Make-up artist Hwang Hyun-kyu transforms actors into characters
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Make-up artist Hwang Hyun-kyu transforms actors into characters
  • Huh Ryun-jung
  • 승인 2015.09.22 19:48
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Hwang Hyun-kyu advised Ewha students to develop a sense of self-esteem and choose a career where one can excel. Photo by Kim Kyung-min.
The film industry is notorious for its hectic schedule on set. Movie crews work over 15 hours a day, making staff members who are over their 50s extremely rare.
However, there is one person who has been working in the field for over 20 years and is continuing her career at the age of 58. Film make-up artist Hwang Hyun-kyu has participated in 35 films including Mother, The Man from Nowhere, and Haemoo since 1995.
Before shooting a movie, Hwang first conceives the image of the characters. To do this, Hwang and her make-up team visit the library  after a director hires them in order to analyze the historical context of the senarios. Thus, her job is not confined to the make-up itself, but it ventures into the study of history as well. After completing her research, she also gives presentations to the film crew on the image of each character. Only after all the previous stages does Hwang use hair, make-up and special effects make-up props to transform the actors into movie characters.
At times, reconciling different opinions between the actors and the make-up department is necessary. Actresses would sometimes refuse to cut their hair, leading Hwang to persuade them to reconsider their decisions. Sometimes, she has used wigs and computer graphic tests that simulate shorter hairstyles on actresses’ photographed faces.
“I try my best to find a common ground with actresses,” Hwang said. “Nevertheless, I do not force them to wear make-up and hairstyles that make them uncomfortable. The inner feelings of the actors are more important than appearances in portraying a character.”
Hwang explains that she likes the collaborative process of film making that involves different talents and skills.
Hwang recently partook in a film with an interesting setting of Uiju, a place famous for its diverse influx of merchants from China and Arabia during the Joseon Dynasty. The film accounts for the adventure of magicians, which allowed Hwang and her team to create characters that wore Chinese hair accessories on Japanese hairstyles.
As one of the most experienced make-up artists in the Korean film industry, Hwang received awards including a “Technical Award” at the Daejong Film Awards and “Women in Film Award” in 2009. Hwang is also trusted by directors such as Bong Joon-ho, who has worked with her in his films including Memories of Murder, Mother, and an upcoming film.
Hwang’s family was shocked when she first announced that she was going to be a film make-up artist. After graduating from Ewha, Hwang initially pursued a doctoral degree in media studies at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat. But due to her passion in film and handcraft, she transferred to Mephisto Make-up Academy. Her family could not stop her because they found out about the transfer only after her graduation from Mephisto.
“Although I changed my career path in my 30s, I was confident that I could excel in film make-up,”Hwang said. “In order to test my potential, I set a goal of graduating summa cum laude at Mephisto and achieved it.”
After returning to Korea, Hwang contacted directors to start her career as a key make-up artist. Before studying abroad, Hwang had worked in the production office for the movies Whale Hunting and The Winter of the Year was Warm. Coincidentally, when she was looking for a job, the director she had worked with was about to shoot a movie named Love Story, and he hired her as the key make-up artist.
Once she gained credibility, the directors she had worked with contacted her for other movies. Consequently, she was able to earn her living as a professional film make-up artist.
“In the first three years of my career, I took on part-time jobs because the make-up budget for films was too low,” Hwang confessed. “Now, my make-up team and I receive higher wages, and we try to show results that are proportionate to the budget.”
As an advice to Ewha students who are uncertain about their future career, Hwang suggested that one should take time to love oneself in all her unique characters.
“The right job for you should be personally meaningful rather than economically satisfying,” Hwang advised. “Although the working conditions in the film industry are harsh, I feel peaceful and liberated doing something that suits me.”

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