Quick, who’s the most underrated Korean actor you know of, who goes by the surname Song?

The two Songs. Credit: Business Insider

The two Songs. Credit: Business Insider

If you said either of the Songs (Joong-ki and Hye-kyo), then you’ve read the first sentence wrongly – we’re asking for underrated actors (meaning that the actor is better than people realise), not overrated actors.

The most underrated actor in Korean cinema is actually Song Kang-ho, who appears in the upcoming Palme d’Or winner Parasite. What’s a Palme d’Or, you might ask? Well, it’s none other than the top prize for the Cannes Film Festival – which means that Song Kang-ho starred in a film that won the first prize in the most prestigious film festival in the world! Palme d’Or means “Golden Palm”, by the way.

So who is this guy? He’s not handsome (unlike most other Korean actors, who’ve had plenty of aesthetic surgery), which may account for why he’s not as famous as some of his other Botoxed peers. But he’s incredibly talented – before Parasite, he’s appeared in many critically acclaimed films. Here’s a selected filmography of Song Kang-ho, which will show you why he’s literally a national treasure of Korea.

 

1. Joint Security Area (2000)

Joint Security Area. Credit. IMDB

Joint Security Area. Credit. IMDB

Joint Security Area (2000), affectionately know as JSA to film buffs, was the poignant story of friendship between North Korean and South Korean soldiers. It was set in the ironically named Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border between North and South Korea. The Joint Security Area is actually the name of a region within the DMZ, where negotiations and such take place.

Song Kang-ho played the part of North Korean Sergeant Oh Kyeong-pil, who rescued a South Korean soldier from a landmine with a fellow soldier. Together with another soldier from South Korea, the four struck up a fast friendship – which was torn apart by pointless political scandals. We’re not going to spoil how it ends, but suffice to say – this was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

 

2. & 3. The Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) & Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005))

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. Credit. IMDB

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. Credit. IMDB

The Vengeance Trilogy is somewhat like The Cornetto Trilogy, in that it’s made up of three films with thematic links (you can guess what the theme is from the titles, we’re sure). It’s made up of three films directed by Park Chan-wook – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005). Each film is about a character who wants (surprise!) vengeance on a particular person who has wronged them.

You might have heard of Oldboy, the most famous film of the trilogy – because it was based on the Japanese manga of the same name. The other two films are original tales by Park Chan-wook, which may be why they aren’t as familiar-sounding as Oldboy.

While they are startling pretentious, there’s no denying the amount of talent that Song Kang-ho brought to his role of Park Dong-jin in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. He played the villain of the piece, a villainous executive businessman-type whose daughter is kidnapped and ransomed.

Lady Vengeance. Credit. IMDB

Lady Vengeance. Credit. IMDB

He also appeared in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, in a cameo role as an assassin. Still, that qualifies him to have technically been part of the Vengeance Trilogy (as opposed to having just starred in one film). How many actors can lay claim to that?

 

4. The Age of Shadows (2016)

The Age of Shadows. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

The Age of Shadows. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

The Age of Shadows (2016) was a tale of political intrigue (hm, seems like Song Kang-ho gravitates towards this genre) where he played Korean police captain Lee Jung-chool, who was charged with uncovering Korean resistance members during a time of Japanese rule. You’d probably recognise Coffee Prince (2007) and Train to Busan (2016) star Gong Yoo in the poster, who was the foil to Song Kang-ho’s character.

The Age of Shadows was intense. They were constantly in danger of being discovered, there was so much double crossing, and there was an excellent train sequence. It’s testimony to Song Kang-ho’s immense talent, given that he managed to hold his own against Gong Yoo without the benefit of good looks.

 

5. A Taxi Driver (2017)

A happy taxi driver in A Taxi Driver. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

A happy taxi driver in A Taxi Driver. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

If you haven’t guessed what A Taxi Driver (2017) is about – it’s about an upbeat Korean taxi driver (played by Song Kang-ho) who gets drawn into the Gwangju Democratization Movement of 1980 (see what we mean about Song Kang-ho and how he’s drawn to political films?).

The titular taxi driver, Kim Man-seob, eventually finds himself enlisted into the quest of his journalist passenger, who has gotten the unwitting taxi driver to transport him into the midst of a political demonstration. Hi-jinks ensue, but of course, they get to their destination.

It’s a refreshingly different side of Song Kang-ho that we see in this film – although it’s not without its own angst. But still, we’re pretty sure we’ve never seen Song Kang-ho smile so sincerely in a movie before.

 

6. Parasite

Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) in Parasite. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) in Parasite. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Song Kang-ho returns to the silver screen again in Parasite, a dark comedy about a working class family who schemes their way into being hired by a wealthy magnate (no politics involved for once!). He plays the patriarch Kim Ki-taek, who presides over his family of n’er-do-wells. When his son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) comes upon a stroke of good fortune and gets hired by a wealthy family, they scheme to get rid of all the existing servants and employees – so they can all be hired instead.

Parasite. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Parasite. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

After Kim’s family gets employed, they’re revealed for what they really are – human parasites! (Note that we mean parasites in a metaphorical sense – there’s no science fiction or fantasy element in this film). They eventually come to face-to-face with the wealthy family when they’re revealed as parasites – but what happens next in Parasite will make you introspective about the role of power and servitude in today’s society.

Could real-life Parasites exist in our world today?

 

Interested in reading more about Song Kang-ho films? Check out these articles!

 

Credit: Business Insider, IMDB, Golden Village Cinemas

 

 

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