SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ANTI-HEROISM AND PANTOMIME: SONG KANG-HO AND THE UNCANNY FACE OF THE KOREAN CINEMA

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  • ABSTRACT

    This article explores the trajectory of Song Kang-ho’s on-screen performances from the release of his fourth film, Number 3 (1997), to one of his most recent films, Thirst (2009). As a case study, it reveals new insights about this popular and representative actor’s numerous screen personae and how they have enabled audiences to peer into a cinematic surface that reflects back a mixture of anti-heroism and pantomime. Beneath the many costumes and performance styles he adopts, audiences have come to see a human being with everyday problems and concerns. In a way reminiscent of the French pantomime clown Pierrot, Song’s characters reflect a depth of human feeling and compassion modulated by a comic undercurrent—the tension between these overlapping layers is precisely what holds his various personae together.


  • KEYWORD

    Song Kang-ho , Korean Cinema , stardom , Park Chan-wook , Kim Jee-woon

  • INTRODUCTION

    Song Kang-ho is a classic movie star whose acting ability is well known to the film industry and whose performances are appreciated by audiences in South Korea (hereafter Korea) and abroad. He has acted in some of the contemporary Korean cinema’s most profitable and critically acclaimed feature films, productions which have contributed to the national film industry’s current global notoriety. Song’s numerous product endorsements, ranging from the national Lotto and financial services to paekseju (a traditional Korean alcohol), have been vigorously promoted through broadcast, print and online media campaigns, and advertisements featuring him adorn buses, billboards, and the walls of bustling pedestrian precincts across urban and rural Korea. Yet, although Song’s image has become ubiquitous through these commercial vehicles, few if any scholars have investigated how Song has come to represent the artistic and commercial vitality of the Korean cinema while at the same time contributing to the expansion of its international profile.

    This article explores the trajectory of Song Kang-ho’s on-screen performances from the release of his fourth film, Number 3 (Nŏmbŏ 3, 1997)—directed by Song Neung-han (Song Nŭng-han)—to one of his most recent films, Thirst (Pakchwi, 2009) , directed by Park Chan-wook (Pak Ch’an-uk). The analysis concludes with Thirst because this film represents the pinnacle of Song’s international recognition and his dynamic expression on screen. As a case study, it reveals new insights about this popular and representative actor’s numerous screen personae and how they have enabled audiences to peer into a cinematic surface that reflects back a mixture of anti-heroism and pantomime. Beneath the many costumes and performance styles he adopts audiences have come to see a human being with everyday problems and concerns. In a way reminiscent of the French pantomime clown Pierrot, Song’s characters reflect a depth of human feeling and compassion modulated by a comic undercurrent—the tension between these overlapping layers is precisely what holds his various personae together.

    By projecting this unique mix of elements, Song has contributed to the expansion of Korean cinema beyond the country’s geographical borders. More than just another pretty face, Song’s media profile and public recognizability have enabled him, and the contemporary Korean cinema of which he is so intriguing a part, to achieve fame at home and abroad. Song became a valued commodity at the same as the Korean cinema was rising on its lion’s paws in terms of domestic audience numbers, box office returns, domestic market share—at the expense of Hollywood’s share of the local market—and the launch of fresh genres by a new breed of auteur filmmakers. Given these links, he owes much of his early development as a star to the directors he has worked with on a repeated basis, most notably Kim Jee-woon (Kim Chi-un) (three times), Park Chan-wook (four times), Lee Chang-dong (Yi Ch’ang-dong) (twice), and Bong Joon-ho (Pong Chun-ho) (twice)—in a similar way that Robert De Niro has worked with Martin Scorsese on a large number of projects. Symbiotically, these directors owe much of their success to Song; his ability to enliven his characters through physical training, manipulation of the body and dialogue ad-libbing has helped to elevate their reputations as master filmmakers and secure them a place among the foremost directors of the contemporary Korean cinema.

    While Song’s popularity began to spread after his performance in Number 3, so far few scholars have methodically explored the transformation of his remarkable screen persona, which has driven audiences young and old to the cinemas, to popular film magazines, and to a wide range of film-related websites—a phenomenon comparable to the ways in which audiences flocked to consume images of Hollywood stars of the 1950s.1 In building on previous studies of the Korean cinema such as those by Choi (2010), Paquet (2009), Gateward (2007), Shin and Stringer (2005), Abelmann and McHugh (2005) and Kim (2004), this article draws on personal interviews, trade articles and an analysis of Song’s performances and personal reflections to offer new insights about his acting styles and rising stardom from outside of the story world—a realm created and perceived by film directors and critics, and generated (or limited) by promotional discourses.2

    A vital element of Song’s performances, as well as his extratextual stardom, is the overlapping layers of personae that shift and change in a state of constant flux. Each layer influences the others in ways that produce subtle transformations. The discussion that follows focuses on these transformations in four of Song’s early films, Number 3, The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok, 1998), Shiri (Swiri, 1999), and The Foul King (Panch’ik wang, 2000), as well as a selection of later films, The Host (Koemul, 2006), The Show Must Go On (Uahan segye, 2007) and Thirst, which are representative of his most mature and celebrated work.

    1For an insightful study of Hollywood film stars in the 1950s and the challenges that they faced during their crossover to television as it increased in popularity, see Becker (2008).  2Elsewhere in Gledhill (1991: 214), stardom is conceptualized in terms of the layers formed by an actor’s “reel” and “real” personae. The “reel” refers to the diegetic character(s) and images constructed for the screen and the world of the story, while the “real” is the individual personality self-expressed by the actor and the one known to close acquaintances.

    MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE

    Song, who plays Jo-pil (Cho-p’il) in Number 3, was a relatively unknown actor in 1997 at the time of the film’s release. Fourteen years ago, Song’s film career was in its infancy and his roles to date had been small compared to the well-known Han Suk-kyu (Han Sŏk-kyu), the central protagonist of Number 3. Most of the advertisements and movie posters for the production give pride of place to Han Suk-kyu’s character Tae-ju (T’ae-ju). Yet, Jo-pil and the other minor characters provide the main thrust behind the story in Number 3.3

    Song’s portrayal of the stuttering Jo-pil has a significant impact on the chain of cause and effect that determines the relationships between the characters in the film. He is linked to nearly all the figures in the narrative in both direct and indirect ways. Jo-pil, who is nearly always dressed in black, is introduced through a montage sequence at the start of the film. He is depicted holding a menacing sashimi knife over two bloody corpses lying in a parking garage. Unexpectedly, and in silence—like a pantomime figure—Jo-pil uses his blood-soaked hands to catch and eat a cockroach (pictured in Figure 1). In this brief scene, the mixed dark and comic tone of the film is established—Song’s character is firmly situated somewhere near the emotional center.

