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‘Parasite’ Star Song Kang Ho on His Early Days: ‘I Was Reluctant to Act in Movies’

Song Kang Ho
CAITLIN CRONENBERG

Parasite” is a global hit and an Oscar contender, which means many audiences will be seeing actor Song Kang Ho for the first time. But in fact, he’s had a terrific career in Korean films for more than 20 years.

Song was first mentioned in Variety on Nov. 23, 1998, in a review of the film “The Quiet Family.” Asked if he remembers the review, he says, “Of course I was aware of Variety at the time, because Variety is a famous magazine. I don’t remember the review, but it’s positive, so thank you!

“In the beginning, I read every single review. I was affected by each one, whether praise or criticism. As time has passed, I don’t think reviews are so important.”

Neon’s “Parasite” marks the actor’s fourth film with writer-director Bong Joon Ho. “When making it, I had the feeling it was special. The structure is unique, and I understood the message he wanted to deliver.”

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
In my early 20s. I wanted to become a good actor, but I didn’t have a role model. Nobody else in the family was in entertainment. They didn’t approve of my choice. They didn’t like it. It’s not just my family: In general, if a family is told you want to be a theater actor, they say, “No, are you crazy?” I thought of acting as a career from the beginning. I envisioned remaining a theater actor. I went to school, to an acting program, but only for a short while. My real training was with a theater company that I was a member of for years. The name of the company translates as “Theater Friends Stage.” My pay was very low, of course. I think culturally, theater is not where you make money as an actor.

Did you audition much?
The last time I auditioned was 20 years ago. I never auditioned for stage, because I was a member of that theater company. For film, it was more of a meeting with the director than an audition. Auditions are pretty common these days for young actors. I consider myself lucky. If I had to audition, I probably would not get any roles.

When you started out, did you want to do film work?
At the beginning, I was reluctant to act in movies. At that time, 20-30 years ago — no, say 20: I’m not that old! — the status of the Korean film industry was not as high as it is now. And the film industry was not so welcoming to actors from the theater. I had watched other actors struggle or fail in making that transition. But I was lucky enough to have a fairly easy transition. With films, it was hard to have all the waiting. What’s funny is that now, I wish I could have a little more down time. Directors these days are working very fast, so waiting time is less and less. I think directors and crews are much better prepared than before.

Did you get any good advice?
I don’t remember a specific person, but one of my senior actors onstage said: “Do not become a technical actor. Do not act in a typical, predictable way.” That was advice I still try to follow.

Any plans to return to theater?
The last time I was onstage was 20 years ago. You can blame this on my inability to multitask. And the longer I stay away, the more fearful I become.

Did you like “The Quiet Family”?
It’s one of my favorites. It’s a unique film, and it was fun to make. It’s about a family, and it’s an ensemble film, but it’s very different from “Parasite.”