Major actors such as Lee Min-ho, Jun Ji-hyun, and Kim Soo-hyun have long been popular overseas. Jun Ji-hyun was pivotal to the first Korean Wave for film in the early 2000's, with Lee Min-ho and Kim Soo-hyun being similar major figures in the early 2010's. But the 2020's have seen all three actors adjust to facing the international market first, as they take on projects with clear international pretensions in mind.
Lee Min-ho made his comeback earlier this year with "The King: Eternal Monarch" which was his first drama since "The Legend of the Blue Sea" in 2016 as well as his first drama since completing his mandatory military service. While "The King: Eternal Monarch" underperformed domestic television ratings, the drama was a big hit on Netflix. Lee Min-ho has since leveraged this popularity into a Hollywood debut with Pachinko for Apple TV.
Jun Ji-hyun also last appeared in "The Legend of the Blue Sea" although in her case maternity rather than mandatory military service was the reason for her break. But she similarly is taking advantage of her reputation to focus on international projects rather than local ones. Her cameo at the end of the Netflix drama "Kingdom - Season 2" has since been leveraged into a starring role for "Kingdom: Ashin of the North" and "Jirisan" is also being produced with a mind for the Chinese market.
Kim Soo-hyun, meanwhile, was recently confirmed for the Netflix project "Finger". His motivation appears quite similar to Lee Min-ho's. Like Lee Min-ho, Kim Soo-hyun's comeback drama, "It's Okay to Not Be Okay", did much better internationally than it did locally. Career moves like this are the main current evidence of the increasing deemphasis on television ratings. While the exact earnings of such internationally themed dramas they are nevertheless attracting some of South Korea's biggest stars.
Written by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's News] South Korean Stars Rebrand for International Market"
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