Sun Jong-hoon, a former President of the Gwangju Drama Association and one of Korea’s top actors, has died suddenly from cancer, after being diagnosed last week. He was 30.
A dramatic career change
Park So-dam started his career as a cricketer, but ended up playing second fiddle to one of his heroes – Tae-woo Lee, a pivotal figure in Korea’s major 80s dramas. While he did retain some impressive appearances, acting proved to be his calling and, following the success of his first play, the famously avant-garde Lullaby (1998), Park became one of the country’s best-known stars.
Park shot to fame with 2006’s Blood in the Water, whose plot was loosely based on the tragic 1989 sinking of the Sewol ferry, which took more than 300 lives. It’s second and third screenings at home triggered a huge wave of new fans, and an actor’s peak and whoops around the world. In 2016 Park rekindled interest in his own acting career with a starring role in The Cheating Heart, playing an ageing gangster who has to fight to maintain his life. The film did not fare as well at the local box office but earned praise from critics. It is now on its way to Hollywood, being adapted for American audiences by Singaporean director Yann Yannello, and from there has been optioned for the big screen by Tom Cruise’s production company, AMBI.
A quick rise to heartbreak
Park announced his breakup with actress Kim Ja-yeon after dating for six years, a tragic ending to a prolific, 20-year-long on-off relationship. Though a devout Christian, he had been known to display poor judgment on set, recently apologizing to his fellow cast and crew for making his co-stars drink vodka shots they didn’t consume during a fight scene and blaming a pet cat for a racist remark he made during a filming sequence.
He also had a number of high-profile romances during his career. His relationships were marked by public drama, with a female judge sentencing him to five years in prison in 2008 for domestic violence. Then in 2013 his relationship with English actress Lone Scherfig became tabloid fodder, with speculation that their prolonged time apart was due to money troubles. It is only now that she has hinted at the fact that it might have been because of his health problems, telling a media conference, “There were real troubles in our relationship … When she saw him injured with a knife one day, she left their apartment. She was less frightened than I was.” Park, a Jehovah’s Witness, reportedly considered abandoning acting after he retired in 2015, only for his health to flare up again.
One big shot
Park recently finished filming his first feature film as a director, The Gale. The romantic comedy is being financed by Park’s brother, Jeon Se-jung, a leading TV drama director, whose work includes Love and Honor (2009) and Kim Ji-hoon’s departure-oriented Golden Spikes Awards-winning Pyrang (2015). Some experts see its success as a sign of Park’s passing.
Park’s wife was reportedly devastated by the sudden loss of her husband. Park has a daughter from a previous relationship.
The disclosure of the actor’s death came on a weekend in which two of Korea’s top television dramas, Ohn Kuk Oi and When; The Memo, saw their female lead actresses commit suicide. Park’s death draws attention once again to the level of stress many working actresses face.
Read the full story at The New York Times.
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