Han Ji-min plays Lee Young-ok, a woman with a secret, in the Korean drama Our Blues. Young-ok is trying to hide the fact that her twin sister Young-hee has Down Syndrome and she worries about introducing Young-hee to her new friends. However, when Young-hee arrives in Young-ok’s village, everyone likes her and happily incorporates her into their daily lives. Young-hee is played by Jung Eun-hye, a woman who has Down Syndrome and—like her character—has a winning personality. Our Blues screenwriter Noh Hee-kyung created the role with Jung in mind.
Our Blues was not Jung’s first time onscreen. Her film debut was in If You Were Me, a film produced by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. One of the episodes, Sister, You Need to Understand, portrayed Eun-hye’s daily life at the age of 15. Jung is also the star of Please Make Me Look Pretty, a documentary directed by her stepfather, director Seo Dong-il. The documentary follows her as she sets up a portrait booth in a market and draws caricature sketches. Jung’s family encouraged her artistic talent and suggested she do portraits at the market as a way of providing her with more social interaction. Her distinctive sketches became popular, leading to a solo exhibition.
“The writer of the Our Blues series, Noh Hee-kyung, came to see Eun-hye at her solo art exhibition in the fall of 2020,” said Seo. “At the time, she was thinking of writing an episode about twin sisters for the series in which the older sister has Down Syndrome. Noh has written about characters with disabilities before, but never one born with Trisomy 21. Characters who are blind, autistic, have a mental illness, or have hearing problems can be portrayed by a regular actor, but the attributes that many recognize with Down Syndrome require someone who has it to capture the authenticity of the disability.”
Noh did not plan to cast Jung for the role. She simply wanted to interview her as part of her extensive research. After meeting and getting to know Jung, Noh was charmed.
“Rather than trying to create an imaginary character, Noh decided to center the twin sister on Eun-hye’s characteristics and daily life,” said Seo. “Therefore, the character of Young-hee was someone who likes to dance, drink beer, knit, and is also a caricature artist.”
Jung has never taken an acting lesson and Noh did not request any for the series.
“In fact, Noh said the actors she had auditioned that had disabilities didn’t come off as natural as those who haven’t had lessons,” said Seo. “Eun-hye’s natural self was perfect for the role.”
Jung enjoys watching dramas and horror films, so she was familiar with the work of her co-stars, Han Ji-min, Kim Woo-bin, Ko Du-shim, Kim Hye-ja and Lee Jung-eun.
“Considering the majority of actors in Our Blues include some of Korea’s most well-known reputable talent, Eun-hye was excited to meet them all and act together,” said Seo. “She really wanted to perform well alongside the cast.”
According to Seo, acting in Our Blues was a positive experience for Jung. She enjoyed interacting with the cast and crew members on the set and some of her sketches of the cast are displayed in Our Blues.
“Since it was Eun-hye’s first experience on a studio set, there were many concerns about handling the production schedule, such as early morning and late-night shoots or acting out the same scenes repetitively,” said Seo. “She rose to the challenge and was determined to do well, so her dedication allowed her to enjoy her efforts and the finished product.”
Jung’s role in Our Blues generated a lot of interest.
“Since the TV series aired, Eun-hye experienced the creation and growth of her fandom online,” said Seo. “As the topic of Down Syndrome continues to receive a lot of attention due to the series, fans are swarming Eun-hye’s YouTube channel.”
The number of her subscribers increased by almost 1,000 daily after her Our Blues episodes aired. Currently, Jung’s channel has more than 31,000 subscribers who enjoy her wit, outspoken personality and artwork.
Please Make Me Look Pretty premiered at the 2020 Busan International Film Festival, winning the 2021 Thin Line Fest / International Inspiration Award, and will finally have its theatrical release this month.
“We have quite a few projects happening right now for Eun-hye,” said Seo. “The Please Make Me Look Pretty theatrical release in Korea was delayed until the TV series ended on June 23. Once the film releases, Eun-hye will hold several fan meetups. As for future acting opportunities, given her affinity for horror films, she would like to potentially play a role in one.”
Our Blues, a Studio Dragon production, airs on Netflix