A movie about Siamese twins kept from the world for 30 years by their father probably isn't the type of movie one expects from Ku Hye-sun, 27, an actress best known as the bubbly, kind-hearted girl who wins the love of a wealthy boy in "Boys over Flowers" (2009).
Ku is proving, however, that she can not be easily stereotyped. Not only an actress, she writes screenplays, produces and directs movies, and even writes musical scores.
The year 2012 has been a busy one for Ku, whose second feature-length film "The Peachtree" opens in theaters Thursday. She first dabbled in directing with a short film, "The Madonna," in 2008. She graduated to feature films in 2010, directing "Magic," then following that with another two shorts -- "You" (2010) and "Fragments of Memories" (2012).
In her latest movie "The Peachtree," Sang-hyun and Dong-hyun are conjoined twin brothers who, under the care of their father, have been kept away from the public gaze. Sang-hyun is obedient but Dong-hyun is unhappy with their life in hiding. He secretly reads and practices writing in the hope of becoming a novelist one day.
Their father learns of Dong-hyun's ambition and approaches Sang-ah, a bright and optimistic illustrator who works in an amusement park, to help Dong-hyun publish his first novel.
Ku said the story idea first came to her in 2010. At the time, she said, she was considering philosophical questions regarding life. "Why do people exist and live? After many days of thinking, one night I dreamed a person with two faces," she said.
In the Korean entertainment world, Ku is known for her multiple talents. She is simultaneously an actress, a painter, writer, singer, songwriter and director, who also does a lot of charity work. Profit from her recent art exhibition at the Seoul Arts Center went to a charity for children suffering from leukemia. She recently lent her voice to a SBS special documentary on children with terminal illnesses. Her leading role in "Boys over Flowers" has made her a "hallyu," or Korean Wave, star. She also has her own production company, called "Ku Hye-Sun Films."
When she is not acting, directing or composing, Ku studies in college classrooms to become a "serious filmmaker." She has a bigger ambition. "I want to study English and film abroad in the future," she said.
Ku composed and partly performed the music in her latest film. "As a filmmaker, I also became serious with music because of budget and copyright issues. It was easier for me to make my own music," she said. As a link-up with the movie release, Ku has also released a novel based on "The Peachtree." "If the film was seen through the eyes of Sang-hyun and Dong-hyun, the conjoined twins, the novel will be from the perspective of Sang-ah's character and centered on the relationships they form in the story. Also, the opening and the ending are a little different, " she said.
The two actors who play the twins, Cho Seung-woo and Ryu Deok-hwan, didn't hesitate when approached to take the roles, she said. "The reason, I think, is because the film is different."
As a child, and even today, Ku feels she was influenced by her art teacher and others she considers teachers. "I have many teachers in my life whom I think of as my role models," she said. Her interest in directing was sparked by the head of a film company, who has since passed away. "He monitored my screenplays and recommended that I direct films," Ku said. Her directing role was relatively easy, she said, because of her experience as an actress, although she was nervous about being the leader. "I think every actor has some sort of directing capability."
Breaking into the Korean film industry, which is traditionally dominated by male directors, has not been easy, however. "I do believe that people had a stereotypical image of me when I was working on the set. But once the camera started rolling and the staff became busy, the idea of me being a woman became unimportant and they all accepted me as one of them."
It also helps that Ku has worked with the same crew since 2008 so they are familiar with her way of doing things. She emphasizes that in her work setting, everyone is equal regardless of gender, hometown or educational background. "Nobody sees me as a female director. They just see me as a person," she said.
She detects in movies a Korean culture deeply rooted in patriarchy and male dominance. Too many female roles on the screen are those of weeping women who are dependent on male characters, she said.
Even finding female actors is not that easy, according to Ku. "Many female actors are looked to as a tool while all the male actors get to play the cool parts." she said.
One example she gives is the International Women's Film Festival. "I actually made a trailer for them two years ago and I am curious why there isn't a International Men's Film Festival," she said. If society and the market were equal in terms of gender, there wouldn't be a need for a female-oriented film festival, she said.
But Ku is not about to be discouraged. "I want to keep making films both as an actress and director for the next 10 years. I think that's what all the filmmakers want in the end," she said. Until then, she will continue writing screenplays and directing, and hopes to try a different genre.
"I don't see a lot of Korean children's movies," she said. "Over the holidays, you always see foreign films like 'Home Alone' on TV." (Yonhap)