There's no denying my love for Lee Su-jin's directorial debut Han Gong-ju, a heart-breaking, emotion-driven story about a girl trying to move on from a horrible past, and inspired by true events. At the center of that tale is South Korean actress Chun Woo-hee in her first starring role, which earned her the 2014 Blue Dragon Award for best actress.
Since Han Gong-ju, Woo-hee's career has skyrocketed and while she may always be identified with the role that made her a star, the 29-year-old has some other great roles under her belt. Her ability to convey raw emotion has made her an in-demand favorite on the big screen, and so in celebration of the recent wide release of her horror film The Wailing, let's take a look at these four show-stopping #ChunWooHee performances.
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4. The Piper (2015)
Based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin, this film marks Kim Kwang-tae's directorial debut. It follows a father and his sick son who journey on foot to Seoul, where they believe they'll find a doctor who can cure the boy. While on their passage, they stumble upon an isolated mountain village infested with rats. The father makes an offer to the villagers to lure the rodents away in exchange for his son's medical fees.
Woo-hee plays a nervous shaman named Mi-sook, who is involved in the film's unnecessary sort-of love story. Her character is one dimensional, but she had arguably one of the most chilling scenes in the film.
The Piper is a truly creepy depiction of a classic tale that stays surprisingly true to the source material. Kwang-tae shows his ability to progress the story, with its increasingly dark tone. It's a story filled with desperation and betrayal, offering excellent performances and great cinematography splashed with a little gore. If dark fairytales are your thing, then check out this South Korean take on the German legend.
3. Cart (2014)
Blue Dragon-nominated Cart by Ji-young Boo is a true story about a group of female contract supermarket workers who get laid off with no explanation. At the forefront of this story is Sun-hee, a model employee who, before the layoff, was ensured she would be made a permanent member of staff. The former staff stage a string of protests around the store. We follow the characters' struggles in maintaining their motivation as the company continues to shut them down by any means necessary. The real-life situation went on for 512 days.
Woo-hee plays Mi-jin, one of the quieter employees who initially doesn't see a point to the strike, believing it won't change anything. The actress does a fine job playing the brooding, sympathetic girl. Cart is an ensemble drama that explores the increasingly difficult home-life of Sun-hee, the standout of this film.
The film becomes darker and more dramatic as it progresses, with desperate measures taken by the women and the company in equal measure. Cart is an excellent film filled with social commentary, drama and heartbreak, with a stellar cast that'll leave you with a case of the feels.
2. Thread Of Lies (2013)
Thread of Lies shares a similar tone to Han Gong-ju, with both films dealing with characters attempting to move on from a tragic experience while exploring the themes of loneliness, desperation and betrayal. Han Lee's Thread of Lies follows the family of a bullied girl who recently committed suicide, unravelling the story through present-day repercussions and the events leading up to the incident.
Woo-hee has a peripheral role here, and although the part was small, in classic Woo-hee fashion, she managed to gain notice with a particularly emotional scene.
Thread of Lies is a realistic depiction of teen bullying that explores the theme in a balanced way. Though the tragedy of suicide is portrayed, you never find yourself really disliking any of the characters who might have been responsible for the self-destruction.
Though it didn't have quite the lasting impact of Han Gong-ju, Thread of Lies is right up there as one of my favorite films. In fact, I'm downloading it to my iPad right now.
1. The Wailing (2016)
Hong-jin Na's multi-award-winning The Wailing is about a mild-mannered village policeman who enlists the help of a shaman to investigate a string of murders and the outbreak of a virus — all of which started upon the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man.
Woo-hee plays an enigmatic woman that leaves viewers guessing. She is perfection in this role, with one particular scene that sent shivers down my spine probably my most rewatched film sequence ever.
There's no doubt that the East does #horror better than the West, with Japanese classics like The Ring and #TheGrudge, both of which spawned American remakes and sequels, and Korean chill fests such as A Tale of Two Sisters and Death Bell.
No other recent horror made me as painfully uncomfortable as #TheWailing. The film packs several different genres into its two-and-a-half-hour run time, starting off as a black-comedy cop drama, then delving into mystery-thriller territory, before revealing itself as a horror with Biblical undertones. Its acting is superb and the closing minutes are among the best and most jaw-dropping ever produced.
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Check out the trailer for The Wailing below:
Chun Woo-hee continues to prove herself a hugely capable actress across a variety of genres. I eagerly await her next film One Day, in which she plays a woman in a coma.
These films are more than Woo-hee, of course, and every one of them is well worth your precious time — I promise!
What are some of your favorite performances and what other Korean films do you like?
[Image: 'Han Gong-ju' / CGV Movie Collage/Third Window Films]