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The Actresses
The Actresses

(left to right) Choi Ji-Woo, Kim Min-Hee, Lee Mi-Sook, Ko Hyun-Jung, Yoon Yeo-Jeong and Kim Ok-Bin.
  Korean: 여배우들
Year: 2009  
Director: E. J-Yong  

E. J-Yong, Yoon Yeo-Jeong, Lee Mi-Sook, Ko Hyun-Jung, Choi Ji-Woo, Kim Min-Hee, Kim Ok-Bin


Yoon Yeo-Jeong, Lee Mi-Sook, Ko Hyun-Jung, Choi Ji-Woo, Kim Min-Hee, Kim Ok-Bin

  The Skinny:

Slightly esoteric but still enjoyable to regular audiences, The Actresses is a smart and entertaining mockumentary about fame, media, egos and the actresses at the center of it all. Part fact and part fiction, and figuring out which is which is probably half the fun.

by Kozo:

E. J-Yong's The Actresses can be enjoyed even without intimate knowledge of the Korean Entertainment industry. However, having that knowledge is a huge help. An entertaining and smart cinema verite comedy, Actresses depicts a fictional Christmas Eve Vogue magazine shoot with a who's who of Korean actresses in attendance, each playing themselves. Or are they? Director E. J-Yong and his actresses aren't telling. But that's okay - figuring it out may be half the film's fun.

Getting six top actresses for a photo shoot is a score for the magazine - the caveat being that it's not smart to bring six potential rivals together in one place. From the start, drama queen Ko Hyun-Jung (K-drama Sandglass) is sassy and mouthy towards fellow drama queen Choi Ji-Woo (K-dramas Winter Sonata and Stairway to Heaven), who's the biggest star of the bunch thanks to her legions of Japanese fans. Fifty year-old Lee Mi-Sook (E. J-Yong's Untold Scandal) is a calming presence, but remains sensitive about her divorce.

Meanwhile, pretty Kim Min-Hee (Wildcats) hides her insecurities behind silent smiles and her dazzling looks. The youngest, Kim Ok-Bin (Thirst), is far too eager to please everyone around her, while the eldest, Yoon Yeo-Jeong (too many works to mention), grouses about a rumor that she was a last-minute replacement for someone else. The five women jockey to see who arrives first or last before subtly and not-so-subtly sizing each other up. The shoot has problems and runs overtime, giving the women time to speak, spar and possibly bond. Will they smooth over their differences or be at each other's throats when Christmas rolls around?

Since every actress is willingly playing herself - and indeed, each is listed as one of the film's screenwriters - it's doubtful that you'd see them get into massive catfights. That expectation is neatly met with the actresses achieving détente and accord, if not possibly friendship. What's unexpected about The Actresses is how the film references the women's public personas, and also how it cleverly subverts them. Gags addressing rumored rivals and tabloid chatter add some fun for the initiated, but the actresses play with their own images, sometimes taking the opportunity to confirm, debunk or maybe spin the prevailing opinion. There may be some truth to their spin, but how much?

The film is unrevealing in that last aspect, but it hardly matters. Actresses capitalizes on the audience's fascination with the beautiful and famous to play a fun game; the filmmakers effectively use our curiosity with celebrity to tell us that we've been misled by the media, and it does it with its own little game of misdirection! That's kind of like having your cake and eating it too, but the filmmakers achieve that feat handily. The actresses are glamorous and charismatic, the film's free-floating camera captures events in a lively and witty fashion, and E. J-Yong throws in entertainment industry satire to distract from any heavy-handed pulpit-thumping by his stars.

Actresses does go astray during its final set piece, where the actresses commiserate during an impromptu Christmas meal for what seems like far too long. After smarter, lighter digs at their public personas, the topic turns towards divorce, and the actresses clearly start telling us how they really feel. That moment of truth takes away a bit from the film's "are they, or aren't they" fun, where one wonders if the women are dispensing truth or just having a good time skewing it. That, and the predictably feel-good climax end the film on an unremarkable note, but for the most part, Actresses is smart and incisive, and a terrific little satire on the lives of the famous and followed.

Fans will naturally have a better time, with every little dropped name and thrown out reference meaning far more to the Korean entertainment faithful. Casual or non-fans of the actresses will have a much tougher time parsing all the jokes, but the film still works on a universal level. The film uses each actress's persona as shorthand, but it also does a fine job establishing them individually; by the end, it's easy to identify one from the other, and to see which place each occupies in the Korean entertainment firmament. In every Hollywood there are actresses - and hey, each is a woman too. Showing audiences that about his actresses was one of E. J-Yong's established goals, and he does so here successfully and smartly. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2010)

  Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Ein's M&M Co., Ltd.
2-DVD Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean subtitles
Various Extras
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image credit: Udine Far East Film Festival Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen