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29 October 2009, MONO Lounge @ St. James Powerstation

Despite appearances to the contrary, Korean stars Kim Ha-Neul and Kang Ji-Hwan will have you know that their box office smash hit “My Girlfriend is an Agent” is not the Korean wanna-be of Hollywood’s “Mr and Mrs Smith”- although Ha-Neul said that she did get a similar impression when she first read the script.

“I thought there were some similarities at first, especially in terms of its concept, but watching the final cut of the movie, there is so much that was different,” she said. “It was a very Korean movie- the style of comedy, the situations the characters find themselves in- so I wouldn’t call it a Korean version of the Hollywood hit.”

Her co-star Ji-Hwan used an amusing analogy to illustrate this- that of horror movies in the East and the West. “The concept may be similar,” he said. “But the ghosts of the East and the ghosts of the West are not the same. And so it is with our movie- the concept may look the same, but if you look inside, it’s totally different.”

Set to open in local cinemas 5 Nov, “My Girlfriend is an Agent” stars Ha-Neul as a government spy who finds himself constantly in need of excuses to explain her absence to her boyfriend, Jae-joon. Tired of her lies, Jae-joon breaks up with her, only to become a secret agent in another government department. The two meet again three years later on the job, and mistake each other for working for the enemy’s side. Indeed, its very premise promises to be a one-two chopsocky blend of action and comedy.

And this attracted the beautiful model-turned-actress Ha-Neul and the dashingly handsome Ji-Hwan to reunite after their equally popular pairing on the 2006 TV series “90 Days, Time to Love”. In town as part of their regional promotional tour, Ha-Neul said that what made her take up the challenge of filming this movie was her love for comedy coupled with the fact that she had always wanted to see herself in an action movie.

Ji-Hwan, on the other hand, said that this was a dream project for him. “Playing a secret agent like 007 is probably a dream character that every male actor wants to play,” he said. “Of course, besides the action, there’s also a great deal of comedy. I thought I could do both well so I decided to be a part of this movie.”

But both Ha-Neul and Ji-Hwan will have you know that the shoot was definitely physically demanding. It took Ha-Neul three months to prepare herself, including learning horse riding, fencing, and even riding a jet ski. In fact, while picking up horse riding, the actress had to stop work for a month after she fell from a horse.

“I was very afraid that I would get injured during production so I took great pains to make sure that I didn’t,” said Ji-Hwan. “I thought to myself that if I get injured, they would have to stop production on this movie just for me to get well. I guess that was the pressure I faced while shooting.”

That said, their familiarity with each other the second time round also made it easier for Ha-Neul and Ji-Hwan when shooting. “Because we had worked with each other before, we coordinated much better on set,” said Ha-Neul. This coordination was how Ji-Hwan described their chemistry together- and he was quick to add that the success of their chemistry was proven by the box-office success of the movie, without which they probably wouldn’t have had the chance to come to Singapore.

It’s obvious Ji-Hwan is very proud of this success- despite having one-tenth of the big-budget Hollywood summer movies, he pointed out that the film was able to defeat heavyweight box-office contender “Terminator Salvation” and remain atop the Korean box-office charts for several weeks.

No wonder then that both stars are not entertaining any dreams of Hollywood for now- even though their fellow stars Daniel Henney and Lee Byung-hun have both made the crossover this year in “X Men Origins: Wolverine” and “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra” respectively.

“I’m happy dedicating myself to working in Korea and doing well in what I do. Going to Hollywood is not something you plan for, but if the opportunity comes, then it does,” said Ha-Neul. It seems that America has already taken notice- Ha-Neul was just in New York three months ago for a Vogue photo shoot with Gossip Girl actress Blake Lively.

With a success like “My Girlfriend is an Agent”, who needs to be compared with Pitt and Jolie? Ha-Neul and Ji-Hwan are very happy being stars in their own right this side of the globe, thank you very much.

"My Girlfriend Is An Agent" opens on 5 November and is reviewed here

Interview : Gabriel Chong | Photos : Linus Tee
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