Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Love and War: Men of Korean Entertainment

Last month's list focused on Korean actresses. This time around my list will include Korean actors and the roles that brought them to my attention. 

During my early days in Seoul, I wandered around looking for Korean movies to watch in my free time. I see movies as an excellent tool for language students, in that they can hear the language spoken by native speakers and read along with the subtitles. This is strictly supplementary to actual classroom and lab work. In time one could watch the movie with the original language and read along. Eventually, with much practice, one should be able to accurately speak the lines based on how they were read on screen and how they were pronounced by the actors. Students encouraged me to watch movies to learn more about Korea and the Korean language. I took their advice and met some unforgettable characters and actors behind them.

                                                                  <Jang Dong-gun>

Jang Dong –gun starred in Taeguki, the “must see” movie my students highly recommended that takes place during the Korean War. Taeguki is to Koreans what Saving Private Ryan is to Americans. 


After his younger brother is drafted into the army to fight the North Korean invasion, elder brother Jin-tae (Jang) takes every risk imaginable to win the discharge of his college-bound brother. Like Lady Vengeance, I sat through this movie once. The emotional impact it had on me was a lot stronger than the ending of Private Ryan. 

                                                                    <The Promise>

Jang later starred in a fantasy movie titled The Promise (also known as Moogeuk or Master of the Crimson Armor), with Cecelia Chung as the lone survivor of a people who had the ability to outrun time, but not to change it. American audiences may know Jang as the renegade ninja warrior in the American production of The Warrior’s Way.

                                                             <  Kang Dong-won >

The next actor I have a problem with, in that his name is so close to that of Jang Dong-gun. I speak of Kang Dong-won, who gained my attention in the role of Sad Eyes, the love interest of Det. Namsoon in Duelist. 


He brings a certain emotional stability to their relationship, even though every time they meet face-to-face they try to cut each other to ribbons with their knives and swords. The sword dance shifts the emotional weight off Namsoon and onto Sad Eyes, featuring perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard composed for a movie. Duelist ends with a deeper sadness stemming from the relationship between Sad Eyes and his adopted father who asks him at the end, “What is your name again?” 


There is a thin veil covering the political issue of reuniting the two Koreas, and Heaven’s Soldiers is a good example of this. During the time of Halley’s Comet’s visit to the earth, a squad of North Korean soldiers with an atomic bomb is pursued by a squad of South Korean soldiers. 

<Heaven’s Soldiers>

The radiation from the comet and the nuclear material cause a rift in the space-time continuum, transporting them to 16th century Korea, where they meet future military hero Yi Sun-shin, portrayed by Park Joong-hoon. 

<Heaven’s Soldiers>

Awestruck the soldiers speak of meeting the legend, and the music rises to crescendo, and then immediately collapses when they realize what a failure the guy is. The squad leaders eventually earn his respect enough to accept his advice and take the fight to invading barbarians. 

<Park Joong-hoon>

The survivors of the battle stay by Yi’s side, going with him into battle against the Japanese during the Hideyoshi invasion of 1592. Park also shines in the movie, Radio Star, the story of Choi-gon, a washed up, troubled, award-winning rock star who finds fame as the host of a radio program.
<Ahn Seong-gi>

Ahn Seong-gi has worked with Park in a number of movies, including the role of the best friend and manager to Choi-gon in Radio Star. I appreciated Ahn’s role of Det. Ahn, the father figure and mentor to Det. Namsoon in Duelist. Ahn seems to be at ease in his roles, whether it is as a laid-back Joseon Dynasty detective or the president of South Korea who has to face down the Japanese in Hanbando. I list Ahn Seong-gi as one of my all-time favorite actors.

James Heald

contributing writer

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