In this essay from January 2020, Georgia Davis explores the resume of Parasite breakout Park So-dam.
If you have been following any of the news on the current awards season, then you may just see one film pop up time and time again: Parasite. The South Korean hit has made waves across the world, being the first Korean film to win the coveted Palm D’or at Cannes Film Festival and gain nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best International Film at the 92nd Academy Awards. Though despite its worldwide acclaim, the lack of recognition for Bong Joon-ho’s exceptional cast has not gone unnoticed, leaving many people questioning just why these exceptional actors’ work is going under the radar.
One of the most memorable figures in Parasite is that of Ki-Jung, played by South Korean actress Park So-Dam. Ki-jung is the daughter of the Kim family, the film’s central characters, who would assume the role of Jessica, an art tutor from Illinois, Chicago, in the Kim family’s attempts to infiltrate the Park residence. Park’s portrayal of the conniving Ki-Jung is one of the true highlights of Parasite, even earning her a nomination for the coveted Blue Dragon Award for Best Supporting Actress. Yet, much like her extremely talented co-stars, it comes as a shock to see their individual efforts being rewarded by the Western world. Despite the cast winning the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, few of their performances are noticed alone. Especially that of Park So-Dam, who has only received one nomination for her performance in Parasite with no wins.
It’s genuinely hard to believe that Park has received one sole nomination worldwide for her performance. As the devious Ki-Jung, Park was mesmerizing; it was hard to take her eyes off her whenever she was on screen. Ki-Jung could have very easily been a one-note, darkly comedic addition to the Parasite ensemble, yet Park gives Ki-Jung dimension, showing her as more than just a downright dodgy figure of the lower classes yet allowing her to revel in her dark reputation. To say she was snubbed by the Oscars is a fact and one that people seem to agree on. Though it should be noted that it isn’t just The Academy that has overlooked the power of Park So-Dam, the entire awards season has.
Despite only launching her on-screen career in 2013, Park has shown more range in her abilities than many seasoned actors, with Parasite only being the tip of the iceberg. She has shaken up the world of Korean cinema with a career full of unseen twists and turns that had earned her the honor of being a household name. Yet for those introduced to Park’s work through the 2019 powerhouse success, you may not truly realize just what a powerful actress Park So-Dam is.
Two years after landing her first on-screen role in indie short No More, No Less, Park would make her break into the mainstream in a stream of successful cinematic hits, starting with Lee Hae-Young’s The Silenced. Here, Park would take the role of Yeon-Duk, or Kazue as she was named by the auspicious school in which she resides, a young girl who is harrowed by secrets of the past and afraid of the situations she may be residing in. Park’s performance as Yeon-Duk is powerful in its restraint, as she struggles with her damning past choices, and her need to refute the answers of the mysterious goings-on in the school. Often, this would all be told through subtext thanks to Park’s acute attention to detail, however, she would really give her all in the film’s third act. Park allows Yeon-Duk to break down in a way that feels necessary, whole and real. We feel Yeon-Duk’s pain, and we root for her yet simultaneously cry with her as she struggles to survive in the film’s climax. To say this performance is a tear-jerker is an understatement and thaw even the coldest of hearts. Plus, as her first leading role alongside seasoned actors Park Bo-Young (Strong Girl Bong Soon, Oh My Ghost) and Uhm Ji-Won (Missing Woman, Traces of Love), Park holds her own and gains just as much recognition as her fellow performers.
So, it comes as no surprise to say that she was nominated for several awards and won three for her performance as Yeon-Duk, including Best New Actress from the Busan Film Critics Association.
Fortunately for us, and for Park, this would only be the beginning. 2015 would see her take on a plethora of new roles in Korean cinema, each one allowing her to show more strings of her talented bow. In Veteran, she would play the role of an unconventional budding actress who, despite her lack of screen time, would still leave an impression on audiences. In The Throne, she would show her prowess with historical drama as Moon So-Won, a concubine who had the affections of the King. Yet when noting her career-defining performances, it would be criminal not to mention her role in 2015 horror, The Priests.
Here, Park would assume the role of Young-Shin, a high-schooler who was hit by a car and possessed by a demon. Although her role would only be a supportive one and she would only appear in glimpses of the film’s first two acts, it would be in the film’s climax that Park would share her true capabilities with the world. Switching between the innocence of Young-Shin as she cries out to the Priest and the maniacal evil of the demon she is possessed with, Park holds nothing back in this performance and does not hesitate to fully embrace the grotesque. Her ability to switch between opposites of her character within seconds is truly spine-chilling and makes for one the best performances of her short career. So, it comes as no surprise that once again, Park was greeted with an amass of awards, including Cine21’s Best New Actress of the Year and her first nomination for the coveted Blue Dragon Awards for Best Supporting Actress.
Along with her domination of the big screen, Park would also conquer the small screen and show yet another completely side to her already incredible acting range. K-Drama’s or Korean Dramas are well known for their dramatic flair, whirlwind romances, and unbelievable storylines, and the 2016 series Cinderella and the Four Knights is certainly no exception. The limited series follows Eun Ha-won (Park) as the titular Cinderella, who despite her overly ambitious and hard-working exterior, is outcast by her step-mother, step-sister, and absent father. Though through a series of (very) unlikely events, Ha-won would and end up in the care of the wealthy Chairman Kang of Haneul Group, and his three feuding grandsons.
If you think that indie darling Park So-Dam would be brought down by the world of K-Dramas, then you have another thing coming. This K-Drama may be unbelievable, but it is entirely addictive – and that is solely because of its leading lady. Full of more optimism and charisma than thought possible in a human, Park radiates pure joy at Eun Ha-Won. Ha-Won is truly a ray of sunshine, and it is her childish jabs, aggressive persistence and kind-heart that will win audiences over in an instant. Yet when it comes to the dips in Ha-Won’s story – and in a true Cinderella fashion, there are many – Park demonstrates her performance mastery yet again. Time and time again Park allows Ha-Won to crumble but refuses to delve into the world of melodrama as so many K-Dramas do. She allows Ha-Won to be soft and vulnerable yet refuses to dampen her light as time and time again, Ha-won hides behind her radiance and tackles the world with a smile – even when she doesn’t want to at all. Quite frankly, Park’s performance as Eun Ha-Won is the absolute heart and soul of Cinderella and the Four Knights and will make you want to revisit this series time and time again.
With Park finally getting the attention she deserves from audiences worldwide, it is about time she got the recognition she deserves not only for her work in Parasite but beyond. Park’s range is exceptional, and her credits prove that. In just six years, she has managed to show that no character is out of her reach, conquering each with ease and seasoned perfection. So, if you too can get over the awfully small barrier of subtitles, then I would highly recommend delving into Park’s filmography. Parasite is the start of something amazing for Park’s career, and with everything she has done already, what comes next is bound to be incredible.