Ever since Hallyu (Korean Wave) flooded in China in the 1990s, there has been a growing number of Chinese youth studying Korean. There are currently over 100 universities that offer a Korean major in China, besides thousands of different private courses all over the nation. Some Chinese websites featuring Korean study guide has a daily PV of 200,000. Korean drama series and films are the best learning materials and Korean stars are their most exciting inspiration among these students (fans).
- Lee Min-ho 李敏镐
Lee Min-ho is best-known among Chinese youth due to his role in THE HEIRS, a popular TV series receiving billions of clicks on China’s video sites. Fans call him Chang Tui Oppa (darling long legs). Since September 2012, there has been a post on Lee’s Chinese fan site to summon fans to say “Good Night” to Lee everyday and this post is still active today. Lee is also among the very few foreign stars who have been invited to perform in China’s most important gala: the annual Spring Festival gala.
- KIM Soo-hyun 金秀贤
Kim Soo-hyun is the nation’s new favorite star in the long-lasting Korean Wave in China. They remember clearly his acting in GIANT, DREAM HIGH, THE THIEVES, THE MOON EMBRACING THE SUN and SECRETLY GREATLY, and they sing odes to his face, eyes, hairstyle, lips and gestures, his persistence, modesty, humor and sincerity. It was reported that China’s first lady Peng Liyuan said to the press that President Xi Jinping used to look like the male protagonist acted by Kim Soo-hyun in YOU WHO CAME FROM THE STARS – whether this was a PR stunt of his talent agency or the truth, it did caused louder buzz for China’s most beloved Korean actor Kim Soo-hyun. YOU WHO CAME FROM THE STARS has also received billions of clicks on China’s video site: So great was the passion of the fans that the video site decided to offer Chinese subtitle synchronizing this TV drama’s broadcasting in South Korea this February, something unprecedented in China. A Chinese parody of this drama is also now available on China’s video sites.
- PARK Hae-jin 朴海镇
The Chinese audience gets to know most of the Korean stars after seeing their TV series or films that were made in South Korea, but Park Hae-jin stands out by acting a drama series made by China’s most entertaining channel Hunan TV in 2011, with a Chinese cast in QIAN DUO DUO JIA REN JI (HOW DOES QIAN DUO DUO MEET HER HUSBAND). This series is considered as a continuation of the Korean series FAMOUS PRINCESSES that features Park. Park’s agent has kept posting Park’s news both in Korean and in Chinese on Sina Weibo (China’s twitter) since 2011, together with high-resolution photo updates. His role in YOU WHO CAME FROM THE STARS rekindles his popularity in China. Park has joined Sean Zhang, one of China’s most celebrated models, in a series called NAN REN BANG: FRIENDS that is soon to be broadcast in China. The two previously collaborated in the Korean series DOCTOR STRANGER in 2014.
- LEE Jong-suk 李钟硕
PINOCCHIO made by SBS has contributed to Lee’s widespread popularity among China’s Korean wave fans, who are attracted by his slim body, lip color, fair skin, sunny smile, funny acts and the small nevus by his right eye. SECRET GARDEN, SCHOOL 2013 and DREAM HIGH, together with his lead role in DOCTOR STRANGER have also paved his way to fans’ heart – some claim it is Lee’s personal charm, rather than his cute looks alone that makes him extraordinary. His expertise in Taekwondo and interest in the game of go are also much talked about.
- KIM Woo-bin 金宇彬
Kim starts to get noticed by the Chinese audience via A GENTALEMAN’S DIGNITY, SCHOOL 2013 and TWENTY. By the time THE HEIRS is shown on the Chinese video site, Kim has been quite well-known. After the fans realizing his glamor, they go on watching his performance in RUNNING MAN. Last year at the Busan Film Market, a successful Chinese producer was so quick to purchase the remake rights of THE CON ARTISTS featuring Kim that other Chinese producers could do nothing but sigh.
- JUN Ji-hyun 全智贤
Jun Ji-hyun has been much liked in China for over a decade. It all started with a film MY SASSY GIRL, in which Jun played a naughty girlfriend of a rather dull guy. Their playful love was like a Korean version of JEUX D’ENFANTS. It’s just that the girl is louder, more mischievous and violent. In 2001, it refreshed the traditional Asian vision about how a girl should behave and the film spread in most Asian countries like wildfire. Jun was only 20 that year and instantly became a superstar. In China, years after this strong filmic appearance, people would still refer to her as the “sassy girl”. But of course, Chinese audiences could not forget her roles in films like IL MARE, DAISY, THE THIEVES and THE BERLIN FILE, besides the super popular drama series YOU WHO CAME FROM THE STARS. It may give you a start, but just think about it: Jun Ji-hyun has remained an A-lister for about 15 years already. Amazing energy!
- PARK Shin-hye 朴信惠
When the Chinese audiences are watching Park Shin-hye’s performance in MIRACLE IN CELL NO.7, they feel the face look familiar – it is then found that Park is the little girl in the very popular STAIRWAY TO PARADISE aired 10 years ago. From YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL to THE HEIRS and PINOCCHIO, Park has established herself as yet another well-known actress in China.
- CHU Ja-hyeon 秋瓷炫
Known for her role in the series SCENT OF LOVE made in Taiwan in 2003, Chu Ja-hyeon went on acting Chinese TV dramas like THE LEGEND OF CHU LIU XIANG (2006), DA QI YING XIONG ZHUAN (2007), LEGEND OF SOUTHWEST DANCE AND MUSIC (2013), and THREE WEIRD DETECTIVES IN CHANG’AN (2014). This Korean “Snow White” gained most attention and fans via her Chinese TV series HUI JIA DE YOU HUO. In a way, she is the Korean actress who is most familiar with the Chinese way of making TV drama. She also acted in the Chinese film THE BOUNDARY.
