Interview with Korea Times
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    Lee back as `zombie' bride

    By Kim Ji-soo

    A “zombie” bride appears amid a house swing pop tune. Fully clad in puffed-up wedding gown, the zombie bride executes curt, angular dance moves to the catchy song “V.”

    Lee Jung-hyun, 33, is back on the Korean stage.

    She released “V,” a special single, this month to keep a promise she made to her fans three years ago in 2010. Two films “Juvenile Offender” and “Myung-ryang, the Crying Sea” kept her away from music until now.

    “It’s amazing, the pace the fans from other countries are responding to the song. I am grateful to hallyu fans,” Lee said in an interview with The Korea Times.

    Hallyu, meaning “Korean wave,” refers to the popularity that Korean pop music, drama and film is enjoying overseas, mainly in Asia. For the music video for “V,” director Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyung, who is also a director, chipped in their talents.

    Lee, a singer and actress, has been at the forefront of Korean entertainment since her breakout album “Let’s Go to My Star” and the song “Change” in 1999. She is popular in China, and has appeared in television dramas there as well as in Japan.

    Wrapping up her brief stint in Korea, she will go on to perform in China on Aug. 5.

    “I have been active largely in Asia, so if I can go to other countries such as Europe that would be great,” said Lee.

    There are no specific plans yet but since the showcase of “V,” the market and fan response has been SNS-era immediate. She remembers how for her first debut album in 1999, her agency initially thought that it was a flop as other female singers were either cute or sexy. It took three days to prove that they were wrong.

    “The response is real fast,” she said.

    Not that this fazes her. Conjure up her name and people know to expect something bold, different and new.

    It’s an image that she has carried since her debut.

    Lee first started out at the age of 16 as an actress in the film “Kkotnip,” and struck gold as a singer with Change. “Bagkueo, Bagkueo” (Change, Change) she sang, and Korean society including politicians adopted it as an anthem. Other songs on the album such as “Wa” followed as mega hits.

    The style she featured with the song and the album — she wore a long Oriental robe, with a fan and a hairpin to appear akin to an Oriental female warrior — became so indelibly imprinted in the minds of fans that Lee came to represent a strong persona. Her performance presence was so strong leading to rumors that she was possessed by spirits “As for those rumors, I look back on it as a funny happening,” she said.

    At 33, Lee shares the music stage with so-called “idol” K-pop groups with her signature daringness and bold style in song and fashion.

    “I love the K-pop groups. These are people who got their first breaks by imitating me and my song,” she said, laughing. “They are so talented and presented in such a beautiful way. I love their presentation,” Lee said.

    A singer who knows what people expect from her, she doesn’t aim to compete with the younger group-themed K-pop singers.

    “What the fans want from me is something different and strong, not sweet and girly. When I sing, it’s largely for me. It’s fun to sing on stage and I focus on that,” she said.

    “One of the reasons I am popular in China I think is because I present a forceful image, a presence,” Lee said.

    She doesn’t mind that; and hasn’t thought of changing genre by trying a slow ballad.

    “There are so many other talented ballad singers. I don’t think I would have a chance,” Lee said.

    “One has to do what one enjoys. Just enjoy having fun, rather than think about age, or position.”

    Sometimes she is compared to Lady Gaga, which she sees as an “honor.” But Lee’s spirit as an artist is just as full and if not more complex. As to the question whether she was a combination of passion and “han” a Korean sentiment of feeling regret, she merely smiled.

    But see her on the big screen, and she speaks multitudes with her eyes. On the music stage, she bursts with passion and energy.

    “The job of an actress is long and physically challenging work where I need to analyze and bring out a new character. But in the end, it’s a process through which I become mature,” Lee said.

    As for music — the singing and performing, “it’s pure fun.”

    It’s the fun that carries her over when she has to deal with the current schedule where she has been having difficulty finding the time to sleep for almost one month. At 158 centimeters tall and fragile-looking, the singer and actress said that she has lost weight.

    “I look too thin, right?” she asked the reporters.

    She is thankful for being born with the physical energy that allows her to digest such a schedule. “I don’t eat any health supplements. I think I am just naturally healthy where I get a cold maybe just once a year,” she said.

    She has seen a tougher and more hectic schedule when she released the song “Change.”

    Having broken out as an independent as of 2009, she said she is now more free to do her music and movies, a freedom that she cherishes.

    “When I was affiliated with a large management agency, I had to put out new albums and songs. Although I could do it, I was doing it for the sake of doing it, and it was hard having to persuade all these people to go with the concept that I had in mind.”

    She did not talk in depth about the highs and lows that she must have had in her 17-year-long career, saying that she is just thankful to be doing what she enjoys.

    As a pioneering hallyu artist in the Chinese market, Lee did have a tip for other K-pop singers.

    “If you’re going into the Chinese market, be open-minded and fully embrace and love China. When they realize your sincerity, they will love you back,” she said.

    That sincerity is also what got her over the good and the bad years, she said.

    Asked just how long she thinks hallyu would continue, she said, “Every year since 2000 when I first went into the Chinese market, I thought, okay, hallyu will end this year. But it’s still strong. So as long as Koreans continue to produce new, creative content consistently,I think hallyu can go on,” Lee said.

    She didn’t give herself a deadline as an artist, but said that she would like to be active as long as she can.

    “For me, presenting something different is essential as an artist, because different means fun,” Lee said.
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    Singer Lee Jung-hyun spills beans on life

    'Be different'

    By Park Si-soo

    A female solo singer in Korea is not usually forthcoming about their romantic life or about wanting a boyfriend. But hallyu star Lee Jung-hyun was direct and frank. At 33, many friends of her have already married or, at least, have a person who they are dating seriously.

