Bae Suzy rose to fame simply as Suzy, debuting as a member of the top girl group miss A in 2010. In 2012, she reclaimed her last name when she caught her big break as an actress in the film "Architecture 101," where she played the classic girl-who-got-away and earned the nickname of "Korea's first love."
In her latest film "The Sound of a Flower," she plays a very different character from the pretty college girl she portrayed in "Architecture 101." She becomes Jin Chae-seon, the first woman in Korean history who performed pansori -- the traditional Korean art that blends singing with theatre. "Sound of a Flower" adds fiction to the elusive historical figure of Jin Chae-seon, telling the story about how she was able to break the glass ceiling in conservative Joseon Dynasty.
"I'm Jin Chae-seon in the movie, but I think for a lot of people, my story overlaps with hers," Bae said in an interview at a Seoul cafe on Monday, noting that Chae-seon's efforts to become a pansori performer were not unlike the struggles she had faced to become an idol star.
"Of course, I didn't have to go through the same historical situation. No one told me I couldn't (become a singer) because I was a girl, but my parents were against the idea," she said.
Even after she was able to convince her parents to audition and start training with JYP Entertainment, Bae faced a whole host of new troubles as Chae-seon did when she began training with pansori singer Shin Jae-hyo (Ryu Seung-ryong).
"Some scenes make me choke up every time I see them, like the scene where (Chae-seon) is practicing voice projection in the rain, and she collapses," she said.
"When people are training (to become singers), they all have moments when they hit a wall. In those moments they just drop to the floor and cry a lot."
The experiences of Bae and Chae-seon may have been similar, but their appearances create a jarring contrast. Bae appears in the film with no glamour, her face and clothes smirched with ash and dirt to realistically portray the orphaned girl who worked in a gisaeng (courtesan) house.
"On our first day of filming, I saw myself with the makeup on and was a bit surprised," she admitted. "But that was who Chae-seon was, and it was easier to concentrate on the role. … I became goofier, more comfortable." Bae also recalled a day when she was filming in the countryside, and none of the locals recognised her because of her costuming.
Bae said that she enjoyed the different look, which was a shift from her solid "first love" image.
"As someone who wants to keep acting in movies, (the "first love" description) is something I have to move past," she said. "If ("The Sound of a Flower") helps dilute that image even just a little bit, that's a good thing for me."
After taking a year to mostly relax after filming "The Sound of a Flower," Bae is set to begin the KBS drama "Uncontrollably Fond" opposite Kim Woo-bin, which airs next year.
"The Sound of a Flower" opened in local theatres Wednesday.