    Through the character of Jo-pil, Song projects two personality trajectories— sinister and comic—that inevitably collide. One persona is a violent and calculating killer who approaches his victims with a cold, blank face and few words. The other, a cross between a jokester and a hooligan, provides comic relief through his stutter and high-pitched, whiny shriek of a voice that emanates excitedly through curled and puckered lips. When he is enraged, the noises projected from Jo-pil’s mouth sound like a mixture of the vocal exhalations of Bruce Lee in combat mode, a meowing kitten, and a hungry, barking hyena. (There may be a reference here to the big fight scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris at the end of Return of the Dragon (1972), which is intercut with close-up shots of a kitten.) Even his Korean name marks him out for denigration. Easily pronounced as “Jo-ppiri”, equivalent to “stupid f—er” in English, his name readily elides the aura of respect and integrity that sits loosely on his character.

    One memorable scene shows Jo-pil in a hospital bathroom as he prepares to assassinate a major crime boss resting in a nearby room. After rummaging through his briefcase—overflowing with random items such as cigarette lighters, cans of tuna, tissues, unpackaged ramen noodles and assorted pills—Jo-pil removes a foot-long hunting knife and begins to sharpen it (rather ineffectively) against his leather belt (see Figure 1). Although about to commit a violent crime, Jo-pil seems totally at ease with himself, an impression augmented by his dark sunglasses. Oddly, he grooms himself in the mirror and nonchalantly applies ointment to skin blemishes on his mouth and earlobe—actions which, as in the cockroach-eating scene, serve to reinforce the macabre comic subplot (illustrated in Figure 1). Encountering his target in the hallway being wheeled away by Tae-ju’s gang, Jo-pil drops his briefcase and assumes a Bruce Lee-style martial arts pose. However, he fails to inflict any harm on his intended victim or his bodyguards as they escape the confrontation via an elevator.

    Despite his questionable record of kills (and skills), Jo-pil acts as trainer for a trio of hoodlums who aim to gain a reputation as a feared gang. After forcing them to eat take-out noodles with black bean sauce (tchajangmyŏn) for days on end, he tells them that they must each get a tattoo that resembles a penis—best represented by the letters “olo” (see Figure 2). Despite his mastery of various elements of combat fighting, Jo-pil has trouble spelling the English word “hungry” while waxing philosophical with his subordinates. The mood swiftly changes as Jo-pil flies into a rage after one of his disciples corrects something he says, and he beats him mercilessly. Afterwards, Jo-pil launches into a high-pitched, stuttering rant on the virtues of discipline. He protrudes and puckers his lips so that his animated face resembles a cross between Bruce Lee’s fighting glare and a cartoon duck’s bill (see the images in Figure 2).

    The last we see of Jo-pil in Number 3 is a shot of him dressed all in black and holding his black briefcase. He has come upon the three former disciples whom he had hazed earlier. Far from being fearsome gangsters, they are now running their own outdoor food and drinking tent (p’ojang mach’a), identified by a green and blue neon sign with the “olo” logo. Silently, the disciples watch their former master approach them as if he were some kind of apparition. Having seen them survive a police interrogation and the big fight that breaks out at the climax of the film, we are left wondering what new freelance underworld assignments await Jopil and his gang.

    In his next film, The Quiet Family, directed by Kim Jee-woon, Song’s character Young-min (Yŏng-min), the elder son of the proprietor of a mountain lodge, is once again animated by a dual personality, but of a rather different kind.4 The alternation between the sinister and the comic roles of Number 3 is here replaced by another duality: on the one hand, Young-min is obedient and protective of his family, but he is also puerile and maladroit. As the film begins, we see him cleaning and repairing the lodge—eager to take every opportunity to help his parents (and uncle), albeit in silence. With an odd logic, as soon as the requisite corpses begin piling up—quite literally—in this comedy noir, Young-min begins burying them at his father’s request, only too eager to protect the family business, however bizarre the circumstances.

    Young-min’s childishness is signposted by a number of personal traits— including his habit of chewing gum as if he were a cow chewing its cud, making large noisy movements with an open mouth. His disregard for privacy also makes him seem juvenile. He likes to peep at and eavesdrop on guests having sex in their rooms, and pilfers money from the cash register (see Figure 3). (So well-known is this particular habit that the whole family turns to look at Young-min after discovering that a guest’s wallet is missing.) Each time he catches an eyeful of nudity, Young-min launches into a fit of high-pitched giggling. One of the few scenes in which he remains quiet shows him delivering a couple of bottles of beer to a guest with a packet of laver (kim) stuffed in his mouth (pictured in Figure 3). At other times, his father either belittles or scolds him, or even hits him as if disciplining a child. For example, when Young-min is caught hiding behind the lobby counter and acting inappropriately on the phone, he tells his father that he is speaking to a friend—to which his father replies: “You have friends?”

    A scene that typifies the duality of Song’s character in Number 3 occurs during a confrontation between Young-min and a lodge guest (played by Jeong Woong-in [Chŏng Ung-in]) who has desires for Young-min’s sister. Discovering the man on top of his sister, whom the guest has lured into the forest, he launches into a bout of high-pitched swearing as he accosts the would-be rapist. Although Young-min, adopting an impressive boxing pose, looks every inch the confident and skilled fighter, he is destined instead for pain and humiliation (illustrated in Figure 4). His opponent gains the upper hand with ease as he tackles him to the ground and repeatedly punches him in the face. Seeing his own blood, Young-min becomes outraged, lets out a series of stuttering shrieks, and launches a new offensive. But, again, his opponent is more adroit, landing a series of blows on his stomach and holding him in a headlock, causing him to surrender in great pain—or so it seems. As his assailant backs away toward the edge of a cliff, Young-min sneaks up on him and his surprised opponent loses his footing and falls off the cliff. Youngmin has won the fight, but only by sheer accident—and to his own disbelief and that of the audience.

    In the next scene, Young-min is seen sitting on the floor of a dimly lit room, quietly smoking a cigarette and contemplating recent events. This is followed by a shot of Young-min grooming himself in the mirror and tending a wound on his mouth that resembles the blemish that Jo-pil doctored in Number 3 (see Figure 4—again, there is a possible reference to Bruce Lee’s blood-stained mouth after fighting Chuck Norris in Return of the Dragon, 1972). Towards the end of the film, Song’s character survives another unexpected and violent bout with a knife-wielding man. Later, recovering in the hospital, he breaks into uncontrollable laughter when he learns that he has in fact killed a highly skilled assassin—again, almost by accident, and once again to his and our surprise.

    In Shiri—which attracted massive audiences of 5,820,000 nationwide, thus breaking the audience record in Korea set by Titanic in 1998—Song plays Lee Jang-gil (Yi Chang-gil), a well-dressed, clean-cut and introspective agent working for the National Intelligence Service. His work partner, Yu Jong-won (Yu Chongwŏn), is played by Han Suk-kyu who has the lead role in the film. This blockbuster film, that went straight to the top of the charts on its release, gave Song the opportunity to expand his range through the portrayal of a persona with serious traits that were largely absent (perhaps dormant) in the characters he had played in his previous films. Agent Lee speaks fluently without any sign of a stammer, and is shown as a competent operator of computers, high-tech surveillance equipment, and state-of-the-art tactical weaponry (see Figure 5).

