Tough­en­ing up

South Korean lead­ing ac­tress Ha Ji-won is adapt­ing well to her new sta­tus as ac­tion star.

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STAR­RING in crea­ture fea­ture Sec­tor 7, billed as South Korea’s first 3D ac­tioner (not avail­able in 3D here, though), Ha Ji­won im­pressed the di­rec­tor so much that he felt that the movie could not be made with­out an ac­tress like her.

Known as South Korea’s An­gelina Jolie, Ha’s in­tense per­for­mance in Sec­tor 7 (re­leased in Au­gust in South Korea) has won her rave re­views from movie­go­ers in the coun­try who have com­pared her per­for­mance to Sigour­ney Weaver’s in Hol­ly­wood sci­ence fic­tion block­buster Aliens (1986).

Di­rected by Kim Ji-hoon, Sec­tor 7 also stars Oh Ji-ho, Ahn Sung-ki and Park Cheol-min. The movie de­picts how the crew of an oil rig bat­tles a sea mon­ster that has mu­tated due to a virus.

In Sec­tor 7, Ha plays Cha Hae-jun, a har­bour equip­ment ad­min­is­tra­tor. “The char­ac­ter in­ter­ested me but I think the movie it­self in­ter­ested me more. When I was read­ing the script, I won­dered if my coun­try could pro- duce this kind (3D) of movie too. Since I like chal­lenges, I’d give pri­or­ity to ac­tion movies.”

Born Jeon Hae-rim in Seoul, the 33-yearold, started off her act­ing ca­reer in ro­man­tic come­dies and is well-known as an ac­tress who puts in a lot of ef­fort do­ing re­search in prepa­ra­tion for her roles.

But lately, she has been bit­ten by the ac­tion bug and raised the bar by chal­leng­ing her­self fur­ther in her lat­est movie Sec­tor 7. “I lived on the oil drilling ship in the mid­dle of the ocean. Be­cause it’s also about dis­cov­ery in the sea, I got my­self a skin-scuba li­cence.

“Then, I was so sur­prised when I heard that there would be a bike rid­ing scene in the movie. But I thought that it would be cool to see an ac­tress rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle in the movie, so I got my­self a motorcycling li­cense in a week too. Yet, I still thought that it would not be enough, so I watched a lot of bike­tours with my co-ac­tors. I’ve put a lot of ef­fort into nar­row­ing the gap be­tween my­self and the mo­tor­cy­cle.

“There were also many ac­tion scenes that used wires. The di­rec­tor had even mis­taken me as a stunt-man once, and he shouted at me, say­ing, ‘Ask the stunt-man to get out fast!’”

Apart from get­ting qual­i­fi­ca­tions in skin­scuba and bike rid­ing, she also un­der­went an in­ten­sive train­ing regime that helped a lot in the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of her char­ac­ter in the movie. “I swam and did weight train­ing for eight hours ev­ery day, to im­prove and train my stamina. I got a lot of help from the other ac­tors to act rough and tough.”

“I faced many dif­fi­cul­ties at the be­gin­ning of the pro­duc­tion, such as the emo­tions and the di­rec­tion where my eyes should look, es­pe­cially in scenes with the crea­ture, as it is all up to imag­i­na­tion.

“The other ac­tors felt like I did; the hard­est part of the movie was hav­ing to fight an imag­i­nary mon­ster, one that we can’t see. Although I’d acted in Tsunami At Hae­un­dae (2009), Sec­tor 7 was re­ally tir­ing. The di­a­logue record­ing process was smooth be­cause the di­rec­tor, se­niors and crew were all there with us.”

Ha felt that her char­ac­ter was very am­bi­tious. “I’ve heard many peo­ple say that a Hol­ly­wood ac­tor would be more suited to this sort of char­ac­ter com­pared to a del­i­cate Asian ac­tress. I hope that peo­ple will change their per­cep­tion af­ter they watch this movie.”

With so many ac­tion scenes, it is in­evitable that Ha sus­tained her fair share of in­juries dur­ing pro­duc­tion. “I al­ways worry about safety be­cause of many dan­ger­ous scenes in the movie. Even with all the prepa­ra­tion and se­cu­rity taken, my body still ached and re­quired chi­ro­prac­tic treat­ment the day af­ter film­ing the ac­tion scenes. I fell from the mo­tor­cy­cle once, and my hands and legs were in­jured and I’m still un­der­go­ing treat­ment for that.”

But the ac­tress is no stranger to chal­leng­ing ac­tion roles. Her rep­u­ta­tion for phys­i­cally de­mand­ing roles grew as she took on dif­fi­cult movies and trained her­self to do ad­vanced aerobics ( Sex Is Zero, 2002), Korean mar­tial art Sun­mudo ( Du­elist, 2005), box­ing ( Mir­a­cle On 1st Street, 2007) and all sorts of stunt work for her stunt­woman role in TV se­ries Se­cret Gar­den (2010). – Se­toK­itYan

n Sec­tor7 opens in lo­cal cine­mas on Oct 20.

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