Korean critics call Jeon Do-yeon a chameleon: able to lose herself so completely in a character that she’s virtually unrecognizable. Her first two roles, in the wildly successful melodramas “The Contact” (1997) and “A Promise” (1998), made her a local star.
In the following year, her turn as a shy middle-school student in “A Harmonium in My Memory” and as the philandering housewife in “Happy End” led critics to name her one of the leading actresses of her generation. And yet, at 34, she is just hitting her prime.
At Cannes in May, when Alain Delon presented her with the best actress prize for Lee Chang-dong’s “Secret Sunshine” — in which she played a woman devastated by the loss of her son — it was Korea’s first acting award at the world’s premiere film showcase. It also was considered the one award outside of the Palme d’Or that set all heads nodding in agreement.
The distinction allowed the rest of the world a glimpse at her proven mixture of artistry and commercial allure. Although never considered a pin-up idol, the energy she brought to her roles frequently pushed her to the top of the box office. “Dangerous Liaisons” adaptation “Untold Scandal” (2003) netted $17.4 million, while AIDS melodrama “You Are My Sunshine” (2005) earned $18.3 million.
Jeon says she was particularly thrilled to meet actress Maggie Cheung during her stay in Cannes. Indeed, it seems appropriate that the acclaimed Hong Kong thesp served on the jury that recognized Jeon, because when it comes to Asian acting talent, the two women have few equals.
Vocation: Actress. “I think this is a time to discover and find my other self.”
Recent breakthrough: “Whether this is visible, or invisible, whether I can feel it or not, at this moment, I’m always growing and changing.”
Role model: None.
Career mantra: “Punctuality, (and) I never pass the buck to anyone else.”
What’s next: “I don’t usually like to set plans. That’s why I always focus on the present and give everything I have.”