Can you explain to me what makes IU a good act…

Can you explain to me what makes IU a good actress in your eyes? I like her but I’m also really trying to understand why everyone’s praising her to the skies after My Mister. My favorite performance from her is actually in Producers, where I thought she stole the show from the other leads. But Ji Eun in My Mister always just has this one same steely look, and in gifs of the show I feel this one-dimensionality becomes very obvious: I couldn’t tell if she was feeling angry, or sad, or numb, etc.

(Continuing from my last ask about IU’s acting): the same with Man Wol in HDL. She does all the right expressions, and they’re all quite convincing, but I never feel like they go beyond the surface. Maybe she’s just not good at micro-expressions and that’s what I’m having trouble with? I hope you don’t mind this ask. I’m not ratting on her because I genuinely enjoy her shows and especially loved her in Producers, but I am struggling to understand the sudden love for her acting post HDL.

(More on IU): compare her with someone like, say, Han Ye-ri, or Esom, or PMY, who all have these really expressive embodiments of their respective characters, and the difference becomes quite stark, I feel.

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Let me start off by saying that I don’t pretend to have any expertise in the subject of acting. I both praise and criticize it as an amateur and a layman. I just know what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. So when you ask me this question, understand that for me the measure of what makes someone a good actor or a bad actor will always, by necessity, have an huge element of subjectivity to it. What is good or bad is going to be largely in the eye of the beholder. And so when I answer you it’s going to be on the basis of my subjective opinion and my experience following Lee Ji Eun’s acting consistently through 5 different projects since 2015.

That being said, there has been a dramatic turn around in the general fandom response to IU’s acting in the past two years, and that’s not by accident. She’s been involved in some high profile projects (My Mister, Persona, and most recently HDL) that have allowed her to showcase different aspects of her talent and demonstrate a distinct progression in her technical abilities and people are sitting up to take notice.

Three years ago I was interacting with posts on tumblr about her lead role in Scarlet Heart Ryeo, where both Knetz and English speaking drama fans were claiming that she was single-handedly ruining the show for them. That she only had one, saucer-eyed expression and that she wasn’t able to keep up with her more seasoned male costars.  Now that she’s in the fandom’s good graces they like to forget, but the vitriol (which female idols in general still frequently face, btw) was nearly constant at that time. I wholehearted disagreed with her critics then, and I disagree with them now.

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I had first become aware of IU while watching Producers, which was also the first drama I ever watched as it was airing in the days of Dramafever. I was completely enamored with her portrayal of Cindy and I, like you, thought she completely stole the show, despite coming into the drama as a fan of her costars. From then on, I’ve been a fan of her as an actor and I’ve enjoyed all of her subsequent projects to greater or lesser degrees.

My Mister was the turning point in her career.  I’m on the record on tumblr as saying that My Mister is my favorite Kdrama. Ji An is my tumblr icon. I’ve made my partiality no secret. And for me, the reason should be obvious. The drama was controversial but it was also a huge critical success, with a beloved, veteran director at the helm, and I think it made people change their preconceptions about her. If she is being praised for HDL, then I would credit My Mister as the reason. People went from dismissing her out of hand as another singer who made a mediocre actress, to hailing her as one of the best idol actors out there.

If you can’t see why, or you think her performance in that drama is “one-dimensional” then a reply from me is probably not going to convince you otherwise. However, I have to ask due to the way you’ve phrased the question about My Mister in particular: Have you actually watched the drama, or are you only familiar with it from social media and gifs? Because if it’s the later, I can see why you might have formed this opinion. My Mister is an incredibly restrained drama, and the characters in general but Ji An specifically, carry a lot of trauma and emotion beneath the surface and are very reluctant to give anything away lest they be viewed as weak by others. If it’s the former, and you have seen the drama, then I don’t know how you can say, in all sincerity, the performance is one-dimensional or that Ji An only has one expression.

