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Today’s New Faces, Tomorrow’s Stars

Mar 28, 2019
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
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Korea Films Take a Gamble on New Actresses

Over the last 20 years, one fairly consistent trend in the Korean film industry has seen top local filmmakers pluck young, unknown actresses from obscurity and placing them front and center in major films, a process that has often put these young performers on the path to stardom. LEE Chang-dong did it with MOON So-ri (A Peppermint Candy, 2000; Oasis, 2002) and BONG Joon-ho did it with both BAE Doo-na (Barking Dogs Never Bite, 2000) and KO Asung (The Host, 2006), while PARK Chan-wook did so more recently with KIM Tae-ri (The Handmaiden, 2016). 

The last 12 months have seen quite a few new faces light up Korea’s silver screens, from JUN Jong-seo (once again a LEE Chang-dong discovery in last year’s BURNING) all the way to JEON So-nee, star of this month’s Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage. This week, KoBiz takes a look at four of the latest faces to be on the lookout for in Korean cinema in the years to come.

JUN Jong-seo - BURNING

LEE Chang-dong has many skills as a filmmaker and among those is his ability to draw out the very best of the actors he works with. JEON Do-yeon earned the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her part in Secret Sunshine (2007), while MOON So-ri earned the Rising Star Award at the Venice International Film Festival in 2002 for Oasis, which was just her second role (and first leading one). Last May, he did it again when he introduced the phenomenal debut role of JUN Jong-seo to the world in his Cannes competition entry BURNING.

Playing opposite seasoned actors YOO Ah-in and Steven YEUN in the critically acclaimed drama-thriller based on a short story by MURAKAMI Haruki, JUN, who was plucked from extensive auditions, more than holds her own as the mysterious and aching heart of the film.

The role earned JUN numerous raves and brought her considerable attention as people wait to see what she will do next. It didn’t take too long for that next role to come, as she took on a lead part opposite PARK Shin-hye in the upcoming thriller Call (literal title), which began filming in January.

KIM Da-mi - The Witch : Part 1. The Subversion

Just a month after BURNING, the industry welcomed another new name with open arms, when KIM Da-mi took center stage in PARK Hoon-jung’s action-mystery hit The Witch : Part 1. The Subversion in June of last year.

KIM plays Ja-yoon, a teenager who escaped from a secret facility a decade earlier but has no memory of the incident. While living a quiet life with her adoptive parents in the countryside she enters a televised singing contest with her friend, which sets off a chain of events as figures from her past begin to turn up around her, while abilities within her also begin to manifest.

The role netted KIM no less than five Best New Actress prizes from all the major film awards in Korea, in addition to several international prizes, such as the Cheval Noir Award for Best Actress from the Fantasia International Film Festival and the Rising Star Award from the London East Asia Film Festival.

Prior to The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion, KIM had also appeared in a supporting role alongside LEE Yoo-young in the thriller Marionette (2018). KIM’s next project is not fixed but director PARK has indicated that he hopes to develop a sequel for The Witch, and given the film’s healthy returns at the box office and enthusiasm from overseas viewers, we may well see KIM reprise her role in the not-too-distant future.


Unlike the other names on this list, LEE Jae-in had already drawn some notice within the industry as one of the leads in the Korean Academy of Film Arts-produced drama Adulthood (2018), which debuted at the Jeonju International Film Festival last year and featured her as a precocious young girl wary of her charming uncle. This year, at the still tender age of 15, LEE scored her biggest role in a commercial film yet as one of the leads in the cult investigation thriller SVAHA : THE SIXTH FINGER.

SVAHA : THE SIXTH FINGER follows a man (played by LEE Jung-jae) who investigates fraudulent religions and cults and gets in over his head when he starts to look into the Deer Mount cult. As the questions in his search grow larger, a young girl played by LEE Jae-in finds herself at the center of the mystery.

The film is the second by director JANG Jae-hyun, who performed the same casting trick with his debut four years ago, when new star PARK So-dam burst onto the scene as the possessed teenager at the center of The Priests (2015), in which she managed to steal the spotlight from both KIM Yun-seok and GANG Dong-won.

The young actress’ other notable credits include a small part in the comfort woman drama I Can Speak (2017) as well as a role playing the younger version of BAE Doo-na’s character in the Netflix series Sense8.

JEON So-nee - Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage

Closing out our list is young actress JEON So-nee, who is currently on screens in the new Warner Bros. Korea-distributed thriller Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage, which opened on March 20, incidentally the day of her 28th birthday.

Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage, the latest film from The Man From Nowhere (2010) and No Tears for the Dead (2014) director LEE Jeong-beom, stars LEE Sun-kyun as a corrupt detective who draws suspicion when he is the only survivor of an explosion. As he tries to clear his name and find out what really happened, he discovers that the case is connected to a young girl, played by JEON.

Director LEE is also no stranger to plucking new actresses from relative obscurity, having done so before when he cast an extremely young KIM Sae-ron in the smash hit revenge action-drama The Man From Nowhere (2010) opposite WON Bin.

Prior to Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage, JEON had several bit roles in commercial films but her only major credit had been as part of the supporting cast of the indie drama After My Death (2018), which earned the New Currents Award at the Busan International Film Festival in 2017.
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