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Korean Actors to the World

K-Pop, Korean cuisine, Korean education system, Korean technology, and Korean media: People are transfixed by Korea. Movies are no exception. For a recent example, “Snow piercer” has been released on the 1st of August and is bringing astonishing result. It was directed by a Korean director Bong Joon-ho and two main characters were acted by famous Korean actors. Although Korean movie industry had minor results from trying to enter the Hollywood and other international movie industry, movies like “Snow Piercer” were unimaginable just few decades ago. However, more important to aim the scope on is the Korean actors.


 Just few years ago, it was quite usual to hear a news about Korean actors trying to debut in Hollywood, or some place outside Korea. But, all we saw were top actors in Korea playing funny, weird, evil, brutal, crazy, or stupid minor supporting roles in foreign films. This was also true of Korean-American actors. If movies had Korea or its features as scenes or plots’ background, it has always been abnormal. Korean immigrants were hired to play “Korean” roles, but they could barely speak Korean. Just to this point, it looks as if Korea’s movie industry does not have any international effects on other nations. However, recently, “made in Korea” films have gotten countless amount of international awards and even remade by foreign directors who were attracted by the plot and story. Step by step, Korean movies and actors were taking their progress forward.


 Things for actors started to change a bit. Hollywood movies would often ridicule Asians and their cultures. This included South Korea as well. However, they started to set the North Koreans especially for their so called “bad side.” It is because media tend to reflect the society and its flow. Conflicts between North Korea and rest of the world are displayed through the movies. South Korea was no longer a country for movie makers to make fun of or criticize indirectly through the movie. North Korea is now their enemy target to shoot down as shown in the movie “White House Down.”


Previously top Korean movie stars only got minor roles. Then the relative importance of their role started to grow. Finally, Korean top actors such as Rain as an evil character in “Speed racer,” and “Ninja Assassin” and Jeon Ji-hyun as cold blooded female assassin in “Blood,” started to play the main hero or heroine in the movies. Unfortunately, their characters were still somewhat unusual and unordinary. However, things got even better. Actors from Korea started to play a major role throughout the whole movie. Lee Byung-heon played in recent movies, “Red, the Legend 2,” and “G.I.Joe 2.” These movies were not only in huge scale and investment, but also popular throughout the world. In these two movies, the villains are North Koreans and Lee Byung-heon plays an evil character that turns its side to help the good side. More fascinatingly, he speaks few Korean words which thrilled Korean audience.


North Korea is not the only reason why Korean actors started to take major parts. K-Pop is another reason. Korean production companies kept investing their money for their idol groups to enter the world market. Starting in all over Asia, K-Pop started to take over world charts such as Psy taking 2nd place and Crayon Pop being listed on the top 100 in Billboard chart. Along with the K-Pop, Samsung took over world’s market share in most of the categories they deal with, soccer players such as Park Ji-sung played in Premier and other well-known leagues, Choo Sin-su and Ryu Hyun-jin stood firmly in the major league, and numberless movies received internationally well-known awards in film festivals such as one in Cannes, France. These are all factors that caused the changes for the actors and changes in their importance in world movie market. Some might think the actors reached their current position by their own will and effort, no mean to offence the actors, but they actually had whole Korea supporting them.


Then, why am I focusing on the movie stars Korea has? Unlike other fields, movies, especially Hollywood movies, are being released and displayed all around the world. It means Korea is being presented by the actors. It is new pride that we Koreans can now have within ourselves. Some could argue sports and music industry also have the same effects. However, the changes that have recently occurred in the movie industry are surely the best example of showing how the world and the people changed the way they perceive South Koreans. People’s view on South Korea is evolving in a positive way at a very fast pace. What will happen later is unknown. However, one thing for sure, Korea is changing.

Kim Jee-yun  kimduhyeon51@dongguk.edu

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