a lot of time discussing each of my concerns... I took special care to prepare much earlier."

It helped that she "also had great chemistry with Kim Min Hee", she adds.

The physical scenes were a challenge, but there was also the portrayal of romantic love for another woman.

Kim says that showing affection for another is the same, regardless of sex.

"Even during the script reading, the emotions did not feel like something I was unfamiliar with. I simply portrayed the love that Sook Hee and Lady Hideko were feeling."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'The same love for man and woman'. Print Edition | Subscribe