With her strong charismatic façade yet delicate character, it was hard to imagine her as the girl who once had to eat frozen McDonald’s cheeseburgers and drink from the faucet to survive.
“If you dream of something to come true sincerely and hang on to it, it will be visualized. My past 10 years of struggle proves that,” Han Yoo-Jung (’92, Environmental Design) said.
Han’s career as an art director in Hollywood started relatively earlier than others. While studying at University of Southern California (USC), she was invited to participate in producing the Korean film “Love” starring Jung Woo-sung and Go So-young in 1999.
As Han was still a student when she took her first step as Hollywood’s first Asian Art Director, it seemed impossible to handle all the responsibilities as a student, a part-time worker at school, as a teaching assistant, and a staff.
“I only slept two hours at that time, but I thought I could catch up with the rest in my grave,” she said.
Han successfully managed her life by creating her schedule by a minute unit.
From the moment she heard about set designing she was immediately attracted to it. However her father was firmly against going abroad, the IMF struck her family. Han had to keep going alone.
“When I failed to persuade my father on going to graduate school, I felt like I fell over while running at top speed,” she said.
However Han was determined and stayed focused. After she recovered from her slump, she flung herself into the new world.
“You don’t have to pressure yourself to spring right back up whenever you fall down. Sometimes we need to be generous to ourselves,” Han said. “We need to get something off our chest and prepare for another run.”
While Han was studying at USC, she met all sorts of friends who introduced Han to the mesmerizing world of Hollywood, starting from “Little Heroes 2” in 1999. She also worked with her role models Andres Arturo Garcia Menedez, Mick Jagger, and James Coburn in “The Man from Elysian Fields” in the same year.
Hollywood may be the hottest place on earth with spotlights and stars, but can also be the coldest workplace. Everyday somebody gets fired or hired; it’s a battlefield.
“People ask me if there were any disadvantages working as an Asian woman and I can’t say there wasn’t. But I actually saw more advantages in terms of communication, soft power, and detailed in overall management. And I believe these were the qualities that kept me at Hollywood,” Han said.
Han later earned a nickname “the tough stick-it-tive Korean woman who shows more magic than rubbing a golden lamp” that shows her persistence and passion.
Han described herself as a roly poly.
“The way how it always springs right back up no matter how many times we push it down,” she said.
Movie sets of “Something Borrowed (2000),” “Little Heroes 3 (2000),” “Exposed (2001),” “Ride or Die (2002),” “Footprints,” “Chumscrubber (2004),” “Love House (2005),” “Waist Deep,” “HERs,” were also fabricated by Han. With a mere tight budget for a city theatrical performance, Han overdid herself by creating a set worthy of the stunning amount of recognition she received; as a result “Better Luck Tomorrow” was labeled as the box office hit of 2001.
Han picked the same movie as one of her memorable projects because it was a movie that left a mark in Hollywood that dealt with Asians 10 years ago.
“Asians were rare in America at the time which makes it more meaningful. It delivered an encouraging message to Asians,” Han said.
Han also created sets of TV programs such as “Mark Salem Show,” “Jamie Kennedy Experiment season 2,” “Race to the Altar (2003),” “Extreme Makeover,” “Black History Promos with Janet Jackson (2004),” “MTV Celebrity Dodge Ball, I’d Do Anything,” “Foody Call (2005),” “Halfway Home (2006),” “Skip Trace (2007),” “Lobbyist (SBS Drama Special on 2007),” and “Breakthrough with Tony Robbins (2008).”
For “The Real Gilligan’s Island (2004),” Han had to design a set of three villages in the middle of an isolated Mexican jungle only relying on natural materials. Plus she had to cope with the local Mayan descendants.
“But I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I learned there about humility and life,” Han said.
During times of struggle Han reflects on herself, acknowledges her mistakes and moves on. She says this built up inner confidence which led her 11 year career to success. As a former freelancer, Han is now the current president of The Han Studios Inc., which she founded in 2008. Han’s life time goal is to produce her own show and help younger generations set out in Hollywood. Her devotion towards junior colleagues is enormous.
“I understand each of you are in different circumstances and have millions of reasons why you should be discouraged,” she said. “But no matter what, don’t let anything put that fire out. You are still young and strong. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or challenges. Instead of trying to rush ahead of everybody and live the same ordinary life, try to keep a steady pace and follow your heart.”
Recently, Han visited Ewha during the Univ-EXPO and gave a special lecture.
“I would love to come back if I can. It’s not just because I graduated here but I found Ewhaians to be passionate and I’m very proud of that fact,” Han said.