    However, like his distant cinematic relatives, Lee is dedicated and loyal. He is married to his career in a way that recalls the value placed on the institutions of work and family by Jo-pil and Young-min respectively. Similarly, Lee is a loner (he is the “third wheel” when Jong and his girlfriend are on a date: see the images in Figure 6). Despite the comic potential in such scenes, the serious demeanor adopted by Song in Shiri marks a new level of achievement for the actor. In an almost cliché depiction of his ability to remain cool, calm and collected, Lee falls asleep in his seat while accompanying Jong and his girlfriend, Myung-hyun (Myŏng-hyŏn) (played by Kim Yoon-jin [Kim Yun-jin] of Lost fame), to a live variety show (illustrated in Figure 6). While Song’s character in Shiri is not exactly the antithesis of his previous roles, it suggests that he had become rather bored with comedy.

    After the show, while the three of them are eating dinner, we learn that Lee is a relentless hunter—he enjoys tracking people down (recall that Jo-pil stalked his victims and Young-min tracked his sister into the woods at night). Showing Myung-hyun a photo of the notorious female assassin Bang-hee (Pang-hŭi), Lee jokes that he broke up with his former “girlfriend” so that he could search for her. Lee’s light-hearted display of irony is in marked contrast with the (albeit hidden) reactions of Myung-hyun, for she is in fact Bang-hee, the woman in the photo—a double spy who has undergone reconstructive facial surgery and assumed the identity of another woman.

    One of the few times that we hear a hint of the high-pitched voice reminiscent of Song’s previous characters occurs when the three friends are running toward a bus stop in the rain. In a faint hyena-like voice, Lee complains that he is soaking wet. At once, Lee takes on the persona of an older and more mature composite of Jo-pil and Young-min, but with more talent and expertise and, of course, a stable and respectable job in the big city. His agent’s revolver is a significant upgrade from the knives and shovels wielded by Song’s earlier personae. But his older incarnations are always lurking in the background. Towards the end of the film, after being shot melodramatically by the North Korean spy leader (played by Choi Min-sik [Ch’oe Min-sik]), and lying covered in blood in his partner’s arms, he croaks out the assurance that he is going to be alright (despite the overwhelmingly evidence to the contrary). Thus Lee’s one last attempt to remain serious backfires. Sure enough, seconds later Lee is gasping for his very last breath (pictured in Figure 7).

    In retrospect, Song’s decision to appear in Shiri and Kang Je-gyu’s (Kang Chegyu) decision to cast him in the role of agent Lee succeeded in advancing both their careers and gave a significant boost to the Korean film industry. It marks a watershed in both Song’s filmography and the contemporary Korean cinema because it enabled domestic and foreign audiences to get to know him as a genuine film actor—one who commands a presence on the screen. With his interpretation of agent Lee in Shiri, Song established a persona that was much more than an amalgam of comical facial expressions, awkward body movements, and strange vocal exhalations. From now on, detailed research and preparation became important features of Song’s artistic inventory. He also began to vary his weight according to the body type of the character he was playing (he gained weight for The Quiet Family, shed it for Shiri, and put it on again for The Foul King). All these tools and techniques helped Song prepare for his forthcoming cinematic roles. (He continued his weight regime by losing about ten kilograms for Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance [Poksu nŭn na ŭi kŏt, 2002]and gaining eleven kilograms above his normal weight for Memories of Murder [Sarin ŭi ch’uŏk, 2003].)

    3With a total audience of 297,617, Number 3 became the sixth most popular film in Korea of the 59 films that were produced in 1997 (Korean Cinema ‘98: 70–71).  4The Quiet Family attracted audiences of 343,946 in Seoul, ranking it the fifth most popular film of the 43 films produced that year in terms of attendance figures. (Korean Cinema, 1999: 188)

    NEW CHALLENGE

    For his first leading role, in The Foul King—released about six months before he starred in Park Chan-wook’s first commercial hit JSA (2000)5—Song portrays Dae-ho (Tae-ho), a clumsy salaryman (a bank clerk) who is depressed by his mundane 9-to-5 job and equally banal home life; he still lives at home with his father who thinks he is a fool (see the images in Figure 8). His co-workers look down on him and his boss is physically abusive—in one scene he puts Dae-ho into a surprise headlock in the men’s restroom (see Figure 9). Against this unremittingly bleak background, Dae-ho dreams about becoming a semi-professional wrestler.

    While working with Song Kang-ho on The Quiet Family, Kim Jee-woon, director of The Foul King, discovered his essence as an actor and the two have built a longstanding relationship characterized by mutual trust. According to an interview with Kim, the celebrated director was drawn to Song’s ability to capture the nuances of the type of dark humor that especially appealed to Kim (Kim Jeewoon 2003). Thus, despite the fact that Song was cast in the role before achieving recognition as a major actor, Song needed little coaching from Kim; he was naturally in tune with the emotions and attitudes that Kim wished to communicate to the audience. For Kim, Song was one of the few actors working at the time with the ability to convey a quirky, dark view of the world, through both verbal and non-verbal means. For The Foul King, Song channeled his particular brand of black humor through Dae-ho’s physical appearance and the inimitable way in which he delivered his lines.

    After his boss kicks him out of the office for being late one day, Dae-ho visits a neighborhood gym known for teaching wrestling (see Figure 9). Keen to learn how to escape from a headlock, he pesters the head coach to teach him this trick. (Song trained for this role by taking professional wrestling lessons and developing speed and accuracy in the ring.) To get Dae-ho out of his hair, the coach shows him how to tickle his way out of a headlock. On the way home, emboldened by this new knowledge and a few beers under his belt, Dae-ho chances on a small pack of hoodlums (led by then novice—and uncredited—actor Shin Ha-kyun [Sin Ha-gyun]: illustrated in Figure 9). However, not only does Dae-ho fail to see them off, but the louts chase him back to his home, where his father (played by Shin Goo [Sin Ku]) scolds him for his numerous shortcomings and packs him off to bed. In a classic move, on his way out of the room Dae-ho knocks over a pile of dishes stacked near the door, triggering another outburst from his father, who lets his son know how much he embarrasses him. Dae-ho is the very picture of the anti-hero (see Figures 10 and 11).

    Audiences voted for Song’s performance in The Foul King, which was made for an estimated USD$1.6 million, with their wallets, rewarding both Song and Kim— as well as the up-and-coming b.o.m. production company and international sales company Mirovision—with a box-office blockbuster (Korean Cinema, 2000: 56). In 2000, The Foul King was ranked as the number one domestic film in Korea, with the highest total attendances.6 Song’s reputation was now light years away from his humble beginnings.

