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Ko - production in Busan
  • Rising Stars in Korean Cinema
  • by Christopher Weatherspoon /  Feb 06, 2018
  • 7 Actors to Watch in 2018

    With over 100 years of cinema history, a strong indie film scene and a thriving commercial movie industry, South Korea has a surplus of extraordinary film talent, and every year, fresh new faces appear waiting for their chance at stardom. However, in the entertainment industry there is no road map for guaranteed success or stardom, and many actors spend years grinding away in menial jobs and bit parts before they land a leading role in a major release.

    The actors below are no exception. All of them have paid their dues, in one way or the other, and are climbing the ranks to become Korea's next generation of cinema superstars. Though none of the actors below are necessarily new, all of them are on the cusp of what look to be bright futures.

    KOO Kyo-hwan

    KOO Kyo-hwan seemingly rocketed to stardom overnight after his star-making turn in CHO Hyunhoon’s Jane (2017). His convincing, meticulous portrayal of the eponymous transgendered character Jane drew rave reviews and earned KOO the Actor of the Year Award at the 21st Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) as well as Best New Actor accolades at the 26th Buil Film Awards and the 18th Busan Film Critics Awards. However, those familiar with indie Korean cinema would hardly describe KOO as “new”, since the talented character actor had already been in the industry for a decade by 2016. KOO debuted in 2006 as a stage actor and two years later made the transition to movies, appearing in several short films including YOON Sung-hyun’s first short film Boys (2008). KOO would pay his dues, appearing in critically acclaimed films like Castaway on the Moon (2009) and A Werewolf Boy (2012), albeit in bit or supporting parts, and featuring in award winning short films such as Winter Sleep (2012) and A Dangerous Woman (2014), among others. Through the years, while keeping busy as an actor in the Korean indie scene, KOO has also honed his skills as a filmmaker. His directorial debut, the short film Turtles, won the Cling-Clang Coin Award at the 13th Jeongdongjin Independent Film Festival (JIFF) and since then, KOO has directed several more shorts in addition to holding roles as writer, editor and producer on other productions. Following Jane, KOO starred in KIM Soo-hyun’s indie black comedy feature Beaten Black and Blue (2016) which finished the year on the Cine 21 film magazine’s “Top Ten Korean Films of 2016” list and garnered another Best New Actor Award for KOO from the Chunsa film festival.

    KANG Ha-neul

    To call KANG Ha-neul a new star or a rising actor would almost be insulting. KANG attended a high school for the arts before studying theater at Chung-Ang University, which boasts one of Korea’s top acting programs. KANG then cut his teeth on stage in musical theater before making a transition to television, debuting on the small screen with a supporting role in the drama series My Mom! Super Mom! in 2007. KANG would appear in several series, including hit drama The Heirs (2013) and the highly rated, immensely popular cable series Incomplete Life (2014), the latter earning KANG multiple award nominations, and the Star Award – Best Actor prize at the 9th Cable TV Broadcasting Awards. By then, KANG had already been appearing in feature films, including supporting roles in period comedy Battlefield Heroes (2011) and rom-com You're My Pet (2011). KANG’s first starring turn came in horror film Mourning Grave (2014), but it would be the leading role in director LEE Joon-ik’s biographical period drama DONGJU; The Portrait of A Poet (2016) that would cement his status as one of Korea’s top actors, in any medium. KANG’s subdued yet emotional portrayal of poet YUN Dong-ju drew notice and acclaim and the long applauded actor has only seen his star rise since. A testament to KANG's acting range, 2017 saw the star appearing in three very different roles in very different movies. In the ripped-from-the-headlines crime drama New Trial (2017), KANG is disillusioned inmate Hyun-woo, who has all but given up hope after spending 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In sleeper hit buddy cop comedy Midnight Runners (2017), KANG plays the nerdy Hee-yeol, the foil to police academy partner Ki-joon (PARK Seo-jun). Finally, in the dark psychological thriller Forgotten (2017), KANG is the determined younger brother Jin-seok, who sets out to find the truth behind his older brother's memory loss, no matter how horrifying the answer.

