At 21, she reinvented herself as an adult actress, winning Best Actress at the 1987 Venice International Film Festival for her roles in The surrogate uterus, directed by Im Kwon-taek. In doing so, she became the first Korean actress to win an acting award at one of the three most prestigious international film festivals in the world – Cannes, Venice and Berlin.
Two years later, she landed the title role in the director’s next feature Im Come, Come, Come Upward (1989) and received the Best Actress award at the Moscow International Film Festival.
In the 1990s, she starred in blockbuster films The road to the race track (1991), Blue in you (1992), Go alone like Musso’s horn (1995) and Girls’ night (1998).
Kang’s TV appearances included coming-of-age drama Diary of a high school student, aired on KBS from 1983 to 1986, and the historical political drama Ladies of the Palace (2001) on SBS, in which Kang took the title role. The latter was one of the highest rated television series of that year.