Rather than being a romantic leading man, Song Kang Ho is a character actor who has been upgraded to lead character. He started with plays in a troupe where he was trained in improvisation. He took minor roles in films including as an extra.
He won his first awards for "No 3" (1997). Three different, one for best new actor and two for best supporting actor. He actually No. 2 in a gang, but was considered to be a scene stealer. Someone of the movie audience picked him out and imitated some of his mannerisms. The movie is considered satirical and well written for its genre.
With "The Foul King" (2000) Song demonstrates an early aptitude for comedy where he plays a shy man who becomes a villain wrestler. Directed by Jee-woon Kim.
In "Joint Security Area" (2000) he played a North Korean officer who had befriended a South Korean and later in a dispute To prepare for this role Song worked with a North Korean defector to get the accent more precise. This movie became the highest grossing Korean film to date and gave Song a much bigger profile. His first movie directed by Chan-wook Park
In "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" (2002) he played a wealthy factory owner whose daughter was accidentally killed in a kidnapping attempt. He was so distraught he took extreme measure to track down the killer even administering torture. Directed by Chan-wook Park
In "Memories of Murder" (2003) Song played a bumbling lawyer in murder case. Considered by some to be an early masterpiece directed by Bong Joon Ho. Won Korean awards for both Bong Joon Ho and Song Kang-Ho,
"The Host" (2006) saw him as a bereaved single parent Another Bong Joon Ho film in which both won awards in Asia.
"The Good, The Bad, The Weird" (2007) the weird comic action western style film with comic action, reflecting spaghetti western. It was a commercial success a few national nominations for Song, but no awards Directed by Jee-woon Kim.
For "Secret Sunshine" (2007) he was interviewed for a special feature. Not the star, but saw
himself as balancing the protagonist who was going through a tragedy.
He was a somewhat jovial, somewhat annoying suitor. He needed to calm
the rage felt by the female lead. This was the closest to a romance I saw him in. Directed by Chang-dong Lee, another well known Korean director.
In the "Face Reader" (2013) Song stars as a person who could determine personality from physical features of their face. Some more awards.
With "Snowpiercer" (2013) he received 2nd billing, but speaks through a translation procedure. This represents a movie where Bong Joon Ho makes an English speaking film for the first time. Tilda Swinton after watching a few of Song's movies and working with him described him as "one of the protean greats in cinema." Set in the frozen future when a global science experiment ended disastrously and a select number of people were locked in a perpetual running train. Class war underlies the plot.
He was given a bit part in the American film, "The Interview" (2014). More about the movie that upset a lot of people: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/12/north-korea.html
"The Throne" (2015) saw him playing the king with a son who he felt was not ready to ascend the throne. A lot of family tension.
"The Age of Shadows" (2016) was set in the 1920's when the Japanese controlled and Korean rebels were organizing bombings. Song Kang Ho was a respected Japanese police officer who had been born in Korea and felt conflicted. Directed by Jee-woo Kim.
In "Parasite" (2019) winner of the best film Oscar he played the father of the family that infiltrated a rich family. It become another class war underlying themed film. Both director/ writer Bong Joon Ho and Song Kang-Ho were given many awards including Cannes. Read more: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html
"The King's Letters" (2019) has not been seen. Again Song plays king, this time inventing an alphabet for Korean language to help his subjects
Confession: The Korean naming patterns have been confusing for me. I understand that normally the first name is the family name followed by the personal name. That's fine, but I have seen variations on the same name and thought that some family names have followed western traditions with the family name placed last. This blog is not intended to offend anyone and I hope that it in some small way promotes Korean culture.
Note: As usual I have bolded the movies I have seen. A few that I had no access to, but would like to see are included as illustrations of his versatility.