    5JSA eventually became the leading Korean film in terms of ticket sales in Seoul cinemas for the whole of 2000. Total attendances reached 2,447,133 (Korean Cinema, 2001: 229).  6Between January and June 2000, The Foul King attracted a total audience of 817,000, making it the top film in terms of attendance among all Korean feature films released in 2000 (Korean Cinema, 2000: 262).

    HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

    Born in 1967, Song grew up in a farming district near Busan. In an interview, Song recalled how, as a child, he had dreamt about performing on stage, and that from an early age he enjoyed making his friends laugh by telling interesting stories in an animated way. It seems his classmates all believed that the young Song would be a great actor someday (Song 2003a, 2004; Yi 2003). At the age of 22, he made his first appearance on the live stage, working under the guidance of the well-known theatrical performer Ki Kuk-sŏ at the Yeonwoo Theatre (Yŏnu Sogŭkchang), a small regional performance center. Here, as a non-professional actor, Song gained experience performing, developing his trademark amplified gestures and animated body language, in front of large crowds. He landed his first (small) film role at the age of 29 in Hong Sang-soo’s (Hong Sang-su) low-budget film The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (Twaeji ka umul e ppajin nal, 1996).

    Among his acting peers, Song is appreciated for his professionalism and wit (Kim Hyun-seok 2003; Moon 2003), a reputation that has earned him plaudits in the Korean film press since the early 2000s. In 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007 and again in 2009, the popular cinephile magazine Cine21 acknowledged Song as the best male actor of the year, cementing his growing reputation among local critics and fellow actors (see the images in Figure 12). One of the clearest indications of his stature was the forthright headline that accompanied the announcement in Cine21 of Song’s selection as the top male actor of 2009 for his performance in Thirst: “Song Kang-ho is Song Kang-ho” (Joo 2009). For Song, the craft of acting is different from working to achieve something tangible, such as a black belt in Taekwondo. It is not a matter of passing tests and working through a series of grades, nor should it be taken for granted that one’s acting skills will improve and mature, even with long and hard work (Song 2003a).

    If Song became a great comedy actor while working with Kim Jee-woon, and if Shiri marked his debut as a serious actor, then his collaboration with director Park Chan-wook has seen him flower as a “straight” actor. Park aggressively recruited Song and has used his talents to the full in JSA, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Thirst.7 It seems that Park was set on Song to play the respective antiheroic roles of Oh Kyeong-pil (O Kyŏng-p’il), a sincere but guarded North Korean army sergeant; Dong-jin (Tong-jin), the cold-hearted businessman who ruthlessly hunts down his daughter’s kidnappers and killers; and Sang-hyun (Sanghyŏn), a bloodthirsty but empathetic vampire-priest. Though Song initially hesitated to accept the role of Dong-jin in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, these films have each marked important turning points in Song’s career and indeed in the development of the Korean cinema.8 Taken together, these three scripts have given Song the opportunity to transform his on-screen persona from an immature and dependent “son” or single man into a mature father figure—in both literal and figurative senses.

    Around the time he was beginning his work with Park, Song’s face (and body image) began appearing extensively on billboards and signs as well as in magazine advertisements and on television entertainment shows. Represented as the average Korean male, he was cast in advertisements for such quotidian items as alcohol, lotto, financial services, and vacuum cleaners (pictured in Figure 13). Certainly, until now his anti-heroic and all-too-fallible characters all had their share of everyday problems to contend with—or at least difficulties that ordinary people could relate to with some degree of empathy.

    7According to an interview with Song, Park offered him the vampire-priest role in Thirst during the filming of JSA in 2000 (Joo 2009).  8The international legacy of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is still evolving. It has inspired the giant Hollywood film company Warner Bros. to remake it—something that only a handful of Korean films have achieved, including Il Mare (Siwŏrae, 2000, remade as The Lake House in 2006), My Sassy Girl (Yŏpkijŏgin kŭnyŏ, 2001, remade in 2008 under the same title), and Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters (Changhwa, Hongnyŏn, 2003, remade in 2009 as The Uninvited). For a notice of the remake of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, see Michael Fleming, “WB wants ‘Vengeance’” Variety.com 6 January 2010. Available at: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118013427?refCatId=13. Accessed 3 January 2011.

    THE COMING-OF-FATHER LOOK

    In the early 2000s, as Song’s reputation was rising, Korean film critics would often refer to the “masks” that Song created for each of his characters. It was thought that these masks provided glimpses of Song’s inner self—particularly in his comic roles (Lee 2003). His more substantial roles in dramatic, action and thriller films were regarded as revealing something different: a dual persona alternating between a serious intent and a sense of humility. One might say that Song only has to smile (or, in some cases, merely look into the camera) to activate the spark that fuses these two aspects of his on-screen personality. Admittedly, this convention is most effective for viewers already familiar with his oeuvre—Song’s facial gestures are an acquired taste.

    It is arguable that the gap between Song’s anti-heroic and serious sides has been most successfully bridged in his most recent films. Critically acclaimed films such as Memories of Murder, The Host, The Show Must Go On and Thirst offer perverse views of society as seen through the eyes of characters who adopt a range of self-anesthetizing mechanisms for coping with economic hardships and the social hazards involved in negotiating class boundaries. Nevertheless, Song’s timing—whether delivering his serious look or his lighter smiles—is always impeccable, as I hope to demonstrate in the following analysis and accompanying screen images.

    In The Host, a quirky take on the monster genre by writer-director Bong Joonho, Song plays Gang-du (Kang-du), a seemingly dim-witted (or at least chronically tired) elder son (and single father), who works at his father’s cramped snack shack in a recreation park beside the Han River (see Figure 14). One day, while Gang-du’s father and daughter (Hyun-seo [Hyŏn-sŏ]) are watching an archery tournament on TV involving Gang-du’s sister’s (Nam-joo [Nam-ju]), a giant amphibious beast—created after the U.S. Army dumps “unauthorized” chemicals down a drain—attacks the park. Amid the chaos, Gang-du bravely distracts the monster away from the crowd through a show of superhuman strength of his own. After wolfing down several unsuspecting pedestrians, the superficially wounded creature snatches Gang-du’s daughter and disappears into the river. Gang-du and his family (including his drunk, unemployed university-educated brother) hunt the monster while simultaneously hiding from the authorities, who are attempting to cover up the situation. The family is desperate to find the monster’s lair and save Hyun-seo before she too is eaten.

