How many Hollywood films have you seen, featuring Korean actors, where you have thought “Yes, he (or she) can be proud of that?” I confess not to having seen Red 2 (Lee Byung-hun) yet, so maybe that will be one of them. But thinking back to the two GI Joe films (Lee Byung-hun), Ninja Assassin (Rain) and Blood: the Last Vampire (Jeon Ji-hyun), none of them do much more than reinforce the Hollywood stereotype that Asians do martial arts but don’t need to act.
So it is incredibly refreshing to see Bae Doona take on a role in Cloud Atlas (which hit UK cinemas in February 2013) that doesn’t require her to swish a sword or kick ass. Like most of the other actors in the cast she appears in several segments of this multi-layered story, and while she doesn’t have the weight of lines to carry that Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Halle Berry do, her main character, Sonmi 451, is key.
And she has worked so hard on her language skills so that when she’s not playing Sonmi – a Korean replicant from Neo Seoul – it’s not immediately obvious that she’s Asian.
Cloud Atlas (the movie) has been criticised for not maintaining the nested structure of the original novel; instead, it cuts back and forth between the six nested storylines at will. For me, the movie actually worked better than the novel in highlighting the parallels between the stories, making the whole thing more satisfying and easier to follow. And it didn’t seem a bit too long, even at 2 hours 52 minutes.
As an aside, the final credits include Hwang Byungki for his Chimhyangmu – something I didn’t spot on the soundtrack; and also the Koreanischer Konzertchor Berlin. A quick google reveals that there are Korean concert choirs in other German cities too, including Freiburg, Frankfurt and Hamburg – a testament to the number of Korean musicians who study in Germany that I have noted elsewhere.
But back to Cloud Atlas: it’s a real shame that it wasn’t marketed better. It’s a beautiful-looking, very satisfying film that more than does justice to a fine novel. It’s definitely a film of which any of the actors could be proud of appearing in. Additionally for Bae, it involves roles that went beyond the normal stereotype for an Asian actor in Hollywood – roles in which she acquitted herself well.
- Cloud Atlas: how Hollywood failed to put it on the map, Guardian, 20 February 2013
- Messages Across the Ages: Thoughts on “Cloud Atlas”, Racebending.com, 29 December 2012