    Yet she is still single and unattached ― officially.

    “I really want to have a boyfriend,” Lee said with a bashful smile. “I had my last boyfriend three years ago. He was not an entertainer.” She didn’t elaborate. Lee said she doesn’t care much about age, nationality and career; instead she is looking for a person with a strong sense of responsibility and commitment.

    “Even if I have a boyfriend, I will keep it a secret until marriage,” she said.

    The veteran entertainer said she finds herself increasingly vulnerable to feelings of loneliness, but that it was inappropriate to express it since her fans still want her to look like a “bright, cheerful party lady” who is likely to delight them forever.

    Renowned movie director Park Chan-wook, who earned international fame with the Cannes award-winning film “Oldboy” and many other hit movies, is her mentor and best friend who she can reveal her inner feelings without hesitation, she said. The 50-year-old Park and his brother Park Chan-kyung directed the music video of her latest song “V” for nothing.

    Singer Lee Jung-hyun, right, sits next to film director Park Chan-wook, center, while monitoring recorded scenes of her music video “V.” Lee said Park is her best mentor and friend who she can reveal her inner feelings to without hesitation. Park and his brother Park Chan-kyung directed the music video for free. / Courtesy of AVA Films & Entertainment

    Lee said her work on “Night Fishing” (2010) directed by the Park brothers allowed her to grow in leaps and bounds

    “Our talks are usually centered on career stuff,” Lee said. “I usually speak and he listens. His answer is always short and simple, but really helpful.”

    She portrayed herself as a “perfectionist” in her early years in the entertainment world, but it only caused clashes with co-workers and then she realized the importance of compromising ― to a degree.

    “Well, now I know I cannot get everything done the way that I want,” she said. “But it doesn’t necessary mean I do it to the level where my core value is at risk.”

    Perhaps Lee may be freer with her talent agency now, unlike other K-pop stars that belong to large and powerful talent management agencies. She demonstrated love and affection for the K-pop stars, but cautiously added that they need to show more individuality.

    She said she always wants to show a different side to the public and that is the “core value” of her that will never become subject to a compromise.

    “I want myself to be different in every single album or film,” she said. “I will uphold this forever ― regardless of age or popularity.”
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    Playing hide and seek with her

    By Oh Young-jin

    It turned out to be a game of hide and seek.

    A group of three reporters asked all kinds of questions to force her to reveal her true color.

    She avoided few questions but didn’t really give herself away either.

    In hindsight, I felt I fell for her and became an “accomplice” sabotaging our own mission.

    I betrayed my two other colleagues. I wasn’t sure they didn’t do the same.

    At the end of an interview with singer-cum-actress Lee Jung-hyun, I came to know little more than I already knew about her.

    When I arrived at the newsroom at a bit past 1 p.m. Wednesday, the interview was already under way in our small studio. Besides the two reporters, a video cameraman and a still photographer were also at work. I stepped inside and thrust my hand to her for a handshake.

    She took it with a soft grasp. It didn’t match the level of strength I had expected from the power dancer she is known to be.

    Momentarily I suspected she didn’t give it her full strength because she feared it would surprise me, if she did.

    Or she may have chosen to play her Barbie doll role to throw me off from our mission.

    Barbie was least expected because she are often associated with tough images for her roles such as space Amazon, concubine femme fatale and zombie bride, which is the theme of her latest comeback song, “V.”

    More surprising was that Lee appeared to be closer to the Barbie than Amazon.

    That threw me off balance.

    “What is the source of your strength?” I uttered, when I really wanted to ask her to “Drop all your pretenses and show your true colors.”

    “I am much stronger than I look. I rarely catch a cold,” she answered kindly but half of me felt ignored.

    Then, she raised her left arm in an apparent attempt to show her biceps. She didn’t have them but her arm was thin but seemed to be healthy.

    Still I was amazed by her own self-contradiction: the girl, I should say a woman, of her “tiny” physique commanding such a dominant presence.

    Hers was a remarkable case of being larger than life.

    “I have lost weight while preparing for her special album,” she added.

    Instantly I wondered where she could lose more weight. If somebody asked me whether I was envious as a “man of weight,” I would deny it.

    Our hide-and-seek game was going nowhere with Lee using self-discipline to respond to our questions with short answers. She had her sheepish smile on her face and managed to prevent us from going cranky.

    Then, one of my colleagues accidentally talked about her being relegated to the league of “old generation” stars in the K-pop arena where teens belong to the median-age group.

    “You are so cruel,” she blurted but still maintaining her trademark smile on her face. She made her film debut at age 16 and this year is her 17th in her career.

    Seeing an opening, the same reporter pressed on by asking her to give “idols’ a piece of advice. Obviously, she felt her age again. She protested with her nasal voice. .

    Then, we turned to the issue of loneliness, asking her how to cope with a severe case of it.

    Her self-protection system fell at once, when she admitted she felt lonely sometimes and wanted to date and marry. It was three years ago that she regularly dated for the last time, she said.

    She said she would not mind marrying somebody who is not Korean, if she loves him.

    I was not sure that was a Lee Jung-hyun I was looking for at the start of the interview but, even if it was not, I had few regrets. It was an hour well spent.
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    I didn't like the last article: Playing hide and seek with her. It seems like I was reading a story. haha
    The first two were good because there were some facts about AVA that I did not know! I hope she does a world tour some day!