Since I started this site I’ve been bleating on about how much I believe that Korea is one of the strongest film industries in the world, regarding the actors, directors and the canon of associated staff that it takes to produce world-class, top-notch films. It looks like Hollywood has finally catching up, recognising this talent, inviting the cream of the crop over to tinsel town. Here’s a list of my favourites that have made the jump, so far…
Director – Park-Chan Wook (박찬욱): easily Korea’s most famous cinematic export, and firmly established as one of the world’s greatest directors with over a decade’s worth of acclaimed movies, including; Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK, and Thirst. His trademark style? Meticulous direction, spellbinding visuals, powerful storytelling, and often violent & disturbing subject matter. When Hollywood came a-knockin’ he managed to get Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver, and Tony & Ridley Scott involved in his first English-language movie – Stoker, which was well-received.
Actor – Lee Byung-hun (이병헌;): top of the K-actor pack in my books. He’s starred in some of the biggest and best Korean movies of all time: JSA: Joint Security Area, A Bittersweet Life, The Good The Bad The Weird, and I Saw The Devil. Has recently brought his Asian clout to Hollywood as ‘Storm Shadow’ in the past 2 GI Joe movies, and will appear in RED 2 this summer. He can do everything from rom-coms, to flawed heroes, to villains, and his 20-year career’s been so strong that he has his own Wiki page just for awards and nominations.
Director – Kim Ji-Woon (김지운): another director running with a hot streak of impressive movies: A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, The Good The Bad The Weird, and I Saw The Devil. For his debut American production he managed to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger (and coax arguably one of his best performances after a long line of duffers), Forrest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stromare, and the prolific Luiz Guzman. While it was not on the same level as his national works, The Last Stand far outshone Sylvester Stallone’s attempt at a similar genre movie – Bullet to the Head.
Actress – Bae Doona (배두나): Breaking out internationally in Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, and later The Host & Air Doll, Bae was picked up by the Wachowski brothers for Cloud Atlas, for which she was unanimously praised, sealing her a place in their next film, Jupiter Ascending.
Actor – Rain (Jung Ji-Hoon, 비): broke through with I’m A Cyborg, but That’s OK – and immediately jumped over to star in both Speed Racer and Ninja Assassin. Hasn’t done much since, but that’s OK too, because he’s also a singer, songwriter, dancer and model.
Director – Bong Joon-ho (봉준호): despite having less films than the previous two directors, they still pack a punch: Memories of Murder, The Host, and Mother, all being successful exports. Bong’s next film is the much-anticipated sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and…
.. Actor – Song Kang–ho (송강호): One of the most watchable and charismatic actors in Korea today, he has a magnetism that can only be described as ‘star power’ and a range that most actors can only dream of. Appearing in many of Koreas biggest movies: Shiri, The Quiet Family, JSA Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, The Good The Bad The Weird, and Thirst – I’m excited to see that Bong Joon-ho has pulled him across the Pacific.
As you can tell, it’s quite a tight and incestuous list, as the great combinations of elite directors and actors stick together, to create world-class film after world-class film.
But have they been good Korea moves for those involved? (Sorry, had to put that in) You could argue that something is being lost in translation, as the two released directorial efforts, although strong, aren’t on the same level as their previous works, and the actors, despite being in some big roles, are usually word-shy, or over-dubbed in post-production. To that, I would say… so what? Let’s throw Nolan, Scorsese, Bale, Fassbender and Streep into South Korea and make them do a Korean film, speaking Korean, and see how that sits with a completely different culture!
Although it’s quite a recent trend, and a fairly short list in the grand scheme of things, I hope that this cross-pollination of talent continues, and shines a bright light on everyone’s previous – overlooked – work in K-Cinema.
Note: there’s a load of Korean Born / Korean Descendent actors that have spent the majority of their life working and acting in America like Rick Yune, Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh, C.S. Lee, John Cho, Sung Kang, Daniel Dae Kim and so on… but to include them would be cheating.