|Eugene after an interview with The Korea Times at a cafe in Seoul, Wednesday. /Courtesy of Road Pictures|
By Kwak Yeon-soo
Singer-turned-actress Eugene says her new film "Paper Flower" is about finding hope in the middle of despair. The title refers to a Korean funerary tradition of placing paper flowers inside a coffin to pay tribute to the deceased.
Returning to the silver screen for the first time in 11 years since horror flick "Yoga," she chose an independent film over a big-scale commercial film because the film's message resonated with her.
Her foresight has proven true, as the film already won two awards ― the Platinum Remi Award and Best Actor Award for actor Ahn Sung-ki ― at this year's WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival.
In "Paper Flower," Eugene plays Eun-sook, a single mother who lives with her daughter No-el and never loses her smile even in harsh times.
"Director Koh Hoon wanted Eun-sook's character to be overdramatic and bright, to the point where she sounds eccentric, so that her pain and sorrow could be better reflected in later parts of the story," she told The Korea Times on Wednesday.
Veteran Ahn Sung-ki plays her neighbor Sung-gil, an elderly mortician who lives with his son Ji-hyeok, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to an accident. For financial reasons, Sung-gil reluctantly decides to work as a subcontractor for a large funeral services company.
However, he comes into conflict between his beliefs to have the dead depart with dignity regardless of their economic status versus the company's capitalist approach, providing different services based on how much customers pay.
Eugene said she took part in the film because it had a warm vibe and Ahn Sung-ki had already been cast.
On starring alongside the respected veteran actor, she said, "Ahn never made me feel awkward or nervous. He always made me feel like we're in this together," she said.
"Although it was a low-budget film, we weren't short of anything. Food trucks were always on filming spots, and I could feel that a lot of people were supporting us."
Eugene, 39, also shared that a lot has changed for her since she became a mother. She married actor Ki Tae-young, and they have two daughters, aged six and three.
"It was good to be back on a film set," she said. "Honestly, I haven't been asked to act in a film for a long time, and I was a bit discouraged by the lack of opportunities. I'm so thankful for the filming staff for creating a good atmosphere and my husband for looking after the kids when I'm away."
She added, "I wish I had done more work when I was younger. Now that I think of it after marriage and motherhood, I could've played a wider range of roles that suit early ages. Thankfully, the average age of lead actresses is getting older and there are more opportunities for us to play diverse roles. So I'll work harder from now on."
Earlier this week, Ahn was embroiled in rumors that he was seriously ill because he decided not to join promotional activities. Although he was in hospital for a few days due to fatigue, he is now resting at home and is in good condition.
Regarding the issue, Eugene said, "I texted Ahn after I heard that he was feeling unwell. He said he's okay now. It would've been nice if we could promote the film together, but health comes first."
"Paper Flower" is playing in theaters nationwide.