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Jang Seo-hee and 'hallyu' in China

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Actress Jang Seo-hee, also known as Jang Ruicy in China, poses at a cafe in Seokchon, Seoul, Tuesday. / Courtesy of Park Young-kyu
Actress Jang Seo-hee, also known as Jang Ruicy in China, poses at a cafe in Seokchon, Seoul, Tuesday. / Courtesy of Park Young-kyu

By Park Jin-hai

Actress Jang Seo-hee, 42, who is also known as Jang Ruicy in China, will return to the small screen in a new drama, tentatively titled "Cuckoo's Nest."

It is the first new drama in four years for the actress who pulled off a stunning performance and high viewership or 44 percent with the drama "Temptation of a Wife" (2008).

Because of the long interval, the local drama scene is anticipating the comeback of the actress who started out as a child actor at the age of 10.

"People talk about how long I've been away from Korea's dramas,"she said during an interview with The Korea Times at a cafe in Seokchon, southeastern Seoul, Tuesday. "But, in fact, I have never shot many dramas in a short period of time. It's always been in a carefully selected few," she added.

In a series of dramas, Jang has shown that she is an actress of broad range and spectrum as she crossed the boundaries from the innocent to the vengeful femme fatal, including "Miss Mermaid" and "Temptation of a Wife."

In the new drama, to be aired in June, she will play the role of an infertile wife who chooses to pay for a surrogate pregnancy; but her choice is followed by twists and turns.

Having returned to Korea for the shooting of the upcoming drama only two days prior to the interview, she explained what she has been doing.

"Just because local audiences couldn't see me on the small screen, that doesn't mean that I was being idle," she said.

After MBC's 2002 hit drama "Miss Mermaid" put her to stardom in China as well as Korea, Jang went to China for promotional activities.

"I was invited to China in 2004, after the success of Miss Mermaid there. Then I realized how huge and influential the Chinese entertainment market is," said the veteran actress of more than 30 years.

She has spent most of her time in China over the past ten years.

Her dramas exported to China topped the viewership ratings there. The 2008 SBS hit drama "Temptation of a Wife" was so popular that there is a Chinese remake, which also shot another Korean actress Choo Ja-hyun, cast in the lead role, to fame.

Jang starred in the Chinese hit TV series "Master Lin in Seoul,"aired through CCTV 8 and BTV in 2012. She was also cast as Zhang Lihua, one of the historical femme fatales of China in a $500 million-budget Chinese historical drama "Heroes of Sui and Tang Dynasties" aired on Funan TV in 2013.

Jang was voted one of the most favorite Korean actresses in China in a series of polls.

"It seems that Korea and China emotionally share a big part. Like Koreans, Chinese viewers like sweet romance stories such as My Love from the Star, as well as the ones with dramatic endings like Temptation of a Wife. Some say that they are fond of the rapid story proceedings that fixate viewers' eyes on the small screen," she said.

She established an entertainment agency under her name, Jang Ruicy Entertainment, and last year it went into partnership with one of the biggest Chinese media groups Huace Media to promote her activities in China.

As for her popularity in China, Jang has remained very cautious.

"I am just one of many Korean actresses widely known to Chinese viewers, one of the friendlier faces."

"Even though I went there after earning popularity with the drama, I made up my mind to start my career anew there like a newly debuted actress. I arrived at the filming sets earlier than others and tried my best to build communication with other actors and actresses."

She said one of the proudest moments was when she was accepted as a fellow actress and not just a Korean one who came only to rake in money.

"There is a wide perception among Chinese that Korean actors and actresses only come for the money. Korean movies and dramas are really popular but that doesn't mean that Korean actors or actresses are superior to their Chinese counterparts."

She said that while she was staying in China for some 10 years she saw many Korean stars who were invited to appear in commercials and dramas after a Korean drama hit, but then faded into obscurity.

"Most Korean stars are short-lived. It's almost like a trend. If one drama buoys an actress, they come and go, giving way to another," she said.

In her 30-plus years in the industry, Jang has seen so many actresses being shot to stardom and go down the drain said, "If one is acknowledged for great and passionate acting as well as being genuine in relating to others, she or he doesn't get affected by changing trends."

"They like me because they know that I am a late bloomer, spending many years doing supporting roles before taking the lead role. In China, I worked hard to go one step further each time," she said.

She also spares some time to return her fans' favors through various charity works. Jang also turned an old house in Fujian into a restaurant bearing her name.

China is so close in distance, but sometimes gapingly different in culture, she said. "In China, even if people queue in a long line to get a seat in a restaurant, no one seems to be in a rush or complain. Some Korean businessmen, accustomed to the hurrying culture of Korea, close their business in China just because they cannot get quick results."

She explained that language is not a barrier in succeeding in the Chinese entertainment market, since most of the dramas are pre-recorded and dubbed almost a year before it airs.

"We learn the language because we want to communicate and associate with other actors. The way you act on set is what really matters. Even if you are fluent in Chinese, if you are not diligent, it is difficult to succeed." Jang said that she wants to be a long-running actress, who faithfully and vigorously builds her career in both countries.

Asked upon her future goals, she said, "I hope my future will be just like it has been, because I have lived up to every small moment, doing my best. Even if it doesn't lead to immediate results, it eventually makes me better as an actress. If I maintain this pace, won't I be the person that I wanted to be at some point?"

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