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[Herald Interview] Rapper Cheetah makes film debut with ‘Jazzy Misfits’

Budding actress says the film and her songs speak about overcoming prejudice

A scene from film “Jazzy Misfits.” (Triple Pictures)
A scene from film “Jazzy Misfits.” (Triple Pictures)

Ten years after her debut as a rapper, Cheetah, whose real name is Kim Eun-young, is debuting as an actress with the film “Jazzy Misfits.”

While acting was an unplanned event for her, as Kim put it, she is debuting big in the lead role, teaming up with veteran actress Cho Min-soo to portray a mother-daughter duo.

In “Jazzy Misfits,” Kim plays Sun-deok, who also goes by the name Blue, a jazz singer who lives and works in Itaewon. She goes on a day trip with her mother -- Cho-mi, with whom she has not spoken in years -- to find her younger sister Yu-ri, who disappeared with their money. As the two roam around the popular entertainment district in Seoul, they encounter people who often face prejudice in South Korean society -- a half-black, half-Korean person, gay people, tattooists and a drag queen. Apparently a social misfit herself, Cho-mi treats everyone without bias and Sun-deok discovers a different side to her mother that she had been reluctant to see. 

A scene from film “Jazzy Misfits.” (Triple Pictures)
A scene from film “Jazzy Misfits.” (Triple Pictures)

“The filmmaker initially contacted me about using my songs, which also speak about prejudices, in the film. Then they asked whether I wanted to take part in acting myself. Although it was unexpected, I thought, why not?” Kim said during a media interview on Tuesday.

Although acting was a challenge, Kim said, her role as a singer in the film dovetailed with her original dream in real life.

“I felt like I was singing through the film, and that really empowered me. I was a singer before I became a rapper, and being able to present my songs made me feel like I had achieved my dream,” Kim said.

Kim, now 29, debuted as a rapper in 2010 on the Mnet survival show “Unpretty Rapstar.” According to her past statements on TV shows, when Kim was 17 she was in a serious car accident that left her in a coma for some time and changed her voice. That forced her to rethink her career goals and choose rapping over singing.

Kim also said the film’s director, Nam Yeon-woo, with whom she has been in a romantic relationship since 2018, has been of great support both personally and professionally.

“We started dating before the film went into production in 2018. He told me he won’t be able to take care of me much after going into shooting, and I was actually grateful. We had agreed on focusing on our own roles, Nam as a director and I as an actor,” Kim said. “When I asked him for tips on acting, he would tell me to just read the script more and focus on how Sun-deok would actually act in the given situations,” Kim said.

Rapper Cheetah (left) and director Nam Yeon-woo attend the `2019 Asia Contents Awards` held in Busan on Oct. 6, 2019. (Yonhap)
Rapper Cheetah (left) and director Nam Yeon-woo attend the `2019 Asia Contents Awards` held in Busan on Oct. 6, 2019. (Yonhap)

According to Kim, she fell for Nam for his gentle and inclusive attitude toward everyone on his team, making it possible for “no one to get hurt in the process of making a film.” She said he’d broken the negative stereotypes about film directors she’d previously had in her mind.

The rookie actress said she wants to challenge herself with roles that deviate from the stereotypical image of a fierce female rapper, which she thinks most of the public has about her.

“Although I wouldn’t say people are prejudiced about me for viewing me in that way, it would be boring if my roles were limited to an extension of the image of Cheetah. I’m hoping for roles that would bring out different facets of myself,” Kim said. “Whether the characters be comical, feminine or soft, if the film has a story that I can relate to, I’m ready for anything.”

“Jazzy Misfits” is set to open in theaters May 27.

By Choi Ji-won (