SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s little sister wants to grow up. She only hopes the country will let her.
Moon Geun-young, 19, became the biggest teen star in the country at the age of 13 playing a school girl in a sentimental TV drama called “Autumn in My Heart”. It was a hit in Korea and won over viewers in other parts of Asia.
Since then she has been box office gold in movies such as “My Little Bride” and “Innocent Steps”, where she played a North Korean who heads to the South to unexpectedly become a dance star.
She has also been the country’s most sought-after celebrity for advertisers seeking to cash in on her sweet, innocent and a little bit feisty image.
It is almost impossible to spend a day in South Korea and not see Moon, dubbed the “nation’s little sister”, on billboards, TV commercials and magazines across the country.
“Because I am a girl now, it is only fair for people to see me as a girl. But as time goes by, I believe I will become a real woman who understands sorrow, love and pain,” Moon said in an interview with Reuters.
“But the interest in me is sometimes too much. Expectations are high and I loath to let people down.”
Last year, Moon was named by an industry group, the Korea Advertisers Association, as the best entertainer for selling products.
“Her image is cute and unique. She enhances the brand recognition of advertisers,” the group said.
When a bank launched a campaign to encourage people to lose weight and get into shape, they called on Moon.
Bright-eyed Moon, with her endearing smile, creates a flurry of discussion on the Internet in the world’s most wired country when she so much as changes her hairstyle.
The media spotlight is so intense that she recently took the national college entrance exam in a separate room to avoid distracting other students, local media reported.
But with success comes criticism and there are scores of Web sites in South Korea set up by people who say they are sick to their stomachs by Moon’s on-screen sweetness.
The South Korean entertainment industry is littered with pretty young women who burned brightly and flamed out before reaching 25, often brought down by a seedy scandal.
One child star, Lee Jae-eun, had her moment in the spotlight, and tried to revive her career as an adult by appearing in erotic movies and a nude photo book.
Sultry may sell in South Korea for starlets, but Moon is hoping for staying power by remaining sensible.
Moon’s mother, a government worker, tried to steer her daughter clear of show business. But Moon badgered her mother to send her to acting classes.
Despite her gruelling schedule, Moon hit the books hard, and scored well enough on the national entrance exam to enter one of South Korea’s better universities, where she studies humanities.
“I am having so much fun in college. If I want to express different images and emotions on screen, I have to learn lessons from real life,” she said.
“It is only when my personal life takes shape that my career as an actress can take shape,” Moon added.
In the past few months, Moon has tried to show a more mature image, appearing in a racy ad for a mobile phone company and taking on the role of a young woman in a movie called “I Don’t Need to be Loved”, which stumbled at the box office.
“Thick makeup and new hairstyles are just short cuts for an image change,” Moon said.
She admires stars such as Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, who have turned their teen fame into adult stardom.
“I know I look like a fragile young girl, but I am athletic and bold as well. I want to try my hand in an action movie,” Moon said.
With additional reporting by Jang Sera