Shim Eun-kyung, between innocence and experience

James Lee, April 25, 2017, 10:06 a.m.

In the 2011 film “Sunny,” the nostalgic coming-of-age flick about a group of friends at an all-girl high school in the 1980s, Shim Eun-kyung plays a shy, possessed student. When the spirit inside her manifests itself, Shim’s character becomes comically violent, scaring off the school’s bullies and rescuing her friends. 

Bursting onto the Korean film scene with this role, Shim has since become a symbol of innocent youth and sprightly whimsy. In her breakout role in the 2014 comedy “Miss Granny,” Shim plays an old lady transferred into the body of a young girl. In last year’s “Queen of Walking,” she portrayed a small-town student who gets unusually nauseous on all types of transportation and has to walk everywhere.

In the new political drama “The Mayor,” which hits local theaters Wednesday and stars big names such as Choi Min-sik and Park Do-won, the now 22-year-old actress turns into a strong-willed public relations agent. 

“It took me a long time to decide whether I wanted to play this character or not,” said Shim in an interview Tuesday in Samcheong-dong, Seoul. “She’s more experienced than I am and much more outspoken. I didn’t know if I could portray (those elements) without it looking forced.”

Shim plays Park Kyung, who works in the political camp of Byeon Jong-goo, a stealthy politician running for Seoul mayor played by Choi.

For research, she had the opportunity to visit PR agencies and politicians’ offices to witness professionals at work. There, she realized that the people there, though their work seemed daunting, were eventually regular people. 

“At first I tried to force myself to be cold and calculating, but that seemed even more unnatural,” said Shim. 

Despite her boldness, Park Kyung ultimately remains untainted by political motivations, a trait which places her in the same vein as many of Shim’s other ingenue characters.

“I guess I have an honest face,” said Shim. “But I so want to try a villain role some time. And maybe later, when I’m older and more experienced, I’ll play someone who is more experienced and jaded. But I never want to become that kind of person.” 

A graduate of New York City’s Professional Children’s School, a college preparatory school specializing in the arts, Shim has always been focused on her craft. But the actress took a year off after completing the shoot for “The Mayor.” 

“I was in a slump. I had to figure out what I wanted to do next,” she said. 

During that time, Shim frequented the movies, watching every film she could. 

“I saw Mark Ruffalo star in films like ‘Spotlight,’ with important messages. I saw him star in ‘The Hulk.’ I love that gap. That’s when I realized, the answer is to do what drives you.” 

Shim is currently filming the sci-fi thriller “Psychokinesis” (unofficial translation) with Yeon Sang-ho, the director of last year’s mega-hit zombie flick “Train to Busan.” 

“It’s a new genre for me. There’s a lot of computer graphics. I’m excited to see how it will turn out.” 

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