Filipina transgender actress Mimi Juareza is seen during the shooting of the film "Seoul Mates" in Seoul, South Korea.
SOUTH KOREA - Filipina transgender actress Mimi Juareza returns for another gender-bending role in the Filipino-Korean romantic comedy film "Seoul Mates."
Juareza is best known for her controversial role in Eduardo Roy Jr.’s "Quick Change". In the film, she played Dorina, a middle-aged transgender woman who earns a living by making other people "beautiful." She won the Best Actor award at the 9th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival in 2013 for that role.
“Having me as lead actor for the movie Quick Change is already a big achievement for me, and winning an award for the movie is just an add on," she said. “I'm so blessed because I didn't just have a movie, I won an award pa.”
It was her first acting role, and Juareza feels blessed that Cinemalaya recognized her acting prowess.
“Like what I've always said, my family is my inspiration. Anything I do is all for them. As long as I live, everything that I have is for my family—my mama, my siblings and their kids too," she said.
Filming in Seoul
Juareza travelled to Seoul last September to film the Filipino-Korean romantic comedy "Seoul Mates," directed by Filipino Nash Ang. Ang is a young Filipino actor-director taking up Masters in Filmmaking major in Directing in Korea University of Arts in South Korea.
She wasn't the first choice for the role of Alice (Miss International Queen Kevin Balot and Super Sireyna Francine Garcia were also considered), but Ang soon offered it to her.
Inspired by one of his conversations with his friends, Ang's film is about the people who found each other, lost one another and found themselves in the end. This film is designed to tackle multicultural differences in South Korea, especially in Filipino-Korean relationships.
Juareza plays Alice, a transgender woman who goes to Korea to see her boyfriend Jason (played by Ramon Christian Eusebio), but finds out that he has a new life.
Asked about her motivation on playing her character, she said, “I always put in mind everything that I do. And everything that comes to life will just happen once—that is why I give it 100 percent or more because maybe it's not gonna happen again.”
At 40, Juareza is proving that it is never too late to fulfill your dreams. The role of Alice was changed to fit Juareza, so she became a middle aged, soft-hearted transgender who has many differences with Joon (played by Korean actor Jisoo Kim).
Filipina transgender Mimi Juareza appears in "Seoul Mates" with Korean actor Jisoo Kim.
“Why did I accept Seoul Mates? Because I want to do something different this time. This is a romantic comedy movie, which has so many differences as compared to Quick Change. I felt at first that the role was corny, but when I finished reading the script, it is so beautiful and touching. I enjoyed filming this," she said.
After winning Best Actor last year, Juareza was offered several projects abroad but she chose to do a movie in Korea.
And she fell in love with South Korea's charms.
"I always tell Seoul Mates staff that a part of my heart will be left in Korea when I return to Philippines... Koreans are so nice, especially the staff and crew of this movie. They took care of me. They were very thoughtful. Korean actors are so professional and they are very good in acting. Whatever the script asks, they can do it without thinking twice. I learned a lot from them," she said.
Making a difference
Juareza is also an advocate for the LGBT community in arts and in film.
"The LGBT community is empowered... Maybe now is the time for all of us to stand as one and be united to help improve the advocacy of all the groups. We should respect ourselves for us to gain respect from other people. Now that transgenders are active in show business, we should encourage others to dream it big here. Not only to make other people laugh, but to do the same roles given to straight people. We also have the talent and we can be good actors and actresses to any challenging roles given to us," she said.
In her own way, Juareza hopes to make a difference.
"As a person, I want people to know how to love the life God has given to us. We only have one life, we have to love all that’s in this world that has life. We need to love one another, and respect even plants or animals because they are part of this world... We have to love while there is still time. And for the sake of the next generation," she said.
"I want people to smile when they think of me. I want people to remember me as a simple transgender woman who made a difference in the place, especially in Korea," Juareza added.
Seoul Mates is one of the official entries in Cinema One Originals Festival 2014, November 9-18.