Certainly, Ji An is a very “steely” character.  But that’s because she lives her life on a knife’s edge. When we meet her it’s like she’s already dead, living in despair, trapped in a situation that she can’t see a way out of and perhaps on some level she doesn’t thinks she deserves to escape from. She slowly, very slowly, comes back to life over the course of the drama. That’s is how she is written. I would go further and say that is probably how IU was directed to play her (an actor isn’t an island, the director has a lot of say too in what they show and what they don’t.) I think there are many shades of subtlety in the performance, which cannot be captured by facial expressions alone. They come down to the timbre of her voice, the way she moves and holds herself, etc. Many of which can’t be captured in a gif sets or in stills. However to say that those expressions are the only things IU gets to show in the drama is simply disingenuous.

She gets to show the hard edges of disgust, fear, self-loathing, and cruelty. She also gets to show vulnerability, heartbreak, softness and remorse. She has explosive scenes, she has wrenching scenes, she has quiet scenes of grief and of gratitude.

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(Couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for on tumblr so I grabbed these gifs off google images, credit to the gifmakers.)

I think she showcases them all. Maybe these emotions and they’re expression aren’t what you’re looking for in “good acting”. Perhaps there is another deficiency you are seeing that I’m not. Or maybe the way she shows these things isn’t loud enough, big enough or varied enough for your tastes. If that’s the case, then I don’t know what to tell you. Something about it isn’t striking a chord with you. It did for me. There’s really nothing I can do to change your mind.

However, I would venture to ask…did you have the same criticism for Lee Sun Kyun? His character is hardly so expressive that what you’ve said about Ji An couldn’t just as easily apply to Dong Hoon. I’ll go so far as to posit what you might be having a problem with in My Mister is the direction and not the acting.

As far as your critique on HDL that she “does all the right expressions, and they’re all quite convincing, but I never feel like they go beyond the surface” I’m not sure what to tell you. If she does all the right expressions AND they are convincing then how can you say they don’t beyond the surface? If they don’t go beyond the surface, then aren’t what you really saying is they aren’t convincing? At least to you? It could just be that you’re not connecting with her character for one reason or another, or maybe some of the idiosyncrasies of IU’s acting style just don’t connect with you. Maybe this is just a “different strokes for different folks” issue.

I, for one, do not enjoy Suzy’s acting. I think she’s perfectly serviceable as an actor, and she’s improved in recent projects. Even so, she never works for me especially in crying scenes. And kind of like with what you’ve said above, I think she makes the right expressions at the right times, but something about it rings false for me. And I’ve watched enough of her stuff at this point to be certain it wasn’t a one off.

But when it comes down to comparing one actor to another, or IU specifically to some of the actors you’ve mentioned, again I can only plead subjectivity. Different actors bring different strengths to their projects, and some projects require different things of their actors. I could sit here and dither with you about Han Ye Ri (who I think is the best out of the three you’ve mentioned above, and the most similar to IU in the characters she picks and how she plays them) and her different characters, but it would only be a wheel spinning exercise since we’re never going to have an exact one-to-one comparison between people.

To summarize, I believe you when you say you sent this ask in good faith. And I did my best to answer you, though I’m afraid you may not find my analysis very satisfying. This isn’t a subject I can approach with a lot of objectivity, because IU is one of my favorites and like I said, I’m just an amateur critic. If you’re noticing a lot of love and praise post HDL, I think it’s probably a result of the boost she got from My Mister and not as much because of her current drama on its own. Although I think she’s continuing to demonstrate that she knows what she’s doing and her turns in My Mister or Producers or Persona weren’t just a fluke.

Don’t feel like you have to like something just because other people are telling you it’s good. And don’t feel like you have to criticize something because it’s suddenly grown in popularity in a way you didn’t expect. Don’t take all of this too seriously, and try to enjoy yourself out there. That’s all any of us are trying to do, and I think it’s easy to lose sight of that.

Sorry for the long reply. Thank you for the ask.

Jona