Monday, March 5, 2012

Song Kang-ho: An adaptable icon

Following on from Richard Gray's look at his entry into Korean cinema with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, and the recent announcement of a Song Kang-ho retrospective at the Florence Korea Film Fest in March, it's the perfect time to read this article from Sarah Ward that looks back at this terrific actor's stellar career. Enjoy the blogathon!

In an eclectic career spanning twenty roles across fifteen years, Song Kang-ho has become one of his nation’s most recognisable faces both within and outside its borders. Graduating from the stage to cinema despite the absence of any formal acting training, the favourite of influential directors Kim Ji-woon, Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho has earned the praise of his homeland and the adoration of the international audience courtesy of a variety of highly acclaimed supporting and leading parts in cinematic efforts from cult to comedy and dramatic to daring. 

Song Kang-ho in "The Foul King", this season at Cinema on the Park

After making his stage debut two decades ago in the play “Dongseung”, Kang-ho quickly became a sought-after film commodity. Initially turning down all offers to appear on celluloid, he tested the waters as an extra in Hong Sang-soo's The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well, with Green Fish and No. 3 soon following.

Earning the first of many accolades in his third feature role, as well as widespread notoriety for the nature of his character’s thematic journey, Kang-ho was a natural on the screen. Doco-drama Bad Movie and action blockbuster Shiri followed, cementing his mainstream popularity and indie credibility.

Song Kang-ho in "Secret Reunion", screened at KOFFIA 2011

Amidst his early offerings, Kang-ho commenced a working relationship with Ji-woon, appearing in his comedic horror debut The Quiet Family and humourous wrestling follow-up The Foul King. Whilst the partnership would only yield one additional feature to date (the appropriately titled The Good, The Bad, The Weird), it marked the commencement of the thespian’s pairings with Korea’s top filmmakers. 

Chan-wook (JSA: Joint Security Area, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance and Thirst) represented the next culprit, followed by Joon-ho (Memories Of Murder and The Host). Viewed collectively, his work with the trio of auteurs has defined his popular prominence, and is responsible for the best entries on his distinguished resume. 

Song Kang-ho in "The Show Must Go On", screened at KOFFIA 2011

The remainder of Kang-ho’s films share his fine form, ranging from the semi-historical laughs of YMCA Baseball Team to the political satire of The President’s Barber. Antarctic Journal flexed his psychological thriller skills, whilst The Show Must Go On furthered his crime leanings. 

Song Kang-ho in "Secret Sunshine", screened at KOFFIA 2010

Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine offered perhaps the most stark departure from his expected screen persona, with his performance opposite Jeon Do-yeon garnering his second best actor nod at the Korean Film Awards. Proving iconic yet adaptable across all manner of genres, his understated expertise is certain to continue in the recent Secret Reunion and forthcoming Blue Salt. 

Sarah Ward


  1. Nice post, looking forward to his next films, Howling and Snow Piercer!

  2. most versatile and natural actor of korea,johnny depp of korea,and sometimes even better than johnny depp!

  3. Thanks for sharing this post about Song Kang-ho.

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