Even before being cast in Bong Joon-ho’s record-breaking movie Parasite, South Korean actor Song Kang-ho is easily one of the most recognizable faces in Korean cinema. He has worked with almost every major Korean director well-known internationally and domestically, and has consistently delivered solid performances in all his movies. Song made his acting debut in director Hong Sang-soo’s debut: The Day a Pig Fell into a Well. He was 30 years old and had previously pursued a career as a stage actor. Soon after, he began appearing in more movies, but found his big break when he co-starred in Park Chan-wook’s hit film Joint Security Area. Song and Park then collaborated with the first installment of his Vengeance Trilogy: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
That was only the beginning of Song’s prolific career, especially as he first collaborated with Bong Joon-ho around the same time for Memories of Murder. His career for the next 20 years would be marked by a series of impressive performances, returning to work with directors he’d done films with in the past and new ones alike. Not only was Song a breakout international star, in the mainstream consciousness, for his movie Parasite, but he recently landed the Best Actor Award at the Cannes International Film Festival for Broker. He soon will star in his first television series in South Korea as well. Until Broker‘s release abroad, these are his best movies so far.
Song Kang-ho and Park Chan-wook collaborated yet again for 2009’s Thirst, which is a vampire story with a major twist. Song is Sang-hyun, a devout Catholic priest who finds himself in a sticky situation after volunteering to test out a deadly new virus. This disease’s mortality rate is extremely high, but when Sang-hyun survives the experiment, he discovers he has powers and weaknesses, unlike anything he has seen. His church gains an influx of followers because of it, but he soon realizes he has turned into a vampire, turning Thirst into a movie not only about physical struggles, but mental ones as well.
6/7 Emergency Declaration
Released in 2021, after being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Emergency Declaration boasts a stacked cast with Song, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, and Kim Nam-gil. It currently is one of the highest-grossing films in South Korea, finding success at the box office when it opened. Based on a true story, Emergency Declaration tells the story of an aircraft that is forced to land after declaring a state of emergency due to events occurring on the flight, leaving its occupants scrambling to beat the odds and overcome the situation.
5/7 The Host
Bong Joon-ho’s monster movie The Host would be incomplete without the performance of Song Kang-ho, creating a scenario where a monster movie meets a black comedy and drama. Song is Park Gang-du, a man who runs a snack stall with his father by the Han River in Seoul. He has a daughter and all seems to go well despite Gang-du being seen as the family’s failure, but then a monster emerges from the depths of the river and kidnaps his daughter. Full of comedy, emotional moments, and its fair share of drama, The Host reunites the entire family during the hunt to get Gang-du’s daughter back.
4/7 Secret Sunshine
Secret Sunshine is one of director Lee Chang-dong’s best films, and it shines with the quality of its actors. Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho star in an emotional piece about one mother’s struggle after moving to a new town with her son. Her husband has just died in a car accident, and she wishes to start anew with this move. She meets a local man in town (Song) who works as a mechanic, but tragedy strikes yet again as her son is kidnapped. Secret Sunshine is deeply moving, and a testament to the strength and nature of humanity as a whole despite being told through the lens of this one woman’s story.
Bong Joon-ho became one of the most well-known directors from South Korea due to the success of Parasite, but so did Song Kang-ho as an actor. For the first time, his brilliance was elevated to a platform in which the world could see and marvel at his talent alongside the rest of the incredible cast. Parasite is a classic Bong movie, twisting in on itself and blurring the conventional natures of the genre to become something completely new, making it refreshing as it barrels towards its climax. As one poor family infiltrates a rich family in a scheme to get more money, they quite literally become a parasite and a recipe for their downfall.
Broker has been getting a lot of buzz ever since it made its rounds across the international film festival circuits. Renowned Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda made this movie with a South Korean cast, getting stars like Song, Lee Ji-eun, Bae Doona, and Gang Dong-won to appear in the movie. Sang-hyeon (Song) and Dong-soo (Gang) run an illegal business together: they physically steal the babies from the church’s baby box and sell them. After a mother comes back to see what happened to her baby, she decides to join them and interview her child’s potential parents.
1/7 Memories of Murder
Memories of Murder shows the potential of a cop movie to its maximum. Song stars in the leading role of Park Doo-man, a detective tasked with discovering the truth behind a serial killer. Based on a series of true events in Korea, one that only recently got solved, the group assembled to solve the crime find themselves butting heads over what to do. There is an edge to Memories of Murder, elements of satire tucked within lines of dialogue and actions, and the crime and comedy elements blend to create a unique viewing experience that marks it potentially as one of the best Korean releases of the decade.