July 7, 2020, 11:49 AM/ UPDATED September 8, 2021, 05:37 PM
Hallyu stars—longtime fans of Korean pop culture will know exactly what they are, but for the uninitiated, a Hallyu star is a Korean celebrity or K-Pop star, who has played a big part in the entertainment industry: Korean films and K-Dramas, music, fashion, and everything else in between.
Many of these stars have successfully crossed over from Korea to the rest of the world, and given the growing interest of Hollywood in the treasure trove that is the talent in Korean cinema and television, it comes to no surprise that the number of Hallyu stars has grown over the years!
Most recently, Korean heartthrob Park Seo-joon was spotted leaving for Los Angeles to begin filming for the Marvel Studios film Captain Marvel 2: The Marvels, which stars American actress Brie Larson. Last September 3, his agency, Awesome ENT, released an official statement to confirm that he's been cast in the said film.
The statement read: "Hello, this is Park Seo Joon's agency Awesome ENT. It's true that Park Seo Joon departed for Los Angeles earlier this afternoon after confirming his casting in the new Marvel Studios film. First, we would like to sincerely thank those of you who have shown great interest in Park Seo Joon's new challenge. We know very well that you are all very curious about what production he will star in, what his character will be, where he will film, for how long, and more. However, we will not publicize more specific details until a later time. We now ask that you cheer on Park Seo Joon so that he can wrap up his filming successfully and return safely. Thank you."
Just last April, veteran Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung had a historic win, as she is the first Korean to win an Oscar at the 93rd Academy Awards where she was named Best Supporting Actress for the American drama film Minari. Joining her in the film's cast are American actor Steven Yeun (who was born in South Korea) and Korean actress Han Ye-ri.
Rain needs to be first on this list as he's definitely one of Korea's OG Hallyu stars that introduced Filipinos to Korean pop culture. Making his way to Hollywood twice, the actor and singer has starred in 2008's "Speed Racer" and 2009's "Ninja Assassin." One major reason for why Hollywood execs took interest in him was because of his impeccable dancing; they thought that they could put the talent to good use by casting Rain in martial arts-heavy roles, which he fulfilled to a tee.
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K-Drama fans will recognize her from the horror/drama Netflix series "Kingdom" but Western audiences might know her from the epic fantasy film "Cloud Atlas." And epic it was not only as a movie, but also for her on-set experiences. Despite it being her first-ever Hollywood movie, "Cloud Atlas" had her star alongside Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, and Jim Sturgess, among other top Hollywood stars.
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When it comes to Lee Byung-hun, where do we even begin? He's starred in several Hollywood films, the two most notable of them being the "G.I. Joe" series and "The Magnificent Seven," where he was co-stars with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. Lee Byung-hun has an established reputation as a leading man in Korean cinema, which makes it unsurprising for him to be one of the Korean stars to make it to Tinseltown. Last year, he won Best Actor for the film "The Man Standing Next" at the 56th Baeksang Arts Awards.
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His boyish looks don't exactly make him look villainous, but those who've seen "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter," the very last film in the legendary six-part franchise, will say otherwise. As the story goes, Lee Joon-gi was specifically chosen by the film's director after he saw him perform a series of physically demanding action scenes. Once on the "Resident Evil" set, Lee Joon-gi apparently wowed everyone with his dedication, needing no stunt doubles to do his scenes for him. After all, he is truly skilled in martial arts.
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She adopted an English name, Gianna Jun, when she made her Hollywood debut in 2006's "Blood: The Last Vampire." Earning the film's lead role, she traveled to and from Argentina during filming and even underwent rigorous martial arts training to breathe life into her character. Another movie that cast her as a lead was less physically intense, but was a much more emotional performance. She starred in "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," a period piece depicting the difficulties of the conservative lives of Chinese women. The English-language movie was filmed in China but it was released in the United States and distributed by American film studio Fox Searchlight Pictures. As promotion for this movie, she was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for American "Vogue," and that made her the first Korean actress to be featured in the iconic fashion magazine.
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Daniel might have Irish American roots (his mother is an American adoptee from Busan, South Korea), but his filmography got a kickstart in Korea through the famous K-Drama "My Lovely Sam Soon." It was also there where he was first cast in the film "Spring Waltz" in 2006, an opportunity that would eventually land him a role in 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." He's starred in a handful of Korean productions since then, but has concentrated on his Hollywood projects that include "The Last Stand," "Shanghai Calling," "Big Hero 6," and "Mowgli."
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Lee Chae-rin a.k.a. CL
The Korean rapper and singer, who was previously a member of South Korean girl group 2NE1, had a cameo in "Mile 22," an action-drama film headlined by Mark Wahlberg.
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Ma Dong-seok (or Don Lee)
Korean-American actor Ma Dong-seok has a long list of films since he made his acting debut in 2015; he is known for the 2016 action horror film "Train to Busan." He's been offered roles in Hollywood movies, and he's always thought it's "fun to film in a different atmosphere." But he pointed out in a 2019 interview, "Even if I advance into Hollywood, my base is in Korean films, so I’m going to focus mainly on Korean films." Marvel Studios' "The Eternals" film, wherein Don Lee stars as Gilgamesh alongside Angelina Jolie, is slated to be released this November. | Photo: @madongseok_
Other Korean-American actors have also made their marks on Hollywood, be it in film or TV. Though raised abroad, these actors have always been proud of their Korean heritage and have stayed in touch with their Korean roots by visiting South Korea and surrounding themselves with family who have kept Korean tradition alive.
That list includes:
Sandra Oh, who needs no introduction thanks to her work on Grey's Anatomy and Killing Eve
With Korean cinema gaining international attention after Parasite's and Minari's big wins in the Hollywood awards circuit, more filmmakers from the west seem to be looking to cast stars from the East Asian country.
Lead photos from Namoo Actors (Lee Joon-gi), Netflix (Jun Ji-hyun), and Calvin Klein (Park Seo-joon)