Many film fans might dream of living the life of a well-known actor. But as with most things, the reality of such a lifestyle may not be as we imagine it. With her directorial debut, the acclaimed actress-turned-director Moon So-ri shows us a more honest portrayal of a life spent working in films, and in the public eye.
Moon stars as herself in The Running Actress
, which is in part based on her own experiences, and in part fictionalized. It’s with a self-deprecating humor and an honest candor that she shows herself being turned down for major roles, running out of money, getting yelled at by her mother, interacting with obnoxious fans, being begged by independent directors to act in their films for free, and all the while feeling like she’s mentally and emotionally exhausted. In particular, Moon depicts some of the frustrations of working in an industry that values physical appearance above all else, and the countless small humiliations that result from being recognized at all times, wherever you go.
The film is divided into three ‘acts’, and in fact each of them were shot separately as short films during Moon’s enrollment in an MFA program at Chung-Ang University (hence the separate end credits). Moon was said to have been initially unsure about the idea of releasing the three works together as a feature film, but they blend together seamlessly, and indeed each act gains resonance when placed beside the other two.
Act 1 depicts Moon spending an afternoon hiking with two of her friends, when they run into producer Won Dong-yeon (playing himself; his credits include Masquerade
and Along with the Gods
) with two male colleagues. Later, the six of them end up together at the same restaurant, but the attention of the two men soon turns into something uncomfortable. The plot of Act 2 is more diffuse, as Moon deals with a host of obligations, favors, and meetings over a typical week. The iconic image from this act is the one that gives the film its title; while driving in her van, Moon suddenly barks to her manager, “Stop the car!” She then gets out and runs screaming down the deserted road, as her manager flies into a panic. It’s both funny and a bit pathetic; a defiant assertion of freedom, and a demonstration of just how little freedom she actually has.
For me it was Act 3 that achieved the most depth of feeling. Moon attends a nearly deserted wake for a recently deceased film director. She had not been on good terms with him, so she doesn’t plan to stay there long, but she ends up sitting down for a contentious conversation with an old acting acquaintance (Yun Sang-hwa). Soon a young actress arrives (played by rising indie star Jeon Yeo-been), and the scene that follows is blackly funny but also quite sad. It’s a moment of reflection back on filmmaking and the things we leave behind in life.
In her first turn behind the camera, Moon So-ri shows a good feel for storytelling and comic timing. There’s a natural flow to each scene that leaves one anticipating more directorial work from her in the future. It also won’t be a surprise to hear that the acting is a strong point. Of course with Moon herself it’s a foregone assumption, and she carries the film in many ways. But she’s also assembled a quite remarkable cast of unfamiliar faces (and a few familiar ones) who all provide utterly natural turns in front of the camera. Even her real-life husband, the film director Jang Joon-hwan (1987: When the Day Comes
) makes an memorable appearance in Act 2, lending a personal touch to this intimate but thought-provoking and insightful film.
One of Korea’s most acclaimed actresses, Moon So-ri made her debut in Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy
(1999) and reunited with the director for his next film Oasis
(2002), which screened in competition in Venice and netted Moon the Marcello Mastroianni Award. She went on to star in numerous acclaimed works including A Good Lawyer's Wife
(2005), Family Ties
(2006), Forever the Moment
(2010), Venus Talk
(2013), Manshin: 10,000 Spirits
(2013), The Mayor
(2017). Her screenwriting/directorial debut The Running Actress
was shot while enrolled in an MFA program at Chung-Ang University.