Song Kang-ho is one of the world’s most renowned and seasoned actors. Honing an illustrious career of over thirty years, Song has starred in many critically acclaimed films, such as Parasite (2019), which won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures recently celebrated the actor with a retrospective screening series of his most notable performances. With such an incredible career, it’s hard to choose just five films of his to highlight — but if we must choose, here are our picks for five of Song Kang-ho’s most iconic performances.
Perhaps one of Song Kang-Ho’s most notable films, 2019’s Parasite, directed by frequent collaborator Bong Joon-ho, is a social commentary on wealth disparities and class conflict. The movie highlights the inequities of late capitalism through wit, humor, and symbolism. In it, a poor family, the Kims, infiltrates the lives and home of a rich family, the Parks. Song Kang-ho portrays the patriarch of the Kims in a stellar performance that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end.
In the near fictional future after climate change casts the world into permanent winter, the remaining human population lives on a train called the Snowpiercer. Snowpiercer is seemingly self-sustaining and circumnavigates the earth as the outside is deemed uninhabitable for any life. In addition, the inhabitants of Snowpiercer are segregated, with the people in the back living in squalor and the people in the front living in grandeur. Snowpiercer stars Song Kang-ho as Namgoong Minsoo, a security specialist who helps the tail-end rebel get to the front of the train. The rebels fight to break the cycle of oppression and right wrongs done to them by their oppressors. The Snowpiercer film is action-packed and suspenseful but is overall a message of hope and empowerment. And for K-pop fans — yes, this is the same Snowpiercer movie referenced in BTS’s song “Spring Day“!
Memories of a Murder (2003) *Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual crimes*
Memories of a Murder stars Song Kang-ho in the leading role of Park Doo-man, the lead detective in a small town facing a series of sexual crimes and murders. Park is overwhelmed by the severity of the case, as such crimes had never happened there before. Through a series of archaic investigations and clashing bureaucracy, the detectives race to apprehend the culprit before they can take the lives of more young women. The film’s premise is loosely based on the real-life Hwaseong serial murders, which were South Korea’s first confirmed ones. Memories of a Murder is as morbid as it is touching and makes for one of Song’s most profound movies to watch.
A Taxi Driver (2017)
Set in 1980 during the Gwangju Uprising, A Taxi Driver is based on real-life journalist Jürgen Hinzpeter and his taxi driver, Kim Sa-bok. The movie follows taxi driver Kim Man-seob (based on Kim Sa-bok), played by Song Kang-ho, who unwittingly finds himself in the middle of the uprising. Man-seob picks up a German journalist, Hinzpeter, who wants to report on the civil unrest in Gwangju, and together the two become entangled with students leading the fight for democracy against the governing military dictator. Man-seob, a man previously apathetic toward politics, slowly becomes an ally to the cause and becomes instrumental in spreading the truth of the uprising alongside Hinzpeter and the students.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
This film is the first in The Vengeance Trilogy, directed by Park Chan-wook. The trilogy comprises Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), and Lady Vengeance (2005). Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a neo-noir crime thriller featuring Song Kang-ho as Park Dong-jin, a company executive whose daughter is kidnapped by main character Ryu. Ryu kidnaps Park’s daughter Yu-sun to use as ransom to raise money for his sister’s kidney transplant. This story is a jaw-dropping one filled with stories of pain, anger, and, well, vengeance.