13 reasons Ha Jung Woo is the best actor of his generation
If there’s one star Korea is obsessed with at the moment, it’s Ha Jung Woo. After masterfully portraying a disturbed serial killer in 2008’s hit film The Chaser, which went on to gain international acclaim, the fiercely talented and fiercely likable Ha's meteoric rise to the top of the film world came as no real surprise. (You may also have seen him in the 2007 drama H.I.T. in which, funnily enough, he takes down a serial killer.)
His incredibly prolific filmography and versatility — a whopping 12 leading roles in films since 2008 — has earned him 11 Best Actor wins across several award ceremonies and countless nominations. His body of work, which shows his wide range and an undefinable spirit, triumphs in both quality and in ticket sales. And, according to a poll conducted by Chosun Ilbo and Max Movie from earlier this year, he’s now Korea’s favorite movie star, coming out on top of giants in the likes of Hwang Jung Min, Song Kang Ho and Lee Byung Hun. Here are some reasons why:
1. His unforgettable turn as an army officer in The Unforgiven.
Paired with social commentary on the South Korean compulsory military service and Ha's brilliant debut as a leading actor before he ever saw the light of day, the film is raw and scathing.
2. His first foray into the foreign market with Never Forever.
In Never Forever, Ha is harrowing opposite the beautiful Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Up in the Air) as an illegal immigrant struggling in America. The story that plays out between the two lovers is a heartbreaker. Also, check out his not-too-shabby English!
3. His chilling performance in The Chaser.
Considered his true breakout role, Ha is truly stunning in this film about a serial killer and an ex-cop on his trail. This widely praised film completely swept the awards season upon its release in 2008 and has since become a must-watch for international fans of Korean cinema.
4. His convincing days as a scumbag in Beastie Boys.
In Beastie Boys, Ha is a despicable manager of a host bar living a life of deception, prostitutes and sex. His ultra-realistic performance leaves a lasting impression, and by the end of the film you may actually want to punch him. Or fall in love with just how good he is.
5. His surprising take on a quiet romantic comedy in My Dear Enemy.
This sweet, subtle film is expertly carried by Ha and Jeon Do Yeon, one of Korea's finest actresses, who manage to make what could have been an ordinary tale about former lovers into an engaging watch.
6. His touching approach to the sports movie Take Off.
Take Off could have been just another movie about a team of men setting out to win a big sports event. Instead, its big heart and finely balanced tone between comedy and drama made it one of the biggest box office hits of 2009.
7. His lauded portrayal of a tormented man in The Yellow Sea.
In his second collaboration with The Chaser director Na Hong Jin and co-star Kim Yoon Seok (Running Turtle, The Thieves), Ha shows a man living a rough life as an ethnic Korean in China and the trouble that finds him when he agrees to kill a man for a vicious gangster. The film was well-received both domestically and internationally.
8. His strong performance as a lawyer in The Client.
In Korea's first court thriller, Ha brings a believable and grounded spirit to the character of a defense lawyer working on a murder case. The film drew positive reviews for the lead actors' consuming portrayals.
9. His first gangster film, Nameless Gangster.
This movie put Ha opposite one of Korea's iconic actors, Choi Min Sik (Oldboy, I Saw the Devil). He held his own and shined even within the impressive cast; Nameless Gangster went on to become one of 2012's biggest hits and a widely praised gangster film with Korean flavor. Scorsese would've been proud.
10. His 180-degree turn as an immature male Bridget Jones in Love Fiction.
Just after spending months tattooed and beaten around as a mob boss in Nameless Gangster, Ha mixed things up as he headed on to star opposite the lovely Gong Hyo Jin (The Master's Sun) in this rom-com about an immature, dating-inept writer.
11. His potential as a leading action-thriller actor in The Berlin File.
Ha, who seems to be out to prove himself as an adept actor across many spectrums and many genres -- and doing a spectacular job of it -- found success again in this spy thriller about a North Korean agent who finds himself and his wife running from his country in Berlin. Ha is just as fast-paced and just as slick as the film as it progresses. It became another box office darling when it came out early this year.
12. His ability to carry an entire film by himself in The Terror Live.
The film itself may have been gimmicky, but far lasting is Ha's exhilarating one-man performance as he plays a downtrodden news anchor looking to cover a story about a bomb-happy terrorist. Nearly the entirety of the movie is focused on a one-shot of Ha and Ha alone, and he is gripping -- magnificent, even -- by himself. Needless to say, it did well at the box office. These days, all anything needs is his name on it to sell big.
13. His recent turn as an actor-turned-rookie-director with Rollercoaster.
The verdict on Ha as a behind-the-camera director on this airplane comedy is out, but what is certain is that Ha's career shows no signs of slowing -- he's already set to release another film (Kundo) by the end of the year and has yet another project after it slated for 2014.
It's your turn -- what's your favorite Ha Jung Woo movie?