Bong and Song: the double act behind S. Korea's Cannes victory

Claire LEE in Seoul and Fiachra GIBBONS in Cannes
1 / 3
South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho took a knee to pay tribute to his compatriot Song Kang-ho in Cannes

To give you some idea how good an actor South Korea's Song Kang-ho is, one of the first things director Bong Joon-ho did Saturday after he won the top prize at the Cannes was to drop to his knee and offer the Palme d'Or to his friend.

An actor who has become something of a national treasure, Song has starred in several of the divided country's greatest movies.

He also shines at the heart of "Parasite" as the head of a family of penniless scammers in the darkly comic drama that brought Bong his historic Cannes victory.

Song, 52, has made four films with Bong including the 2006 monster flick "The Host" and Bong's first English-language film "Snowpiercer", both of which were box office and critical smashes.

"I rely on Song a lot," the director told a recent press conference in Seoul.

"Working with him has allowed me to be more brave as a filmmaker, and take on more difficult challenges."

After starting his career on stage, Song made his first film appearance in 1996 in now-acclaimed director Hong Sang-soo's debut movie, "The Day a Pig Fell into a Wall".

Since then, he has appeared in more than 30 films and worked with top South Korean filmmakers including Park Chan-wook, Kang Je-gyu and Lee Chang-dong.

Song has had roles in some of the most significant works in South Korean cinema's modern history.

Director Kang Je-gyu's 1999 spy action film "Shiri" was the nation's first big-budget, Hollywood-style blockbuster, and outperformed "Titanic" at the South Korean box office that year.

- Connection with public -

Song also appeared in highly-acclaimed director Park Chan-wook's "Joint Security Area" (2000), "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" (2002) and "Thirst" (2009), which won the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Over more than 20 years in film, Song's roles have ranged from an ill-equipped detective in Bong's "Memories of Murder" to a vampire Catholic priest in "Thirst".

He has also played a character loosely based on the life of South Korea's late former president Roh Moo-hyun ("The Attorney", 2013), and a cab driver who becomes unintentionally involved in the 1980 Gwangju Uprising ("Taxi Driver", 2017).

That film was based on the Kim Sa-bok, a real-life taxi driver who gave a ride to Juergen Hinzpeter, a German journalist who reported on violent civil unrest in the southern city of Gwangju.

One of Song's strongest qualities is his versatility, said Jason Bechervaise, a professor at Soongsil Cyber University in Seoul.

"In cinema, a connection between the character and audience is crucial and this is where Song, in particular, shines," he told AFP.

"It's difficult to imagine films such as 'Taxi Driver' and 'The Attorney' resonating so powerfully without him.

"Viewers are inevitably drawn to his characters to such an extent that he is an immense draw at the Korean box office."