The late actress Choi Jin-sil
By Han Sang-hee
The late actress Choi Jin-sil, 40, was a quintessential star whose girl-next-door image had once elevated her to Korean sweetheart status.
Born Dec. 24, 1968, she came into the spotlight in the late 1980s. She got her television break in 1988 by appearing in the drama ``The Joseon Kingdom; 500 Years.'' With her famed image, Choi also reigned as the ``queen of commercials'' through most of the 1980s. The famous quip in an ad ― delivered with a trademark smile ― ``Men, they all depend on how women fashion them'' is remembered as one of the most famous moments in the actress's career.
Her major break came with the television drama ``Jealousy'' (1992), in which she starred with fellow actor Choi Su-jong. They are still considered one of the most memorable screen couples in Korean drama history.
``Jealousy'' provided a platform for her career, guiding her on her way to becoming one of Korea's sweethearts; or the top Korean sweetheart. She went on to pursue her acting career by working in dramas and finally took the next step into movies.
Her first movie was ``North Korean Partisan in South Korea'' (1990) with veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki, and this led to many others, including ``My Love My Bride'' (1990) with Park Joong-hoon, and ``Susan Brink's Arirang'' in 1991.
Her work paid off, with her winning various awards including the Popularity Award at the Blue Dragon Award, Chunsa Film Festival and the Daejong Film Award for ``My Love My Bride,'' and the Best Actress Award at the Daejong Film Awards with the hit movie ``How to Top My Wife'' (1994).
With that movie, he proved that she can act comedy as well as portray the frail characters she played on screen.
Her next hit film was ``The Letter'' (1997) with leading actor Park Shin-yang as her husband. The role of a wife whose husband had terminal cancer touched many fans, making the scene of Choi sobbing while watching a video of Park's last moments a memorable one.
Choi then returned to the small screen, captivating fans once again with co-stars Ahn Jae-wook and Cha In-pyo in the hit drama ``The Star in My Heart'' (1997). A star for the past 10 years, Choi also released an autobiography ``Yes, Let's Live Truthfully Today Too,'' looking back at her journey from an ordinary high school graduate to a ``commercial queen'' and finally a famous celebrity.
But the top actress had also been mired in rumors, and she was once called in as a witness to the murder of her former manager in 1994.
In 2000, the actress surprised fans when she announced she was marrying baseball player Cho Sung-min, who was five years younger than her. After giving birth to a daughter and a son, she shocked fans once again as the couple decided to divorce in 2004.
She largely stayed out of the limelight after the divorce, raising her two kids by herself. Choi finally appeared in front of fans after a hiatus of five years with the drama ``Rosy Life'' (2005). She delivered a stunning performance, playing the role of a deserted wife who later discovers that she has cancer. That role resurrected her career; she was no longer the girl-next-door. Rather, she captured the image as a more approachable ``ajumma'' a Korean term for a middle-aged married woman. She recently made headlines as she changed the surnames of her two children to her own earlier this year.
Her last work was ``The Last Scandal'' with actor Jeong Jun-ho in March, where she successfully portrayed a courageous and comical ajumma.
``I am an `ajumma' myself. I think Korean `ajumma' are fearless. They are not afraid of anything. Although the character goes through emotional downfalls, she doesn't give up. I think it is courage that defines `ajumma','' Choi said at the press conference for the ``The Last Scandal.''
For fans, she was an actress who kept on going. For friends, she was the ``big sister'' who led the so-called ``Choi Jin-sil Association'' which was a friendly group of close celebrities that included comedians Lee Young-ja, Jung Sun-hee, model Hong Jin-kyung, singer Uhm Jung-hwa.
Right before the day of her death, Choi was back shooting a commercial, the three-minute art form that first made her a superstar. She was found to to have hung herself in her bathroom when her family found her. She is survived by her two children, 8 and 6, her mother and a brother.