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Cannes-Winning Actress Jeon Do-yeon Returns in South Korea's 'Way Back Home'

Jeon Do-yeon Way Back Home - H 2013
CJ Entertainment
Jeon Do-yeon in "Way Back Home"

The "Secret Sunshine" star helms a film inspired by the true story of a housewife who is imprisoned in the Caribbean after being mistaken for a drug dealer.

SEOUL — Jeon Do-yeon has a knack for playing emotionally distraught women in films like Secret Sunshine, for which she won the best actress prize at Cannes in 2007. The South Korean actress returns from a two-year hiatus since The Housemaid, which also competed for the Palme d'Or, in yet another taxing role.

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Directed by Bang Eun-jin, Way Back Home is based on a true story about an ordinary housewife who is mistaken for a drug dealer at the Paris Orly Airport. She is imprisoned for two years on Martinique Island, and her husband (Go Soo) makes futile efforts to save her.

"I was heartbroken when I first heard about the real case -- as a Korean, the story greatly resonated with me in a heartfelt way," said Jeon following the press preview on Wednesday.

"In order to realistically portray the agony of being stranded in a foreign place with linguistic barriers, I had to try my best to become fully immersed in my character," the 40-year-old actress said about the production, which took place over three weeks at an actual women's prison in the Dominican Republic. "It was a mentally and physically painful process throughout the shoot."

Way Back Home is the first time a Korean film was shot in the Caribbean, as well as the first to feature actual guards and prisoners as supporting characters.

"Receiving permission to shoot at a real prison itself was an extraordinary feat," said the director. "Filming inside cells, the cafeteria would have involved transporting the prisoners. This would have been difficult so we suggested they star in the film. The prison guards were as expressive as real actors, and there were also aspiring actresses among the prisoners."

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Jeon said she was initially fearful of acting opposite foreigners for the first time in her 23-year career. "[Scenes involving prison guards] were central to showing my character's desperate desire to break free, so I was under extreme pressure," she said. "Also, I felt scared about acting with local actors in a foreign place. But I think these fears actually helped express the agony my character was going through."

The actress added, "The film is essentially about a wife and mother that simply wants to go home, and her husband who tries to protect his family. It's a larger than life story, but it's something that could allow anyone to rethink the importance of family."

Way Back Home, distributed by CJ Entertainment, hits local theaters Dec. 11.