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Rising Stars to Look Out for in 2021

Dec 29, 2020
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
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New Faces in Korean Cinema, from Indie Standouts to Stage Sirens

2020 was an unusually challenging year for film (and practically every other industry) but partly owing to the fact that so little came out over the past 10 months, we have quite a lot to look forward to in 2021. Provided some improvement in the pandemic materializes over the next few months, a lot of films that have been waiting in the wings will hit screens as the year progresses, and with them, a number of fresh faces set to become tomorrow’s stars.

From rising bit part and indie film players to established names transitioning from the worlds of TV and music to the silver screen, we take a deep dive in the cast lineups of next year’s films to find the new screen names that everyone will be talking about.

Read on to find out about tomorrow’s stars in KoBiz’s ‘Actors to Look Out for in 2021’ list.

GONG Myung

A member of the all-actor idol group 5urprise, GONG Myoung has been busily working away on the small screen for several years and has already appeared in many films in supporting roles. Yet the time has come for this youthful, bright and cheerful young star to take center stage in a major film. 

GONG recently completed work on LEE Won-suk’s highly anticipated new film Killing Romance (working title), in which he plays a young woman who will try to save LEE Ha-nee’s former star actress from her husband, played by LEE Sun-kyun. GONG has already worked with LEE Ha-nee as he was part of the cast of LEE Byoung-heon’s stratospheric hit comedy Extreme Job, which became the second most successful Korean film of all time last year when it welcomed over 16 million viewers. 

The actor’s first forays in cinema were in acclaimed indies, such as Futureless Things (2014), A Girl at My Door (2014) and Su saek (2016). Last year, he also appeared in the period comedy HOMME FATALE (2019). Beyond Killing Romance, he’s next slated to appear alongside RA Mi-ran in Citizen Deok-Hee (working title).

IU (aka LEE Ji-eun)

Though already one of Korea’s biggest celebrities for over a decade after conquering the music world and TV dramaland, IU is finally set to make her impression felt on the big screen next year when she makes her leading role feature film debut in Dream (working title), the new project from Extreme Job (2019) director LEE Byoung-heonIU (aka LEE Ji-eun) was cast alongside PARK Seo-jun in the sports drama about a disgraced soccer player who takes a job coaching a special team that aims to take part in the Homeless World Cup.

IU’s TV credits include hit shows like Dream High (2011) and The Producers (2015), while she more recently headlined the series My Mister (2018) and Hotel Del Luna (2019). While Dream will mark her first major big screen role, she previously had a cameo in the noir REAL (2017) and she also headlined a special event anthology series on Netflix called Persona (2019). Helmed by four established filmmakers - YIM Pil-sung (Hansel and Gretel, 2007), LEE Kyoung-mi (The Truth Beneath, 2016), KIM Jong-kwan (Josée) and JEON Go-woon (Microhabitat, 2018) - the series showcased IU in four vastly different roles and served as a compelling demonstration of her screen confidence and charisma, not to mention her seeming ease at tackling a variety of different characters.

LEE Joo-young

Not to be confused with the other rising star LEE Joo-young (of Maggie [2019], Baseball Girl and TV’s Itaewon Class), LEE Joo-young is one of the most unique new talents on the scene, who has steadily been making an impression in a series of scene-stealing turns. 

Tall and possessing an unusual charisma, Dongduk Women’s University graduate and former model LEE first appeared in bit parts in films like Queen of Walking (2016) and Keys to the Heart (2017), before landing a major supporting role in the indie film I Have a Date with Spring (2018). 

Yet it was her magnetic performances as a death meth cooker in Believer (2018) and a kooky hair stylist in Miss Baek (2018) that made her stand out. She was a marvel in KIM Jong-kwan’s Jeonju Cinema Project Shades of the Heart in 2019 and this year she has been even more visible, playing a demented teacher in LEE Kyoung-mi’s The School Nurse Files on Netflix and a badass co-worker in the hit SAMJIN COMPANY ENGLISH CLASS. She also appeared in the hit series Live alongside her The School Nurse Files co-star JUNG Yu-mi.

The future appears bright for LEE, who has one project awaiting release, the horror film Voice (working title) from brothers KIM Gok and KIM Sun, and another currently in production, the Korean Academy of Film Arts-produced road movie Yoon Si-nae Has Disappeared (translated title).

PARK Bo-gum

Another major name on this list finally breaking into leading role film territory is PARK Bo-gum, a recognizable face from many hit TV shows and countless ads. PARK, who is known for a pure image that has appealed to advertisers, actually debuted as an actor back in 2011 with a supporting role in the hit thriller Blind. He followed that up with small roles in the crime comedy Runway Cop (2012), the Cannes-screened thriller A Hard Day (2014) and period naval epic Roaring Currents (2014), the most successful Korean film of all time. His last big screen role was in the women’s gangster drama Coin Locker Girl (2015), which gave him his biggest film role yet at the time.

PARK then became a huge name in TV dramas, with starring role in Hello Monster (2015), Reply 1988 (2015–2016), Love in the Moonlight (2016) and Encounter (2018), among others. He most recently appeared alongside PARK So-dam in Record of Youth.

After conquering TV, PARK is set to return to the world of film in a major way next year, as the lead of two very significant projects. Though initially scheduled to screen in December, the first of those will be Seobok, a sci-fi action-drama in which he plays the world’s first human clone, who is escorted by an agent played by GONG Yoo. He also recently filmed the big-budget fantasy drama WONDERLAND for director KIM Tae-yong, alongside JUNG Yu-mi, BAE Suzy, CHOI Woo-shik and TANG Wei.

SON Sukku

After studying in America and China, SON Sukku returned to Korea where he debuted on the stage. During this time, he also landed a couple of small film roles, including a bit part in YIM Pil-sung’s Scarlet Innocence (2014) and a supporting role in the indie film Black Stone (2015). He then got his big break when he auditioned for a major supporting role in the second season of the WACHOWSKIS’ series Sense8 on Netflix. His role as a Seoul cop who goes head-to-head with BAE Doo-na put him on the map and he soon attracted the attention of Korean directors. He co-starred again with BAE in the TV show The Greatest Divorce and then he appeared as a tough prosecutor in HAN Jun-hee’s Hit-and-Run Squad (2019).

Yet 2020 looks set to be the year when his name really spreads wide as he has two major roles lined up. He’s playing the villain opposite Don LEE (aka MA Dong-seok)’s tough cop in The Outlaws 2, and he’s leading JEONG Ga-young’s commercial film debut, the comedy-romance Woo-ri, Ja-young alongside JUN Jong-seo.
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