best film:  Song Kang-ho has connected early and often with the three (3) greatest directors of the Korean New Wave: Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook, and Bong Joon Ho. And even though the occasional great film from the group will miss Song Kang-ho (Peppermint Candy may be the one with a prime role for him) – he has still managed to be in some of the best films of the 21st century and Korean film history. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) is a key film in the movement – and the likely champion here. Still, 2003’s Memories of Murder firmly secured a place in cinema history for both auteur Bong Joon Ho and Song Kang-ho – the film’s star. Bong Joon Ho and Song Kang-ho were back it again for Snowpiercer in 2013 and then coupled yet again in 2019’s international sensation Parasite – making this a contentious category.


Song Kang-ho – Korea’s finest actor – captured in a sublime frame here in  Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002).


best performance: Song Kang-ho plays Detective Park Doo-man in Memories of Murder and that bests his work in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Parasite where he is essential – but still – more a part of the ensemble. Song Kang-ho’s plays Detective Park Doo-man in an unhurried manner – giving him plenty of space to develop as a character – and Bong Joon Ho is smart enough to give Song Kang-ho that space.


by 2003 (here in Memories of Murder) – Song Kang-ho has already shown his acting chops in Join Security Area (2000) and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) – but this was his chance to take center stage


stylistic innovations/traits:  Born in 1967, Song Kang-ho appeared in his first archiveable film (and second film overall) at the age of thirty (30) connecting with Lee Chang-dong for Green Fish (1997). Lee Chang-dong would have a better role Song Kang-ho a decade later in 2007’s Secret Sunshine – but their relationship is a distant third in terms of significance to Song Kang-ho’s career. Clearly, Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon Ho (the Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut of this wave if you will) are the key collaborators. Song Kang-ho is best known for playing fathers – and being damn good at it. Yet, the acting range is there – roles as varied as Secret Sunshine and Snowpiercer confirm that. He is selective with his film choices as well – appearing in under forty (40) films to date over nearly as many years. Song Kang-ho won a Best Actor award at Cannes for his work in 2022’s Broker (playing the father figure of one Hirokazu Koreeda’s non-family families) but this award feels like more of a lifetime achievement award – an acknowledgement of his prodigious career – than anything resembling his actual best performance. There are brilliant films in the Korean New Wave that have not had a place for Song Kang-ho (Peppermint Candy, Oldboy, The Handmaiden, Burning, Decision to Leave) – but four (4) films a piece with both Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon Ho speaks for itself.


Song Kang-ho as Ki Taek in 2019’s Parasite – fitting that Song Kang-ho should play the father in what is definitely one of cinema’s most memorable cinema families of the 21st century.


directors worked with:  Park Chan-wook (4), Bong Joon Ho (4), Lee Chang-dong (2)


top five performances:

  1. Memories of Murder
  2. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
  3. Parasite
  4. Secret Sunshine 
  5. The Host


archiveable films

1997- Green Fish
2000- Joint Security Area
2002- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
2003- Memories of Murder
2005- Lady Vengeance
2006- The Host
2007 – Secret Sunshine
2009- Thirst
2013- Snowpiercer
2019- Parasite
2022- Broker