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[CELEB] The ‘nation’s little sister’ is still looking for love

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Kim You-jung, left, portrays a 17-year-old high school student who goes through turbulence in her romance and friendship in the Netflix film “20th Century Girl.” [NETFLIX]
Kim You-jung, left, portrays a 17-year-old high school student who goes through turbulence in her romance and friendship in the Netflix film “20th Century Girl.” [NETFLIX]

Actor Kim You-jung is still waiting to find love — just like her character in the Netflix film “20th Century Girl.”

“20th Century Girl” revolves around a 17-year-old high school student portrayed by Kim. Set in 1999 before the turn of the century, the turbulence of the times represents what the protagonist goes through as she tackles problems in romance and friendship for the first time in her life.

The 23-year-old actor, coincidentally born in 1999, says that it wasn’t easy to fully comprehend the era’s vibe.

“Because I haven’t experienced it,” Kim said during a press interview at a cafe in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul, on Tuesday. “So I talked a lot with director Bang Woo-ri to understand the scenes.”

The actor gave the example of the scene where her character calls up her best friend’s crush.

In the film, Kim’s character calls up her best friend’s crush in a phone booth to find out more about him. [NETFLIX]
In the film, Kim’s character calls up her best friend’s crush in a phone booth to find out more about him. [NETFLIX]

“I never knew about that,” Kim said, referring to the best friends’ plan to get more information on the romantic interest. “They weren’t big details, but they weren’t superficial either. I’ve always been interested in retro content and songs, such as music by Park Ki-young and Park Hae-young. For the latter, I loved her song ‘Haru’ and it was actually one of my karaoke favorites.”

Kim says she said yes to the role almost immediately after reading the script.

“This is a genre that I would only be able to pull off around this age,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to try it out once, and I thought it was the perfect timing to do it.

“The film is not only about first love, but for every first that Bo-ra [Kim’s character] goes through,” Kim continued. “It’s also Bo-ra’s first time to experience fighting with her best friend. I really tried to decipher what Bo-ra was going through. I tried to remember my 17-year-old self and how would I respond and what my expressions would be when I go through a situation like Bo-ra’s. I set everything up in order starting from Bo-ra’s voice, and I talked through each scene with Bang and other actors too.”

Through the role, Kim had the chance to reminisce on her own teenage years. Kim, who debuted in the entertainment industry at the age of four, already has a career that spans nearly two decades, juggling both work and school life until her high school graduation.

Kim You-jung [NETFLIX]
Kim You-jung [NETFLIX]

“I have a lot of memories in school,” Kim said. “There were times when I couldn’t fully commit to a school, but I tried as best as I could to participate because I thought I would be missing out — I mean, you don’t get to relive your school life.

“There’s this one memory, a scene which stands out during my school years,” she said. “I think I was 15 or 16. There was a steel gate at the corner of the schoolyard. After school, me and four of my friends — that was our gang — we just hung around there, swinging from the gate for like five hours, talking non-stop. We would laugh at the littlest of things. I still vividly remember the color of the sunset that day.”

Unlike her character, however, Kim is yet to find her first love.

“Maybe because I’ve been so committed to work,” Kim said with a laugh. “But I don’t think I’ve experienced my first love or felt my heart flutter like Bo-ra did […] The film which comes to my mind when I define what love is ‘Laurence Anyways’ [2012] […] I’ve watched that film dozens of times. I also love the ‘Before’ trilogy.”

Kim You-jung [NETFLIX]
Kim You-jung [NETFLIX]

“20th Century Girl” was released on the streaming platform on Friday and currently sits at No. 2 in the non-English film category on Netflix’s Global Top 10 chart, having been streamed for 8 million hours during the first week of its release. Despite the current global popularity of K-content, Kim says she still finds it something of a novelty to see a coming-of-age story of a Korean high school student resonate with global audiences.

“I still can’t believe it,” Kim said. “I thought the film was a narrative which only the Korean audience could relate to. I never thought audiences from overseas would find the story equally entertaining. I think people are generally interested when they see something new, and I think the film is new, yet feels similar to the global audience due to its ubiquity — it is, in essence, about friendship and romance, and that’s what makes the film so appealing.

Kim is recognized for her roles in historical fiction drama series, such as KBS’s “Love in the Moonlight”(2016), above, and SBS’s “Lovers of the Red Sky” (2021). [SBS,KBS]
Kim is recognized for her roles in historical fiction drama series, such as KBS’s “Love in the Moonlight”(2016), above, and SBS’s “Lovers of the Red Sky” (2021). [SBS,KBS]

Kim hopes to try out more bubbly, youthful roles which suit her age in the future.

“I think ’20th Century Girl’ was the closest to fulfilling that goal,” Kim said. “Not only in my career — I want to try out more things, and experience more in my life. I actually love traveling, and for my travels, I like to do it alone, whether it’s within Korea or overseas. I’ve been to Los Angeles and New York on my own [before the Covid-19 pandemic] and the reason why I got my driver’s license was so that I could drive around on my own during my travels. One of the local places I loved was Pyeongchang County [in Gangwon]. I love mountains, and I rented out a little cottage and stayed there for several days. After that trip, I felt really refreshed like I had gotten rid of all the toxins in my body. I just felt like I’d received clean energy from the mountains.”

Kim has earned the affectionate nickname “nation’s little sister” among local audiences.

“I didn’t even know I had that nickname,” Kim said. “I think it’s so dear and intimate, and I hope it can stay with me as long as possible. I also want to hear that I’m a good actor, someone that people can trust when they come to see my films or drama series.”

Kim You-jung [NETFLIX]
Kim You-jung [NETFLIX]

Kim You-jung

Date of birth: Sept. 22, 1999
Zodiac Sign:  Virgo
Birthplace: Seongdong District, eastern Seoul
Debut: Model for 2003 commercial of Crown Sando biscuits
Agency: Awesome ENT

Kim debuted at the age of four as a child model in the 2003 commercial advertising Crown Sando biscuits. In 2004, she turned to act, having her feature film debut in the film “Demilitarized Zone.” Since then, she has consistently starred in numerous series and films, becoming one of the most popular and iconic child actors. She also has numerous hits in the genre of historical fiction, such as “Moon Embracing the Sun” (2012) on MBC, “Love in the Moonlight” (2016) on KBS, and “Lovers of the Red Sky” (2021) on SBS.

This information was confirmed by Awesome ENT on Oct. 26, 2022.  

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]