    While Gang-du’s brother and sister are engaged on the hunt, Gang-du is quarantined for “coming into contact” with the monster, and is held under orders from the U.S. Army. Gang-du is thoroughly examined by a team of doctors who test him for signs of “contamination” (illustrated in Figure 15). Eventually, the authorities lobotomize him, fearing that the “disease” is hiding in his brain. Despite this setback, which would have left most people in a vegetative state, Gang-du’s intelligence is actually enhanced, thanks to the medical team’s incomepetence. Inexplicably, he demonstrates a newfound working knowledge of English, which enables him to understand the evil plans of his captors and to escape from the lab where he is being held. Gang-du then resumes the search for his daughter.

    At the climax of the film, which has maintained a mixture of serious and comic tones, Gang-du thrusts a fatal skewer into the monster’s mouth before it has a chance to retreat to the river (see Figure 16). Song’s character—who miraculously overcomes his innate feeblemindedness and clumsiness and saves Seoul, and indeed the nation, from this strange, American-inspired beast—is thus a quirky variant of the quintessential anti-hero. In a twist of fate that manipulates the conventions of the monster genre, Gang-du extracts the bodies of his daughter and the young boy she has been protecting from the monster’s maw, to find that only the boy has survived the ordeal. The film ends with Gang-du and the young survivor having a family meal together in his tourist snack shack near the river’s edge, thus enabling Gang-du to recuperate his failed fatherhood, at least on one level—and to maintain a vigilant and protective watch over the area.

    The Host—and Song’s performance in it—was a national and international sensation. According to industry estimates, the film attracted audiences of 13,019,740 nationwide, becoming the top-selling film of the year and recouping the bulk of its estimated production budget of US$ 11 million from domestic ticket sales alone.9 The film was also exported to the US, UK, Japan, Thailand and elsewhere, resulting in an international box office record for a Korean film of over USD $87 million by mid-2007. International awareness of Korean cinema and recognition of Song’s star quality—not to mention the exposure enjoyed by the film’s director, Bong Joon-ho—had never been higher. Acknowledgement of Song’s growing international reputation was found, for example, in the UK’s Guardian newspaper where a short article published before the film’s UK release compared him to Robert De Niro, crediting both actors with making significant contributions to their respective industries (Phelim 2006).

    Building on the momentum generated by Song’s international exposure, writer-director Han Jae-rim (Han Chae-rim) cast the actor in the lead role in The Show Must Go On, a gangster drama in which a caring family man who is also a conscientious gangster boss is challenged by the conflicting demands of these dual paternal roles. Song’s character In-goo (In-gu) picks his way through this minefield of a plot, seeking to save enough money to enable him to build a beautiful house in the countryside where he can retire and live happily ever after with his family. However, he is beset by problems along the way—his wife nags him, his daughter wants to disown him, and younger gang members contest his leadership. In a surprisingly tender, but also comical way, In-goo negotiates these intertwined obstacles at home and work, all the while struggling to maintain a sense of order in his personal life.

    For local critics, The Show Must Go On was a break-out film for Song, who was seen as having mastered the complex challenges presented by the role of In-goo: taking the best from all his previous characters and concentrating them into a wholly new father/husband/boss figure in the throes of a mid-life crisis. In this film, Song had reached a career pinnacle, elevating him above his peers into a zone where his biggest rival was himself. In a special annual industry review article in Cine21, critic Hwang Jin-mi (Hwang Chin-mi) compared Song’s performance to “fermented Kimchi and pickles” (popular side dishes served at home and in Korean restaurants) that only improve with age.10

    Yet, for up-and-coming director Han Jae-rim—The Show Must Go On was his second feature film and his first with Song—working with Song was a challenge. According to an interview with Han, Song often insisted on numerous re-takes for a given scene, each time creating a different look and atmosphere (similar to the methodical and highly creative acting style associated with prolific actor Christopher Walken). Initially, this strategy of creating multiple “good takes” confused Han because it seemed unnecessary. However, Han acquiesced after receiving advice and reassurance from fellow director Bong Joon-ho regarding Song’s inherent ability to deliver performances that pre-empted a smooth editing process (Kim 2006). By insisting on a process that at first sight seemed unhelpful, even obstructive, Song showed that he was in fact at the top of his game.

    In Thirst, the last film to be discussed and the one that represents the pinnacle of Song’s career in terms of the complexity of his on-screen persona as well as his international reception, Song plays a devout young Catholic priest, Sang-hyun (Sang-hyŏn) who, despite his age, becomes a father figure. At the beginning of the film, Sang-hyun is seen volunteering for a medical experiment which he selflessly believes will assist the unfortunate community members who are suffering from a horrific African disease. However, the experiment fails and, as the result of a tainted blood transfusion, Sang-hyun becomes a vampire racked by extreme psychological conflicts.

    On the one hand, Sang-hyun’s new incarnation has a profound desire to redeem common humanity from the forces of evil—yet his gruesome appearance (his body is covered with virulent pustules) forces him to hide his face from public view (see Figure 17). On the other hand, his piety is tested by a newfound craving for sex and female flesh—and, of course, blood to satisfy the vampire in him. Like a good Samaritan, at least until he is totally overcome by his vampirical urges, Sang-hyun only takes blood from individuals for compassionate reasons— he will do no harm unto others (pictured in Figure 17). Nevertheless, in the end his “disease” gets the better of him, and he cannot prevent himself from committing religious and sexual transgressions. Fraught with a mixture of despair and compassion for humanity, the erstwhile priest commits suicide—by watching a beautiful sunrise with his love by his side (who he has “infected”)—in a desperate attempt to protect the community from his unquenchable desires.

    Thirst received the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, and the international press renewed its praise for Song as a superstar and a master actor who has successfully achieved the delicate balance between “active and passive energy” (Ridley 2009). This duality, which as we have seen is present in some form in all Song’s films, has been widely acknowledged by foreign critics. For Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey (2009), “Song, one of Korea’s top actors, is mesmerizing as the meditative priest”. Wesley Morris, writing in the Boston Globe, has perhaps offered the most acute analysis: according to this critic, Song’s performance in Thirst has made him a “sexier and a more dynamic actor … whose simultaneous expressions of manly fatigue and robust sadness make him an alluring amalgam of John Wayne and Toshiro Mifune” (26 Feb 2010: 10). Song’s performance in the film pleased most—if not all—of the foreign critics, thus placing a golden feather in his cap and adding another splash of color to Park Chan-wook’s career and the Korean cinema’s growing international reputation.

    9See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468492/business.  10See “Wrapping Up 2007: 10 Film People of The Year (2007 nyŏn songnyŏn kyŏlsan: Orhae ŭiyŏnghwa in 10 in)” Cine21 No. 634 1 (January). Available at: http://www.cine21.com/Article/article_view.php?mm=005001001&article_id=49618. Accessed 21 April 2011.

    CONCLUSION

    In this article, I have attempted to expand our understanding of the contemporary Korean cinema through an in-depth discussion of the screen performances of one of its leading stars: Song Kang-ho. However, it is important to remember that Song is but a single agent in a perpetually evolving web of relationships and opportunities linking actors, directors and films and their local and global critics. The burgeoning of international relationships experienced by the Korean cinema in recent years has greatly multiplied these opportunities since the release of Number 3 in 1997.

