4 K-drama actresses with overnight success stories, from Squid Game's Jung Ho-yeon to It's Okay to Not Be Okay's Seo Ye-ji and Penthouse: War in Life's Lee Ji-ah

Asia's Tech News Daily

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Reaching the pinnacle of showbiz success can take years for many celebrities, but it seems that some actors can emerge out of obscurity and rise to global stardom after only one successful breakout role.

From Squid Game’s Jung Ho-yeon to It’s Okay to Not Be Okay’s Seo Ye-ji, here’s a list of K-drama stars who became famous overnight.

Jung Ho-yeon (Squid Game)

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Jung Ho-yeon saw her popularity skyrocket after her debut role in Squid Game. Photo: @hoooooyeony/Instagram

Survival drama series Squid Game became Netflix’s most watched series with 111 million viewers, winning both fan approval and critical acclaim. And model-turned-actress Jung Ho-yeon – who portrayed Kang Sae-byeok (Player 067), a North Korean defector-turned-pickpocket – joined the league of international celebrities.

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Jung Ho-yeon has become the most-followed Korean actress on Instagram. Photo: @hoooooyeony/Instagram

Interestingly, the 27-year-old actress’ performance in Squid Game actually marked her debut in the acting world, and her success was almost instantaneous. Within a month of Squid Game’s release, her Instagram followers rose by more than 13 million in under three weeks, making her the most-followed South Korean actress, according to Business Insider. Jung currently has 21.4 million Instagram followers.

Seo Ye-ji (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay)

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Seo Ye-ji started in TVN and Netflix series It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. Photo: @seoyeji_ig/Instagram

Seo Ye-ji has played several lead roles in TV series such as Save Me (2017) and Lawless Lawyer (2018). Nevertheless, Seo’s breakout role was the character Ko Moon-young in It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, a romantic TV series airing on TVN and Netflix that went viral and garnered national and international praise for its storyline, visuals and mental health theme.

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Seo Ye-ji in a still from It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. Photo: Netflix.

With the success of It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, Seo was nominated for prestigious awards and became the hottest celebrity of 2020.

However, Seo is currently facing a number of scandals involving her ex-boyfriend and bullying accusations.

Lee Ji-ah (The Legend)

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Lee Ji-ah’s breakout role in The Legend saw her become an overnight success. Photo: @e.jiah/Instagram

Migrating to the US with her family at a young age, Lee Ji-ah spent 10 years there before returning to South Korea and making her debut in the entertainment industry in 2004. In 2007, the actress portrayed the character Sujini in big-budget TV show The Legend, co-starring alongside A-list actor Bae Yong-joon. She went from an unknown actress to a superstar almost overnight after appearing in the show.

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Lee Ji-ah in Penthouse: War in Life. Photo: @e.jiah/Instagram

Lee was also secretly married to famous K-pop singer Seo Taiji for nine years from 1997, but they got divorced in 2006, according to The Korea Herald. The actress demanded a multimillion-dollar settlement, according to the same source.

She returned to the small screen after a four-year hiatus in 2017 with her role in My Mister. In 2020, she starred in hit series The Penthouse: War in Life.

Han So-hee (The World of the Married)

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Han So-hee’s performance in The World of the Married put her in the spotlight. Photo: @xeesoxee/Instagram

Joining K-showbiz in 2016, Han So-hee made her first appearances in K-pop music videos, such as Shinee’s Tell Me What To Do and Roy Kim’s The Hardest Part, and she modelled for several brands such as All@Me and Banila Co. But it was her role as the young mistress Yeo Da-kyung in The World of the Married that led her to prominence, casting a light on her acting talents.

model-turned-actress, Jung Ho-yeon, Seo’s breakout role, facing a number of scandals, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Han So-hee in the drama The World of the Married. Photo: JTBC/Handout

With the series’ commercial success, Han won several important awards, such as the best rising star actress at the Korea First Brand Awards and rookie of the year at the Asia Artist Awards, and she was nominated for best actress at The 56th Baeksang Arts Awards.

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