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BUSAN, South Korea — For Daniel Dae Kim, the Korean-American actor who plays the stern Jin in the hit series “Lost,” visiting the Pusan International Film Festival to take part in the first-ever Asian Pacific Actors Network conference has been, quite literally, a homecoming.
“I used to play on these beaches,” Kim said Sunday, sitting at the PIFF Pavilion as the typhoon-stoked surf crashed ashore. Although his family moved away when he was just 14 months old and he was raised in the U.S., he returned regularly to visit relatives. “I have relatives who live right up the hill here in this neighborhood,” he said, gesturing. “It’s been nice to come back here and spend time with them and see how much the city’s changed. I think the festival has had a lot to do with it. It’s made it a lot more cosmopolitan.”
Making his first visit to PIFF, though, Kim had mild apprehension because it also would be his first visit to Korea since “Lost” raised his international profile. Initially, he explained, some Koreans criticized the character of Jin for how he bosses around his wife, Sun, played by Yunjin Kim. “They said that was not a representation of a typical Korean man.”
Kim acknowledged that with so few Asian characters on American TV — a situation that “Lost” has helped remedy — there was a burden on his character to represent a larger community. “That said,” Kim continued, “that criticism isn’t valid anymore. The characters have really become three-dimensional and fully realized, and as an actor that is all you can really hope for. I enjoy playing Jin.”
Still, he admitted, “I was a little hesitant about coming back. I wasn’t sure I would be warmly welcomed. But I’m happy to see that Koreans seem to be very appreciative, and that’s been very important to me.”
Certainly, Kim has invested a lot of himself in the part. Although he never discussed much of his personal history with the show’s creators, somehow, he said, they meshed his personal history with that of Jin’s. “Jin is a fisherman from the south, and I was born in a fishing town in the south. Whether that’s coincidental or whether they did their research, I’m not sure,” he said.
“Lost” also allowed him to reconnect with his native tongue. Although Korean was his first language, once his family move to the U.S., he was eager to assimilate, rapidly learning English and speaking Korean only at home.
By the time he was cast on the show, he said, “My Korean got rusty. I would call my Korean level ‘household.’ ” He hadn’t kept up with new vocabulary, and he also had to work as he spoke his character’s extensive Korean dialogue to eliminate traces of both his American accent and the local Busan accent he grew up with.
Now that he’s more conversant in Korean, Kim could find himself in demand in both the American and Korean film industries. He used his most recent hiatus from “Lost” in Vancouver, shooting an upcoming A&E remake of Michael Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain,” produced by Ridley and Tony Scott. But he doesn’t rule out taking on Korean projects in the future.
“I’ve gotten a couple of inquiries. It’s one of those things where they have to be sure of what I’m looking to do in my career,” he said. “Because of my situation as a Korean-born American, I’d have to find the right role and the right project. But that said, I’d be happy to work in Korea.”
At the moment, though, Kim was heading off to the airport, returning to Hawaii, where he both lives and works, plunging back into the mysteries of “Lost’s” fourth season.
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