    Since appearing in Number 3, Song has performed in some of the highest-grossing Korean films. To date, he has landed the central character role in seven films, which combined have drawn nearly 29 million Koreans into local cinemas— not to mention the many millions of viewers across the globe who have either purchased, rented or downloaded these films from the Internet, or seen them on general release in their own countries. Additionally, Cine21 and Film2.0, two of Korea’s most popular film magazines, have featured him on their covers on numerous occasions.

    Standing back and considering these moving and still images in their totality, Song can be seen as representing certain tropes of masculinity that resonate across pan-Asia and beyond, superceding “Chow Yun-fat and Jet Li, the marquee names in [the] movie business in metropolitan areas of Asia” (Kim 2004: 231). Through his diverse roles and performances, Song has drawn a positive response from audiences of all ages and critics alike. Since the early 2000s, he has been recognized for his ability to capture the basic human instinct for laughter and tears—without exaggerating and thus caricaturing these emotions (Shim 2000). As others have observed, Song has accumulated a living repertoire of stored characters that he wears as layers—when he moves, they move with him (Baek 2003a). In all his films, we have the sense that these layers originate from something and someone real. The “real” Song is the sum of these many parts—and then some.

    As we have seen, most of Song’s characters have their roots in the middle and middle-lower classes, creating a connection to the common man with believable personality flaws, a sense of humor, and a range of everyday concerns that embrace family, work colleagues and neighbors. His filmography now contains as many distinguished serious roles as comic ones—each of which embodies a unique portrait of Korean manhood in its various aspects. His characters seem most comfortable when interacting with other men, often in hierarchical settings. Social environments habitually occupied by men, such as the gangster underworld in Number 3, the wrestling arena in The Foul King, and the detective and police settings of Memories of Murder and Secret Reunion (Ŭihyŏngje, 2010), often form the back-ground for the dual display of sinister and comic elements that has become Song’s hallmark. This image of the common man or anti-hero, which Song has personified through his repertoire of idiosyncratic physical movements and facial pantomime, has developed in power and complexity as his reputation has grown.

    It has been repeatedly asserted that the “real” Song acts like the characters he plays in his films. It is true that, from the start of his acting career, Song has found the source for his characters within himself. One might catch him in personal or social settings in real life laughing in a high-pitched voice and expressing a mischievous attitude one minute, and waxing philosophical the next (Baek 2003c). This complexity of character, and Song’s ability to project it on screen, is hardly surprising. As film scholar John Belton notes, “at the base of the human pyramid known as the star lies an actual person, whose physical attributes and, in some instances, psychological constitution, provide the foundation for the construction of the personality of the actor, or actress, who appears on screen” (Belton 1994: 87)

    When asked to comment on Song’s success, Choi Min-sik, the star of Park Chan-wook’s 2004 Cannes-pleasing macabre feature film, Old Boy (released in Korea in 2003), remarked: “An actor should express things through his body. The instinct itself cannot make a person an actor. In Song Kang-ho’s case, his acting matches perfectly with his instinct …” (Choi 2003). This “instinct”, for which Song has become so well known since Number 3, includes such expedients as breaking away from the script and spontaneously ad-libbing lines—all while displaying exaggerated and absurd behaviors that are often set against passive moments of introspection.

    Song’s mass appeal reaches beyond the physical attractiveness of other Korean actors such as Lee Byung-heon (Yi Pyŏng-hŏn), Jang Dong-gun (Chang Tong-gun) or Won Bin (Wŏn Pin). 11 He has been compared to comedy-drama actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, and Roberto Benigni (Lee 2003) and many would agree that Song possesses the same on-screen charisma as these big international stars. Considered as both actor and movie star, Song has successfully made the transition from the local to the international context, thus demonstrating how a single dynamic performer has transformed the ways in which we think about Korean cinema. Song’s unique on-screen presence is perhaps best exemplified when his characters look straight into the camera lens, and thus outward at the audience and society—a gesture which often occurs at the end of the film, as in The Foul King, Y.M.C.A. Baseball Team (2002), and Memories of Murder (see Figure 18).

    In one interview, Song was asked to comment on the use of a close-up shot of his face, which appeared at the end of Memories of Murder, and how he felt about his image being used to represent Korean culture and cinema. He modestly replied that his personal feelings were not important; such a decision was entirely up to director Bong Joon-ho (Song 2003b). The actor could never have imagined that his face would become such a powerful image—one that the audience would see as representative of the Korean man in the street, unremarkable and fallible. Song’s characters represent men who are at once idiosyncratic and at ease with themselves. They are uncanny heroes—figures to whom audiences can turn in order to derive a strange comfort and, if only for an hour or two, set aside their worries about Korea’s current social, cultural, political and economic troubles.

    11Lee is known (at least in Korea) for his roles in JSA, Kim Jee-woon’s A Bittersweet Life (Talk’omhan insaeng, 2005), and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009). Jang made a name for himself in Friend (Ch’in’gu, 2001), Taegukgi (T’aegŭkki hwinallimyŏ, 2004) and, most recently, The Warrior’s Way (2010), a Korean-New Zealand co-production, while Won has starred in Guns and Talks (K’illŏ tŭl ŭi suda, 2001), Taegukgi (2004), Mother (Mŏdŏ, 2009) and, more recently, The Man from Nowhere (Ajŏssi, 2010).

