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Actor You Need to Know: Song Hye-kyo

Song reflects the traits of an atypical woman whose simplicity shines through. As a result, we are more invested in each of her characters

Debashree Dutta Jul 04, 2022

Photo: Courtesy of SBS

Song Hye-kyo enjoys the admiration of her ardent following and everyone who has seen her work. One part of “The Troika” – together with Kim Tae-hee and Jun Ji-hyun (collectively known as “Tae-Hye-Ji”) – she is not only a drop-dead gorgeous South Korean actress but also one whose compelling acting prowess has earned her a place among the leading Hallyu stars. She is supremely talented and commands the screen with a stunning face and stirring performances. Song broke out in television dramas like Autumn in My Heart (2000), All In (2003), Full House (2004), That Winter, The Wind Blows (2013), Descendants of the Sun (2016), Encounter (2018) and Now, We Are Breaking Up (2021), also in films like Hwang Jin Yi (2007), The Grandmaster (2013), My Brilliant Life (2014) and The Queens (2015).

In her lengthy career, Song has co-starred with the who’s who of the Korean entertainment industry, standing for a certain kind of attractive personality, whether playing a damsel in distress, a blind heiress, a feisty cardiothoracic surgeon, or an elite fashion designer. When the then 14-year-old teenager landed her debut acting role in the TV drama First Love (1996), no one could have anticipated that she would ascend to the status of a huge star within a few years with her role in the KBS drama Autumn in My Heart. Her incredible performance as Eun Suh, a telephone receptionist, carved a niche in our hearts, and the show, on the whole, became a resounding hit that is considered a pioneer in the Korean melodrama series, resulting in the Korean wave.

With the mega-hit romantic comedy series Full House, the All In actress added to her filmography. She shared screen time as Han Ji-eun with Lee Young-Jae (Jeong Ji-hoon aka Rain) entangled in a love-hate relationship. Song, in my opinion, succeeds notably in the romantic genre. Her features, her body language, the way she speaks, and her demeanor all exude feminine beauty and are qualities that suit her. Song’s on-point displays of despair and misery in Full House, both in terms of her situation and her developing relationship with Rain, highlight how talented she is as an actor. Playing this specific character deservedly gave her the time of her life, propelling her to the position of one of Asia’s most well-known Korean actresses.

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Following Full House’s immense popularity, Song went on a hiatus to reflect on herself before making her big-screen debut in My Girl and I (2005). Her nuanced characterization of the titular gisaeng in Hwang Jin Yi‘s film adaption helped her branch out from her too-cute image. Then, to diversify her career, she took on a challenging role, delivering a solid performance in the American indie film Make Yourself at Home (formerly titled Fetish)—the story of Sookhy (Song), a Korean woman in suburban New Jersey whose fixation with a Caucasian couple next door leads to something insane. While the success of both films was adversely affected, Song’s versatility was much appreciated.

The actress is considered one of Korea’s most beautiful women, which is probably why she looks even more attractive when romancing our favorite Korean heroes. She is an ideal romantic heroine who has explored and blossomed in dramas such as The World That They Live In, aka Worlds Within (2008) with Hyun Bin, and Love for Sale, the final chapter in the omnibus film Camilla (2010) with Kang Dong-won. Song, who excels at externalizing a character’s innermost state, pulled off the impressive role of a documentary filmmaker, Da Hae, in 2011’s A Reason to Live (Korean title: 오늘; Today), who forgives her fiancé’s killer, a 15-year-old boy. However, her moral views and desire to be empathetic are significantly called into question when she learns that the adolescent has murdered a classmate not long after his respite. The film premiered at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival.

After a supporting role in The Grandmaster, director Wong Kar-wai’s ode to Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu master Ip Man, Song marvelled as the blind heiress Oh Young in That Winter, the Wind Blows — a Korean remake of the Japanese drama Ai NanteIraneYo, Natsu (I Don’t Need Love, Summer), where the actress, along with her co-star Jo In-sung, garnered rave reviews for extraordinary performances. She also received the Daesang, Korea’s biggest television award, at the 2nd APAN Star Awards for the same. The superhit romance melodrama kick-started a period of resurgence in her career. It’s worth noting how consistently Song has been able to embody her characters in all of their distinctiveness while resolutely maintaining her unique individuality. This is evident in a variety of dramas and films such as My Brilliant Life, The Crossing (2014) or The Queens, a classic romantic comedy about three women playing the game of love by swaying associates and eliminating adversaries.

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The magnum opus blockbuster hit Descendants of the Sun proved to be much more than an action-romance melodrama. Its protagonists, Song Hye-kyo and Song Joong-ki, became fan favorites, earning them the moniker “Song-Song” couple. The former was re-established as a Hallyu star, topping popularity polls in Asia. She won the Daesang award again in 2016, this time alongside Song Joong-ki. The “Two Tone Lip Bar” lipstick used by Song in a scene from the show surpassed sales records for Aritaum in South Korea, prompting Laneige to stage a special makeup event dedicated to the show on its website. The drama’s success gained mass momentum in both the domestic and international markets. In addition to rocketing the cast to stardom, the show put K-drama on the map while also increasing Korea’s economy and influencing the country’s culture in ways that few others have.

It’s tough to tear your eyes away from this doe-eyed beauty. She has been in business for over two decades and is still going strong. Her roles have won her nominations and accolades along the way, as she continues to bring life to every moment on screen. But Song, I’m sure, is picky about her work. Perhaps this is why, despite her enormous success following Descendants of the Sun, she took a layover for two years. The actress returned to television with Encounter, co-starring Park Bo-geum, and then, after another break of two years, resumed with Now, We Are Breaking Up, alongside Jang Ki-yong. Her distinctiveness as a leading lady originates from her inherent acting skills. Song reflects the traits of an atypical woman whose simplicity shines through. As a result, as viewers, we are more invested in each of her characters. She does not try to be likable; instead, she has an unrivalled capacity to make you fall for her.

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