After a debut in the 1990 MBC campus drama Our Paradise, Han rose to stardom as "Hong-shik" in The Moon of Seoul (1994), a charming gigolo from the slums determined to attain wealth at all cost in the big city. "Choon-Seop", an old friend from hometown played by Choi Min-sik, struggles hopelessly to stop "Hong-shik" from his self-ruin. The partnership of Han and Choi as uneasy allies or foes, parlayed into two flagship films of the 1990s: No. 3 and Shiri. Both the series and "Hong-shik" character have since become beloved icons, as part of the Korean television's golden era before the advent of Korean wave. The cast also features veterans who are now luminaries in Korean cinema: Na Mun-hee of The Quiet Family, Kim Hae-sook of Park Chan-wooks "Thirst", and Baek Yun-shik of Save the Green Planet!.
Before the end of the 20th century, Han headlined films that were critically acclaimed (Green Fish, No. 3) and commercially successful (The Contact, Christmas in August, Shiri -- the latter two making particular impact in Japan.)
Han's experience in the early stages of Korean cinema renaissance in the 1990s, cemented his belief in a script-driven model for movie-making. Thus the founding of "Makdong Script Festival" (named after his role in Green Fish), with co-sponsor film magazine Cine 21. Winners may claim two cash prizes funded by Han, with the potential to launch directing careers based from their own scripts. The annual contest is now extant over 10 years, with two titles produced so far: the comedy "2424" (2002) and "Private Eye" (2009) starring Hwang Jung-min.
Han went into an extended hiatus in 1999, declining several lucrative opportunities with name directors. Among them: Peppermint Candy, Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (as the father), Oldboy (as the antagonist), and Fulltime Killer (as Andy Lau's friend/foe.) 
The break coincided with a surge in new talent, sophistication of technology, organization, and scale of production within the Korean film industry. Combined with other factors (such as his aloof and shy attitude towards the media, his over-exposure as a sensitive, bookish bourgeois typified by Maxim coffee commercials, and enduring actor's image as a cold intellectual incongruous with the rising vogue of populism defined by explosive passions of red-blooded machismo and sentimentalism, in a market of changing audience preference for a less measured, more corporeal acting style) have attempted to explain the lukewarm reception to his comeback.
Double Agent had netted one million admission, seen as a failure for a star labeled by the media as "box office guarantee". This was followed by a sizable backlash from netizens and the press, who rushed to bury the co-self-produced spy thriller as the public disgrace of a former golden boy..
His press and image took further beating in the next two, even more polarizing films: the unforeseen tragedy surrounding The Scarlet Letter, and the incendiary political content of The President's Last Bang. Nonetheless, these controversial works screened at Cannes, and were featured in a tribute to the actor at the Austrian FilmAsia festival.
In spite of this rocky return to feature films, Han remains well-regarded by such major directors as Park Chan-wook, Lee Jun-ik, Kang Woo-suk and Jang Jin . Compared to his peak popularity in the 90s, his work may seem an acquired taste for general audiences, although some cult following ensued for his ultra-sadistic turn in A Bloody Aria. 
He also remains well-respected among major peers for his distinctive style (a cerebral and intricate minimalism driven by semantics and implosive restraint): Kim Hye-su, Song Kang-ho, Oh Dal-su (especially for their collaboration in Forbidden Quest and A Bloody Aria), Sol Kyung-gu, and Choi Min-sik.
Overall, his post-90s career is marked by less high-profile, "event" projects than personal interests, such as appearing in the quickie B-movie "Mr. Housewife" as keepsake for his children. As in the late 90s, Han continues to favor novice directors over safer projects under seasoned directors, in hopes of bringing new talents into the industry. This, combined with aversion of the press (now playing a more critical and complex role to the entertainment circle), has earned him the image by turns of a taciturn loner, and a generous if loquacious intellectual.
He remained self-managed until as late as 2006, before joining KM Culture agency due to increased regimentation of the industry.
Known for his distinctive voice and diction, Han has been a long-time mentor to Gam Wu-seong, including coaching the latter's enunciation for his film debut in Marriage is a Crazy Thing. Actors of the younger generation also continue to cite him as an influence; among them: Hwang Jung-min, Ryu Seung-beom, Kim Myung-min, Kim Ju-hyeok of Blue Swallow, Kim Ji-soo of This Charming Girl, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi (who famously began a second career in Korea after seeing Han in Shiri), Rain, Lee Sung-jae of Barking Dogs Never Bite, TV heartthrob Lee Jin-wook, and the current darling of independent films, Im Ji-gyu.
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