From hit Korean drama Crash Landing on You to her upcoming Hollywood debut – Korea’s Son Ye-jin’s path to international stardom is only just beginning

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IT’S another quiet Sunday for Son Ye-jin. Like many of us working remotely across the world, the South Korean actor is currently holed up at home, in her case, in Seoul speaking to Glass China comfortably posed in front of a screen.

“I’m feeling pretty good these days. In fact, I’m lying in bed right now as I answer your questions,” she says, going on to explain that, aside from going out to do photoshoots and ad campaigns, life under lockdown consists of staying in, working on her English and concentrating on improving her yoga.

“It’s a calm yet intense exercise that makes you feel your muscles stretch and strengthen,” she explains. “[Overall,] I have a daily routine, and it’s not really that different from my regular life before [Covid-19] – except that I can no longer travel abroad.”

Son Ye-Jin. Photograph: Ahn Joo Young

Ye-jin has spent two decades living under the spotlight. In her native South Korea, the 39-year-old actor is a household name who first gained attention in 2000 as the lead in Delicious Proposal, a TV drama about rival chefs. She went on to star in The Classic, a popular romantic film about the parallel love lives of a mother and daughter for which she won several accolades, including Best New Actress at South Korea’s 40th Grand Bell Awards.

As the country’s unique cultural products like K-pop and K-drama continue to build momentum abroad, Ye-jin’s starring role in Crash Landing on You, saw her reach even more global viewers after the hit series went from South Korean television network TVN to being streamed on Netflix in late 2019.

“It’s amazing to me – I’m very happy that people worldwide, beyond Korea, love the series,” says Ye-jin, referring to the 460 million views the finale episode’s hashtag received on Sina Weibo. “I didn’t know the show would be popular; perhaps [it was] because people had a lot of time to watch TV at home due to self-isolation [following Covid-19].”

Son Ye-Jin. Photograph: Ahn Joo Young

She also believes that the K-drama’s storyline about a rich South Korean heiress falling in love with a North Korean soldier – played by her real-life boyfriend Hyun Bin – made it especially interesting for international viewers.

“The uniqueness of Korea as a divided country, the daily lives of North Koreans, which are not shown in other dramas, and the romance between a South Korean woman and a North Korean man must have aroused curiosity,” she says, adding “Every time I read [the script], I felt moved too.”

As for her co-star Hyun, Son says, “We have worked together on 2018 film The Negotiation. Hyun Bin is an actor who is responsible and professional. It would be great if we had the chance to work on the same project together again.”

Son Ye-Jin. Photograph: Ahn Joo Young

Few South Korean actresses have experienced such a long and flourishing career as Ye-jin. In fact, she continues to appear in lead romantic roles at an age when South Korean women are expected to have already taken on the Confucian roles of devoted mother and wife.

“I’m lucky my parents don’t give me any pressure,” she says. “But there are, of course, some people who say that I should hurry up and get married. I think it’s a personal choice. I can’t tell you what is right or wrong [in life], but it is important to choose and prioritise the things [you] care about.”

But even in conservative South Korea, women’s rights and movements like #MeToo have been gaining traction in the wake of increasing gender-based violence, spy-cam sex crimes and discrimination against working mothers. More women are choosing to remain single and pursue their careers over getting married and having children. “Circumstances are improving for women. It won’t change overnight but it will slowly get better and better.”

Son Ye-Jin. Photograph: Ahn Joo Young

As a role model for aspiring young women, Ye-jin believes it’s best not to care too much about what others think. “We should realise our own value, find out what makes us happy and try to make it happen,” she continues. “The happiest person is someone who creates and raises their own value and works on finding their happiness.”

She is more guarded about her latest project, The Cross, in which she makes her Hollywood debut opposite Sam Worthington. Scheduled to come out next year, filming has already been delayed because of Covid-19. “It’s difficult to share details because of the current circumstances,” is all she will say.

In the meantime, she is thrilled that Asian-born and Asian-American actors are becoming more and more visible in the West, where they once had little exposure beyond kung fu epics and homages to Bruce Lee. “Right now, more and more diverse Asian cultures are gaining attention and interest [from international viewers],” she says.

Ultimately, Ye-jin says she is grateful for the appreciation her work receives even amid a pandemic. “When I think about what life was like just a year ago, it’s sad that we are already used to this kind of [lockdown] lifestyle. But seeing letters and gifts my fans sent me from all over the world, I feel very appreciative. I wish I could meet them.”

She adds that she was heartened to hear that many people were comforted by Crash Landing on You during lockdown: “This made me immensely proud of the work and in turn [I was] comforted by them. I hope that after this difficult time, we will become even stronger, and develop more gratitude and value even the small things in life.”

And finally, Ye-jin also wishes everyone good health.

by Crystal Tai

Photographer: Ahn Joo Young

Stylist: Choi A Rum (INTREND)

Make up: Mu Jin

Hair: Gu Mi Jung

Styling Assistant: Kim Ji Yeon (INTREND)

Producer: Jane Kwon

Set Designer: Sumin Kim

GLASS HK WELCOMES YOU

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