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[Thespian Review] Kim Sun Ah – “My Name Is Kim Sam Soon”

2 Sep

I’m an admitted actressexual–someone who obsesses over actresses’ performances. I’m a sucker for great acting and if I hate a lead actress in a film, it usually downgrades the experience of the whole movie for me regardless of whether the other actors, the story, etc are great. That being said, I know that Korean dramas are not the places you ought to be mining for great acting. Most actors and actresses in dramas are stilted and the ones that gain recognition for their acting often shade bits and pieces of their characters with tiny nuances. Yet, there is absolutely one performer who I dare compare to some of my favorite actresses like Maggie Cheung or Meryl Streep. That happens to be Kim Sun-Ah.

I absolutely adore Kim Sun-Ah whose weekly performances in her current drama “Scent of a Woman” leaves me in tears half the time and the other hysterically laughing. She is the tent pole of what actresses ought to be doing in Korean dramas. She displays all of the characteristics that I love the most about great acting in the drama that made her a star–“My Name is Sam Soon”. This delightful show earned huge amounts of fans and garnering more than 50% of audience ratings with its final episode. In my opinion, what made the drama successful was Kim Sun-Ah, who played the title role of Sam Soon.

Sam Soon isn’t your average Korean drama heroine; she has curves, a little less attractive than the usual fare but she definitely has the classic spunk of most drama queens. She’s loud mouthed, prone to spouting words of wisdom, and more physical than most fragile-looking drama heroines. Just as her appearance is big, her voice is even bigger. Her voice is shrill but capable of both bringing laughs and making us cry with slight alterations of its tics. Case and point the very first scene where she is being dumped by her boyfriend of three years. In this scene, not only do we get a sense of how big both in size and personality Sam Soon is, but we are already exposed to the wonderful delights of Kim Sun-Ah’s performance. You see, with just one scene, we are able to understand Sam Soon and who she is, her hopes and wants, the pain she must be feeling at that moment, and the memories she seem to hold on to desperately even as her boyfriend tries to destroy them with his cruelty. At this point, I’ve already cried my heart out, slowly getting sucked in by Sam Soon’s infinitely huge heart and watching helplessly as the love of her life disappears.

With all this great acting and full buckets of tears streaming from my eyes already, it’s quite alarming how easy it is for Kim Sun-Ah to change all those tears to laughter even as she is evidently distraught. Here is what makes Sun Ah such a great actress for me and what makes her performance here so endearing. What works wonders for her is the desperation of her character. We’ve seen Sam Soon at the two lowest points of her life: as she is humiliated by the love of her life and as she humiliates herself with the terrible mistake of crying her heart out in the men’s bathroom. The two are linked together by the fact that Sam Soon is so desperate and so vulnerable and hurt but they elicit vastly different reactions from me. At one point, we are crying our eyes out and then the next we are laughing. This is mostly as a result of Sun Ah’s capacity to mine all the tears and laughter from her character’s desperation. She uses her voice, once raspy and whiny then startlingly shrill and childish the next as the humiliation piles up one after the other and it all registers in her face.

Now I understand that is one huge paragraph just to describe the opening of the series but I felt it was necessary to show Sun Ah’s brilliance as she only progresses from that scene. As the episode continues, we see Sam Soon working hard to get over her frustrations and Sun Ah adds nuances that suggest Sun Ah seems to be a much more complicated character than we imagined given the first scene. We see her brazen personality, her childish attitude, and her wisdom all at once which is fascinating if only because they don’t seem to go together. Sam Soon is so contradictory of a character because at one point she is pretty much the embodiment of a 5-year old child and then the next she is the embodiment of an 80 year old grandmother who’s seen so much and knows so much.

Even as the romance between Sam Soon and Jin-heon develop we are essentially looking at a character study of Sam Soon and rightly so. She is far more interesting than Jin-heon even if her backstory isn’t as dramatic as Jin-heon. She knows very well that she’s not young and that maybe she won’t be able to marry anymore and that thought is pretty much present in her. Truly, her Sam Soon is like her Yeon Jae in Scent of a Woman. She knows when to amp up the laughter without making it feel awkward with the heavy drama surrounding her. The same is true of the reverse; she can make you cry right after just making you laugh.

I have yet to see a performance that matches or surpasses Sun Ah’s Sam Soon in Korean drama. She is so funny and tragic and she’s able to capture both without making her character feel unreal. She’s someone you can relate to yet she’s not a cliche either. That is very true of the actress as well as the character.

–Clarence

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One Response to “[Thespian Review] Kim Sun Ah – “My Name Is Kim Sam Soon””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. My Lovely Sam Soon (2005) « - December 21, 2011

    […] Drama Pop (September 2, 2011) […]

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