Interview: Yunjin Kim: Across Continents
by Scott Juba
Published: June 28, 2006
Many actresses would be content with having success on one continent, but Yunjin Kim reaches a much broader audience. Already an established star in Asia, Kim is now drawing acclaim in the U.S. for her role on the hit ABC drama, Lost, in which she plays a Korean woman in a turbulent marriage.
Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof says Kim’s crossover appeal reflects the level of her acting talent. “Quite simply, acting talent is acting talent,” he tells me. “The U.S. is traditionally slower to respond to Asian actors as ‘stars,’ but the fact that Yunjin simply is one is pretty much undeniable. At the end of the day, the fact that she is Korean is secondary to the fact that she is so facile with portraying human characters that audiences anywhere can respond to.”
While she may be popular on both continents, Kim says Asian and North American audiences differ in the type of entertainment that appeals to them. “I feel that Asian cinema and television dwell on the emotion of the characters a little more than the Americans do,” she says.
Aside from Kim’s own international appeal, Lost also has a fan following that spans the globe. “We get tons of fan mail,” she says, “not just from the US but also from New Zealand, from France, from the UK – from everywhere.”
“What makes Lost special is that it’s very universal,” Kim says of the show’s worldwide appeal. “There’s always at least one character that lets you take the show to another country and people can relate to it, even though the show’s not from that country. The characters are universal.”
Last season, Kim’s character, Sun, learned she’s pregnant. Given her initial reluctance to inform her husband, Jin, of the pregnancy and considering that a doctor previously diagnosed him as being sterile, Kim says Jin may not be the father of the child. “As soon as I got the script, I called [executive producer] Carlton Cuse and said, ‘I need to know so I can act.’ He said, ‘I think it’s good that you don’t know. Do several different types of takes - some where you actually know for sure, some where you’re very ambiguous about it and some where you’re completely sure he’s not the father of the baby.’ So we did several takes, and the one that they used was the most ambiguous one. I think they want to leave it open for a reason, and it’s driving me crazy that they’re not even going to tell me about it.”
The show’s ambiguities allow fans to form countless theories about what’s really happening on the island. “Whatever theory you have, it kind of works,” Kim says. “You could apply yourself to any character, any situation, and any theories you have kind of make sense.”
As far as Sun’s pregnancy is concerned, Kim speculates that Michael, who Sun had a notable attraction to in the first season, may have fathered the baby. “That’s another possibility that I think the producers are thinking about,” she divulges. “It could be his baby. [It would really change the balance of things on the island], especially since he just left the island.”
Kim says she’s not even ruling out more supernatural possibilities. “It could be that this is a mysterious island that mysteriously cured Jin’s problem or it could be that it’s not a person’s baby. I’ve joked several times about it being the monster’s baby. Maybe in season seven you see Sun coming out of the tent after giving birth to the child and the child is black smoke. Who knows? [Laughs].”
Belief in the supernatural requires a high level of faith, so it’s not surprising that the clash between science and faith is a recurring theme on the series. Kim says she would like to believe faith holds more importance on the show than science. “I’m more of a faith believer,” she says. “There’s so much you can prove through science. But I think that if you really believe in something, somehow the universe talks back at you. If you believe in it for the right reason, it brings you back to what you want and what you need out of life. I really believe in that. Maybe that’s why I’d like to believe Lost is more about faith rather than science.”
When producers were casting Lost, their faith in Kim’s acting ability led them to add Sun and Jin’s characters to the series. Despite reports that Kim originally auditioned for the role of Kate, Kim tells me she knew from the beginning the producers had no intentions of casting her to play that part. “It was the only role available for me to read off of,” she explains. “In the beginning, they made it clear to my agents that I wasn’t coming in for Kate, but they wanted to have a meeting. They also needed me to get up on my feet and start acting.”
Several hours later, Kim received a call informing her that the producers were going to write the role of Sun for her. “It was the biggest compliment,” she says.
Since then, Kim has blossomed into one of television’s rising stars. Although her work on the series has increased her notoriety, she remains true to her craft. She says, “When I’m on set, I’m the happiest.”