  • 1. Baek Eun-ha(Paek ?n-ha). 2003a “Hot Question Mark, Cold Craziness (Tt?g?un ?imun puho, ch’agaun kwanggi)”. [Cine 21] P.101 google
  • 2. Baek Eun-ha (Paek ?n-ha). 2003b “Actor of the Year―Song Kang-ho: Revolutionary Point of View Leads to Revolutionary Acting (Orhae ?i pae’u Song Kang-ho, kach’igwan ?i hy?ngmy?ng ?n y?n’gi ?i hy?ngmy?ng ?l nak’o)”. [Cine 21] P.55 google
  • 3. Baek Eun-ha (Paek ?n-ha). 2003c “Actress of the Year―Moon So-ri Between Heaven and Hell, Between ‘Ready’ and ‘Go’ (Orhae ?i pae’u Mun So-ri, ch’?n’guk kwa chiok sai, ‘Ready’ wa ‘go’ sai)”. [Cine 21] P.56 google
  • 4. Becker Christine 2008 It’s the Pictures That Got Small: Hollywood’s Film Stars on 1950s Television. google
  • 5. Belton John (1994) American Cinema / American Culture. google
  • 6. Choi Jinhee 2010 The South Korean Film Renaissance: Local Hitmakers, Global Provocateurs. google
  • 7. Choi Min-sik 2003 Interview by Kim Jee-woon, The Quiet Family DVD Bonus Materials. google
  • 8. Gateward Frances 2007 Seoul Searching: Culture and Identity in Contemporary Korean Cinema. google
  • 9. Gledhill Christine 1991 “Signs of Melodrama”, in Christine Gledhill (ed.), Stardom: Industry of Desire google
  • 10. Joo Sung-chul (Chu S?ng-ch’?l) 2009 “Song Kang-ho is Song Kang-ho (Song Kang-ho n?n Song Kang-ho ta)”. [Cine21] google
  • 11. Kim Hye-ri 2006 “Kim Hye-ri’s Personal Interview: Song Kang-ho, Actor from The Host, The Show Must Go on and Secret Sunshine (Koemul, Uahan segye, Sik’?rit s?nsyain ?i pae’u Song Kang-ho: Kim Hye-ri ka mannan saram)”. [Cine21] google
  • 12. Kim Hyun-seok 2003 Personal interview google
  • 13. Kim Jee-woon 2003 Personal interview google
  • 14. Kim Kyung Hyun 2004 The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema. google
  • 15. 1998 Korean Cinema ’98. google
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  • 17. 2000 Korean Cinema, 2000. google
  • 18. 2001 Korean Cinema, 2001 google
  • 19. Lee Sang-yong 2003 “Magician of Language, Comic Poet―Regarding Song Kang-ho (?n??i masulsa, k’omedi ?i si’in―Pae’u Song Kang-ho non)”. [Film 2.0] google
  • 20. Hollows Joanne, Jancovich Mark, McDonald Paul 1995 “Star Studies” in Approaches to Popular Film. P.79-97 google
  • 21. Kathleen McHugh, Abelmann Nancy 2005 South Korean Golden Age Melodrama: Gender, Genre, and National Cinema, Contemporary Approaches to Film and Television Series. google
  • 22. Moon So-ri 2003 Personal interview google
  • 23. Wesley Morris 2010 “A four-film career, but already world-class: HFA to screen―and host―the man who made ‘The Host’”. [Boston Globe] P.10 google
  • 24. Paquet Darcy 2009 New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves (Short Cuts): Introduction to Film Studies. google
  • 25. O’Neill Phelim 2006 “Film&Music: First Sight Song Kang-ho”. [The Guardian] P.16 google
  • 26. Ridley Jim 2009 “(Very) Oldboy.” [The Village Voice] P.38 google
  • 27. Sharkey Betsy 2009 “More than a blood thirst; Park Chan-wook’s funny and erotic vampire tale takes on issues of morality and mortality”. [Los Angeles Times] P.5 google
  • 28. Shim Young-seup 2000 “Star Click―Actor Song Kang-ho, A star whose face has become very familiar to us (S?t’a k’?llik―Y?nghwa pae’u Song Kang-ho s?ta rago hagien n?mu salgaun ?lgul ?l han saram)”. [Cinema.chosun.com] google
  • 29. Shin Chi-Yun, Julian Stringer 2005 New Korean cinema. google
  • 30. Song Kang-ho 2003a Personal interview google
  • 31. Song Kang-ho 2003b Guest visit and Q&A interview (with Kim Sang-kyung and Bong Joon-ho) for PIFF #8 screening of Memories of Murder google
  • 32. Song Kang-ho 2004 Personal interview google
  • 33. Yi Jee-hoon 2003 “Song Kang-ho, An Actor Who We Cannot Even Be Jealous Of: Song Kang-ho Through the Eyes of Reporter Yi Jee-hoon (Chilt’u choch’a hal su ?mn?n pae’u: Yi Chi-hun kija ka pon Song Kang-ho)”. [Film 2.0] google
  • [Figure 1.] Film stills from the DVD Number 3 (1997, Kang Woo-Suk Productions). Top: Jo-pil eating a cockroach; middle: Jo-pil’s weapon of choice; bottom: Jo-pil calmly grooming himself in the mirror.
    Film stills from the DVD Number 3 (1997, Kang Woo-Suk Productions). Top: Jo-pil eating a cockroach; middle: Jo-pil’s weapon of choice; bottom: Jo-pil calmly grooming himself in the mirror.
  • [Figure 2.] Film stills from the DVD Number 3 (1997, Kang Woo-Suk Productions). Top: Jo-pil lecturing about the hungry spirit (and the penis logo); middle and bottom: Jo-pil disciplining his three students.
    Film stills from the DVD Number 3 (1997, Kang Woo-Suk Productions). Top: Jo-pil lecturing about the hungry spirit (and the penis logo); middle and bottom: Jo-pil disciplining his three students.
  • [Figure 3.] Film stills from the DVD The Quiet Family (1998, Myung Film Company). Top and middle: Young-min spying on hotel guests; bottom: Young-min delivering room service.
    Film stills from the DVD The Quiet Family (1998, Myung Film Company). Top and middle: Young-min spying on hotel guests; bottom: Young-min delivering room service.
  • [Figure 4.] Film stills from the DVD The Quiet Family (1998, Myung Film Company). Top and middle: Young-min confronting the wouldbe-rapist; bottom: Young-min attending to his facial injuries after the fight in the forest.
    Film stills from the DVD The Quiet Family (1998, Myung Film Company). Top and middle: Young-min confronting the wouldbe-rapist; bottom: Young-min attending to his facial injuries after the fight in the forest.
  • [Figure 5.] Film stills from the DVD Shiri (1999, Kang Je-gyu Films). Top: Special agent Lee leading a team of highly skilled officers on a raid; bottom: Lee (after repelling out of a hovering helicopter onto a bridge) pursuing heavily armed North Korean terrorist spies.
    Film stills from the DVD Shiri (1999, Kang Je-gyu Films). Top: Special agent Lee leading a team of highly skilled officers on a raid; bottom: Lee (after repelling out of a hovering helicopter onto a bridge) pursuing heavily armed North Korean terrorist spies.
  • [Figure 6.] Film stills from the DVD Shiri (1999, Kang Je-gyu Films). Top: Lee (seated next to Jong and his girlfriend Myung-hyun) falling asleep at a live variety/comedy show; middle and bottom: Jong, Myung-hyun and Lee enjoying a night out on the town together.
    Film stills from the DVD Shiri (1999, Kang Je-gyu Films). Top: Lee (seated next to Jong and his girlfriend Myung-hyun) falling asleep at a live variety/comedy show; middle and bottom: Jong, Myung-hyun and Lee enjoying a night out on the town together.
  • [Figure 7.] Film still from the DVD Shiri (1999, Kang Je-gyu Films). Agent Jong (played by Han Seok-gyu) holding Lee in his arms as Lee uses his last breath to reveal the final clue and to apologize for suspecting Jong as the mole.
    Film still from the DVD Shiri (1999, Kang Je-gyu Films). Agent Jong (played by Han Seok-gyu) holding Lee in his arms as Lee uses his last breath to reveal the final clue and to apologize for suspecting Jong as the mole.