    RYU Jun-yeol

    RYU Jun-yeol became a professional actor relatively late by modern industry standards. Known for his unique looks, RYU debuted with a meager start in 2012, beginning a two year stint that kept him busy appearing in about half a dozen short films. RYU’s feature debut involved a small part in the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) film INGtoogi: The Battle of Internet Trolls (2013), but it would be his performance in another KAFA feature film, the hit thriller Socialphobia (2015), that would make audiences and critics take notice. Directed by HONG Seok-jae, Socialphobia was carried by lead star BYUN Yo-han, however RYU’s turn as the humorous, fast talking and charismatic AFREECA TV VJ Yang-ge demonstrated the trained actor’s skill, earning RYU a nomination for Best New Actor at the 3rd Wild-flower Film Awards. The one-two punch of Socialphobia and a leading role in Reply 1988 (2015), the highest-rated drama in Korean cable TV history, established RYU as a bonafide star. RYU received several Best New Actor nods for his role in hit crime-thriller The King (2017) and played a key role in one of the top releases of 2017, JANG Hun's democracy movement historical drama A Taxi Driver (2017). RYU is set to star opposite CHO Jin-woong in director LEE Hae-young’s remake of the hit Chinese thriller Drug War.

    PARK Jung-min

    PARK Jung-min followed up a string of short films with a starring turn in his feature debut Bleak Night (2011) which won him instant recognition for his portrayal of the sensitive Becky. PARK's starring role in DONGJU; The Portrait of A Poet was the final spark needed to ignite his career. Playing real life character SONG Mong-gyu, PARK garnered awards for best new actor at the 52nd Baeksang Art Awards, the 16th Director's Cut Awards and the 37th Blue Dragon Awards. Since Bleak Night, PARK has had a prolific career, appearing in multiple films nearly every year for the past decade. In fact, PARK has appeared in a film with every actor featured in this list. He kicked off 2018 by co-starring in one of the first major releases of the year, playing mentally handicapped piano virtuoso Jin-tae opposite LEE Byung-hun in the comedy drama Keys to the Heart. He next appears in Psychokinesis, the latest film from YEON Sang-ho, helmer of the international hit zombie movie TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016).

    KIM Dong-wook

    KIM Dong-wook's decade-long career has involved a long and steady climb. KIM got his start in musical theater and following a flurry of roles in short films and bit parts in features, made a splash playing would-be suitor Ha-rim in the hit, gender-bending drama series The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince (2007). With his career heating up, KIM's breakout feature film role would come two years later in the critically acclaimed sports drama Take Off (2009), which drew nearly 8.4 million viewers on its way to becoming the second most watched film of 2009. Following Take Off KIM kept busy, appearing in seven films over a three-year period. With a growing filmography that featured a mixture of major releases and indie fare, the actor took increasingly bigger roles in features film projects culminating with a mesmerizing turn as Prince Sung-won, the male lead in the erotic period drama The Concubine (2012). KIM took a two-year hiatus from acting in 2012 to complete mandatory military service, but staged a comeback quickly thereafter. He most recently had a supporting role in the blockbuster fantasy epic Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017) and is scheduled to reprise his role in the series’ second installment Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days this summer.

    CHO Hyun-chul

    Multi-hyphenate filmmaker CHO Hyun-chul has become a hot commodity after starring as the aimless Su-hyeon in director KIM Dae-hwan's The First Lap (2017). A Jeonju Cinema Project, the character-driven melodrama went on to perform strongly on the international festival circuit. CHO's credits go back to 2010, when he directed and starred in the short Love In The Time Of Allergy. He had a supporting role in the crime-thriller Coin Locker Girl (2015) and has since managed to snag bit parts in popular releases such as Tunnel (2016) and Master (2016). CHO was most recently seen in the TV drama series Argon (2017). 

    DOH Kyung-soo

    DOH Kyung-soo, also known as D.O., is an idol that successfully made the transition to acting, but don't think for a second he hasn't earned his acclaim. DOH began his entertainment career as one of the lead singers of popular K-pop group EXO in 2012. Following appearances in television dramas, DOH earned critical acclaim almost immediately with his feature film debut, BOO Ji-Young's Cart (2014). DOH drew notice and rave reviews for his portrayal of Tae-young, the teenage son of supermarket worker Sun-hee (YUM Jung-ah) who is forced to go on strike. Since Cart DOH has seen his star ascend almost astronomically. In his next film, the teen romantic drama UNFORGETTABLE (2016), he was cast as the lead, playing shy teen Beom-sil. He co-starred in his next two films MY ANNOYING BROTHER (2016) and Room No.7 (2017), the latter of which served as the opening film of the 21st Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan). Following a supporting role in Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, DOH will next appear as the lead voice actor in animated film The Underdog followed by KANG Hyoung-chul’s Korean War-era tap dance drama Swing Kids. DOH's meteoric rise and reputation as a ‘good idol actor’ can be attributed to his total devotion to the craft. Not content to be known as a pretty-boy actor, DOH has shown that he is not afraid to undergo physical transformations for a role.
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