Filipina makes waves in Korea

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Sep 30 2011 11:10 AM | Updated as of Sep 30 2011 11:15 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Jasmine Lee, a Seoul-based Filipina, is appearing in an upcoming Korean film "Punch" (Wandeugi) which stars young actor Yoo Ah-in.

Lee is already a familiar face for Korean audiences, having been a panelist on popular KBS television show "Love in Asia" since 2006 and is widely considered an unofficial spokesperson for migrant wives.

Now, the 34-year-old Davao native is dipping her feet in Korean show business with her role in Punch as a Filipina mother who abandons her son.

The role was written as a Vietnamese woman in the best-selling novel the film was based on. But the film's producers decided to change the character to a Filipino once they met with Lee.

In an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com, Lee admitted she did not think the producers will change the role to a Filipina for her.

"I really thought  they wouldn't change the nationality because they need to follow the book, but they did. I'm proud and worried at the same time - proud that I'll be represented as I am, a Filipina, in the movie. And worried because here in Korea I've been fighting to better the image of married migrant women," she said.

Punch is Lee's second film, after making a cameo appearance as a runaway Vietnamese wife in the blockbuster hit "Secret Reunion", which starred Song Kang-ho and Kang Dong-won, last year.

"After the success of 'Secret Reunion,' some people I met who recognized me from the movie, eh nakikipagtalo pa sa akin na I'm Vietnamese... Now after 'Wandeugi' people will say, 'hey she's from the Philippines'," she said.

Lee has only nice things to say about working with the 26-year-old Yoo, who played her son. Yoo had appeared in the popular drama "Sungkyungkwan Scandal" last year.

"He was great all through out. He's just like a little kid! He's fun and he called me 'omma' (mother) all throughout the filming. So I call him 'adeul' (son) too. When he sees me, he welcomes me with a hug and asks me if im not hungry," she said.

Punch, directed by Lee Han ("Lover's Concerto" and "Almost Love"), will have its world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival on October 9 in the southern port city of Busan. It will be shown in Korean cinemas on October 20.

Face of Filipinos in Korea

Lee is widely considered the face of Filipinos and migrant wives in South Korea, as she works to change deeply-held stereotypes and improve multiculturalism efforts in the traditionally homogenous Korean society. 

Her life even sounds like a telenovela. She met her future husband Lee Dong-ho in Davao in 1994. The 18-year-old Ateneo de Davao student fell in love with the Korean sailor, who was 12 years her senior. They married and moved to Seoul in 1995.

There were many difficulties at first, adjusting to life in Korea and not knowing the language, culture and traditions. But she managed to overcome these adversities, speaking Korean fluently like a native, becoming a naturalized Korean citizen and raising a son Alex and  daughter Chloe.

Lee slowly made the transition to a public figure around 2006, when she was asked to be a panelist on the TV show "Love in Asia." In 2008, she became a TV presenter on educational broadcasting network's "Basic Korean for Foreigners".

But tragedy struck last year, when her husband Dong-ho died while rescuing Chloe from drowning in a river. The incident was widely reported in Korea, where there has been increasing interest in multicultural families.

This only served to raise Lee's profile in Korean society. She was asked to deliver lectures multiculturalism in various schools and universities around the country, and has been profiled in newspapers and featured on TV shows.

Lee was also the only foreigner who was invited to participate in a series of G20-themed lectures, with her speech on "Multiculturalism makes Korea strong?" Earlier this year, Lee was even personally invited by Korean president Lee Myung-bak to a meeting at the presidential house.

Lee earned the respect and admiration of many Koreans, even receiving the accolade "People Who Enlighten the World" from Korea Green Foundation in 2010. At present, she works for the PR team at the Seoul Global Center, one of the first migrant women hired to be civil servants by Seoul City Government.

With all these achievements, many Filipinos in Korea are proud that a "kababayan" is raising the image of the Philippines among Koreans.

Asked how she feels about this, Lee said she is "flattered, proud, unnerved at times."

"It's a big responsibility, but it can be a burden at times. Tao lang naman kasi ako. I want to make mistakes like any other human being but I can't let everyone down. But it kind of gives me the courage and the strength to do good in everything because I know my family, married migrants, the Pinoys here in Korea and of course the country I represent, are all rooting for me," Lee said.