  • [Figure 8.] Film stills from the DVD The Foul King (2000, B.O.M. Film Productions). Top and middle: Dae-ho’s daily rush-hour commute to work on the train; bottom: Dae-ho’s father giving him a condescending lecture late at night.
    Film stills from the DVD The Foul King (2000, B.O.M. Film Productions). Top and middle: Dae-ho’s daily rush-hour commute to work on the train; bottom: Dae-ho’s father giving him a condescending lecture late at night.
  • [Figure 9.] Film stills from the DVD The Foul King (2000, B.O.M. Film Productions). Top: Dae-ho’s manager holding him in a surprise headlock in the men’s bathroom; middle: Dae-ho at the wrestling gym struggling with too much weight; bottom: Dae-ho attempting to save a boy from being beaten-up by a gang of hoodlums.
    Film stills from the DVD The Foul King (2000, B.O.M. Film Productions). Top: Dae-ho’s manager holding him in a surprise headlock in the men’s bathroom; middle: Dae-ho at the wrestling gym struggling with too much weight; bottom: Dae-ho attempting to save a boy from being beaten-up by a gang of hoodlums.
  • [Figure 10.] Film stills from the DVD The Foul King (2000, B.O.M. Film Productions). Top: Dae-ho at home tending to his injuries caused by the chasing hoodlums; middle: dream sequence in which Dae-ho is a singing Elvis wrestler who conquers his masked opponent (until he learns the opponent is actually his abusive boss); bottom: Dae-ho in his wrestling mask looking into the changing room mirror before the big match.
    Film stills from the DVD The Foul King (2000, B.O.M. Film Productions). Top: Dae-ho at home tending to his injuries caused by the chasing hoodlums; middle: dream sequence in which Dae-ho is a singing Elvis wrestler who conquers his masked opponent (until he learns the opponent is actually his abusive boss); bottom: Dae-ho in his wrestling mask looking into the changing room mirror before the big match.
  • [Figure 11.] Film stills from the DVD The Foul King (2000, B.O.M. Film Productions). Top: An outraged Dae-ho whose face is exposed during the big wrestling match; bottom: The final scene in which Dae-ho leaves the confines of his hospital bed to confront his boss. As he lunges forward, Dae-ho slips on the street, and the credits roll over his fallen body.
    Film stills from the DVD The Foul King (2000, B.O.M. Film Productions). Top: An outraged Dae-ho whose face is exposed during the big wrestling match; bottom: The final scene in which Dae-ho leaves the confines of his hospital bed to confront his boss. As he lunges forward, Dae-ho slips on the street, and the credits roll over his fallen body.
  • [Figure 12.] Cine21 magazine covers featuring Song Kang-ho: Left: No. 685 (30 December 2008); Right: No. 740 (2 February 2010). Author’s own collection.
    Cine21 magazine covers featuring Song Kang-ho: Left: No. 685 (30 December 2008); Right: No. 740 (2 February 2010). Author’s own collection.
  • [Figure 13.] Recent print advertisement featuring Song Kang-ho endorsing traditional Baekseju alcohol. Image courtesy of the Kooksoondang company website, available at: http://www.ksdb.co.kr/prlounge/adposter.asp
    Recent print advertisement featuring Song Kang-ho endorsing traditional Baekseju alcohol. Image courtesy of the Kooksoondang company website, available at: http://www.ksdb.co.kr/prlounge/adposter.asp
  • [Figure 14.] Film stills from the DVD The Host (2006, Chungeorahm Film). Top: Gang-du asleep at his father’s snack shack; middle: Gang-du giving a can of beer to his daughter; bottom: Gang-du and his family at the makeshift mass funeral for the victims killed by the monster. Note that Gang-du’s brother is about to bash Gang-du because he blames him for the presumed death of Hyun-seo.
    Film stills from the DVD The Host (2006, Chungeorahm Film). Top: Gang-du asleep at his father’s snack shack; middle: Gang-du giving a can of beer to his daughter; bottom: Gang-du and his family at the makeshift mass funeral for the victims killed by the monster. Note that Gang-du’s brother is about to bash Gang-du because he blames him for the presumed death of Hyun-seo.
  • [Figure 15.] Film stills from the DVD The Host (2006, Chungeorahm Film). Top: A team of doctors holding Gang-du under ‘quarantine’ and conducting various experiments on him; middle: Doctors prepping Gang-du for invasive brain surgery without any anesthesia; bottom: Gang-du after his frontal lobotomy, attempting to escape the lab and resume his search for his missing daughter.
    Film stills from the DVD The Host (2006, Chungeorahm Film). Top: A team of doctors holding Gang-du under ‘quarantine’ and conducting various experiments on him; middle: Doctors prepping Gang-du for invasive brain surgery without any anesthesia; bottom: Gang-du after his frontal lobotomy, attempting to escape the lab and resume his search for his missing daughter.
  • [Figure 16.] Film stills from the DVD The Host (2006, Chungeorahm Film). Top: Gang-du has become a role model for the young activists who are staging a public protest against his imprisonment; middle: Gang-du bravely faces the monster and drives the killing spike into its mouth as it is trying to escape; bottom: A reinvented and mature-looking Gang-du with his newest family member―the rescued boy―eating dinner together in their snack shack/home at the film’s conclusion.
    Film stills from the DVD The Host (2006, Chungeorahm Film). Top: Gang-du has become a role model for the young activists who are staging a public protest against his imprisonment; middle: Gang-du bravely faces the monster and drives the killing spike into its mouth as it is trying to escape; bottom: A reinvented and mature-looking Gang-du with his newest family member―the rescued boy―eating dinner together in their snack shack/home at the film’s conclusion.
  • [Figure 17.] Film stills from the DVD Thirst (2009, Moho Films). Top: ‘Believers’ waiting for Sang-hyun―whose face is bandaged―to emerge from the hospital; middle: the vampire-priest feeding from a hospital patient in a coma; bottom: Sang-hyun staring into the mirror and watching his virulent pustules fade away after drinking human blood.
    Film stills from the DVD Thirst (2009, Moho Films). Top: ‘Believers’ waiting for Sang-hyun―whose face is bandaged―to emerge from the hospital; middle: the vampire-priest feeding from a hospital patient in a coma; bottom: Sang-hyun staring into the mirror and watching his virulent pustules fade away after drinking human blood.
  • [Figure 18.] Film stills from the end of the following DVDs. Top: Y.M.C.A. Baseball Team (2002, Myung Films); middle: Memories of Murder (2003, Sidus Corporation); bottom: The Host (2006, Chungeorahm Film).
    Film stills from the end of the following DVDs. Top: Y.M.C.A. Baseball Team (2002, Myung Films); middle: Memories of Murder (2003, Sidus Corporation); bottom: The Host (2006, Chungeorahm Film).