Park So-dam on illness, support and a different kinda comeback

Actor Park So-dam as Yuriko in "Phantom" [CJ ENM]

Actor Park So-dam, who became a global sensation with her depiction of streetwise and sassy Ki-jung in "Parasite" (2019), has had a cinematic three years since the release of the Oscar winning film.

After being propelled to stardom by the dark comic hit, she received a frightening diagnosis, recovered and then went through a reawakening of sorts that took her abroad and through a period of self reflection and independence.

The woman whose iconic "Jessica, only child, Illinois, Chicago" ditty was central to the "Parasite" grift spoke with reporters on Monday about her latest project, "Phantom," which opens Jan. 18.

Actor Park So-dam [CJ ENM]

In the film, five people are trapped in a hotel and interrogated on suspicion of being a spy for the Korean resistance during Japanese colonial rule. Park plays Yuriko, a Korean working for the Japanese government.

The actor made it through the filming of the spy action thriller while ill, only later finding out that she had thyroid cancer.

“I wasn't diagnosed until after filming wrapped up,” Park said. “I am all fine now and have gotten the best treatment from my doctor, but at the time I was feeling not much myself and struggled to keep up with the requirements of filming.”

Park’s fellow cast members, Lee Ha-nee, Sol Kyung-gu, “Squid Game” (2021) star Park Hae-soo and Esom and Lee Hae-young, the director, encouraged her and got her through the difficult process of filming with the then-undiagnosed health condition, according to Park.

“Lee Han-nee especially was like a mother figure for me,” said Park. “I was so worried during the filming for ‘Phantom’ that I was not doing my full part as an actor for the job. But Lee would give me candy for my throat, offer words of encouragement, and always check on how I was doing – even when the director was asking her for her opinion on the scene we were shooting, she would turn to me and ask what I thought of it.”

The director said all of the cast members had to perform intense action scenes and that when he later found out about Park’s illness, he regretted not being able to notice her condition earlier.

Director Lee Hae-young [CJ ENM]

“I felt very sorry about Park having actually been ill throughout filming,” Lee said. “I didn't know at the time – none of us did, not even Park herself – but she did an amazing job along with the rest of the cast.”

"Phantom" wrapped in May 2021 and was held until now due to Covid.

After receiving treatment, she took a long vacation and traveled throughout Europe on her own for 34 days.

“I went to Barcelona, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Iceland, and in each place was greeted by fans who came up to me and told me that they've seen my films and dramas,” said Park. “It was an unreal experience. People had seen not only ‘Parasite,’ but also my reality television appearances and relatively unknown dramas I had done in the past.”

The adulation and greetings from fans made Park realize that she had “unintentionally worried so many people,” according to Park.

“My doctor had a friend in Mexico who relayed the news that I had gotten thyroid cancer, and my doctor replied that he had done the surgery for me,” told Park. “He told his friend that he had done his best with the surgery and I was okay now, and this anecdote made me realize how many people were worried for me. I felt indebted and grateful for all the support I have received from my fans and those who loved my films and dramas.”

Actor Park So-dam as Yuriko in "Phantom" [CJ ENM]

Park is now reflecting on her life values and the ways in which she takes care of herself.

“I was always working, always out with friends, never spending enough time with myself alone,” Park reflected. “Now I intend to change that. I have to lock myself down from now on and give myself time to heal and look inward.”

Park plans to release vlogs of her travels alone across Europe on her social media or YouTube soon, she said during the interview.

Lee, the director, said that he didn’t reference any particular spy film or historical period piece for “Phantom,” but that he hoped audiences would view it as a new attempt at a genre and time period much explored in Korean cinema.

“I don’t anyone before has approached this time period – the Japanese colonial rule – with a spy action film,” said Lee. “Of course, other films such as ‘Assassination’ (2015) and ‘The Age of Shadows’ (2016) paved the way for films like ours. But I hope that viewers will be pleasantly surprised by ‘Phantom’ in theaters.”