- SONG Hye-kyo 宋慧乔
Shot in 2000, the influence of the Korean TV drama ENDLESS LOVE still lingers in China: its leading actress Song Hye-kyo is still celebrated here, together with her peers Song Seung-heon and Won Bin. FULL HOUSE (2004), however, exhibits Song’s light-hearted side besides melodrama. Song’s sweet persona crowns her a silver screen goddess from South Korea – she is the one to work with China’s most respected or popular stars, including Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Huang Xiaoming in THE GRANDMASTER and THE CROSSING.
- Chae Lim 蔡琳
Chae Lim was quite well-known in China for her role in Korean drama series ALL ABOUT EVE (2000). However, she seemed to lie low for a decade before she re-appears in Chinese TV series like THE YARD OF THE LI’S (LI JIA DA YUAN) and THE STORY OF SHA ER (2015).
- LEE Jun-ki 李准基
Thanks to the film King and His Men (The King and the Clown), Lee gets to known by his Chinese fans, who are fascinated by his seductive cross-dressing look. Several years later, he went to serve the army, but the audience did not forget him. Lee is the leading actor in a new Chinese romance film BEGIN AGAIN (UNDER THE SICILY SUN), directed by Lin Yu-Hsien (Jump! Ashin) and produced by Stanley Kwan, in which China’s box-office-winning actress Zhou Dongyu (BREAKUP BUDDIES, MY OLD CLASSMATE, UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE) plays his romantic love of life.
- CHOI Si-won 崔始源
Fans are very happy that this Super Junior member speaks very fluent Chinese at the press conference of DRAGON BLADE, a film directed by Daniel Lee and featuring Jackie Chan, Adrien Brody and John Cusack. Choi also acts in Dante Lam’s new film TO THE FORE, soon to be released in China. Speaking the local language gives Choi great advantage in getting roles and winning fans. FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU AGAIN is a TV drama he acted with pop actress Wang Luodan.
- YUN Eun-hye 尹恩惠
Fans still remember her grace in Baby V.O.X. and she succeeded in transforming herself into an actress. From PRINCESS HOURS in 2006 to the recent CHRONICLE OF A BLOOD MERCHANT, Yun Eun-hye is famous as an optimistic, uplifting and innocent persona, especially for her sunny role in COFFEE PRINCE 1ST SHOP. She also has a Sina Weibo account and now updates in Chinese.
- Victoria 宋茜
Born in 1987 in China, Victoria 宋茜 is another awesome example how the Korean star system can forge young Chinese talents into superstars (other examples include Lu Han and Kris from EXO). At the age of 20, Victoria was signed by S. M. Entertainment and received training in South Korea before rising to fame as the leader of pop band f(x) in 2009. During the 2 years of training, she learned Korean, hip hop, singing and dancing. She is the leading actress in the film MY NEW SASSY GIRL, after acting in 2 Chinese TV series. Fans name her “Sunshine Song” in China.
- KIM Ha-neul 金荷娜
Kim’s best-received TV dramas include A GENTLEMAN’S DIGNITY, ON AIR, SUNLIGHT, and 90 DAYS, TIME TO LOVE; and films like MY TUTOR FRIEND, DON’T BELIEVE HER, BLIND and LOVERS OF 6 YEARS. She is the leading actress opposite Chinese actor Aarif Lee in the Golden Horse Film Project MAKING FAMILY, a much-anticipated warm comedy that is soon to be released in China and South Korea, a film that can renew people’s perception on how to do China-Korea co-productions. But of course, it is produced by the almighty Jonathan Kim.
- KIM So-eun 金素恩
Korean TV series BOYS BEFORE FLOWERS made Kim So-eun famous in China. She presented at the press conference when Fantagio Entertainment announced to build an office in Beijing and expressed that she is sure to come to China to take roles in films and that she wants to work with John Woo and Jay Chou.
- YOO In-na 刘仁娜
Known for her roles in QUEEN IN-HYUN’S MAN, HIGH KICK and especially YOU WHO CAME FROM THE STARS, Yoo In-na opposite Korean actor Ahn Jae-hyun in the new China-Korea co-produced rom-com WEDDING DIARY directed by Korean director Heo In-mu (LOVE SO DIVINE).
- CHA Ye-ryun 车艺莲
Cha Ye-ryun is known for acting in DO RE MI FA SO LA SI DO, MY BLACK MINI SKIRT and MY LOVELY GIRL. Her photos and trivia are circulated among Chinese fans, but in order to make it in China or co-productions, she probably needs more exposure, or more specifically, more roles.
- HONG Soo-ah 洪秀儿
HAUNTED ROAD, a Chinese horror film Hong has acted in is very poorly reviewed in China. Her agent might need to think twice or just read more scripts before helping to sign her next contract.
- YEON Jung-hoon 延政勋
It takes time to prove whether Yeon will become the next superstar after acting in the big-budget SKIPTRACE directed by (THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER) and led by Jackie Chan and Fan Bingbing, but being cast in the film is already a big step forward. So far, the Chinese entertainment media are more interested in his relationship with his wife actress Han Ga-in.
It is noticed that most of the top Korean stars are emerging first either as a fashion model or as a member in a pop band. The slim figure or ability to dance and sing (entertain) can easily be transferred into a quality of stunning actor or actress. The Korean way of star training is so effective that a lot more Chinese companies are now sending very young trainees to South Korea and build the next generation pop star – Chinese actor Han Geng is another success story from pop band Super Junior.
Korean stars’ influence in China goes beyond film and TV: fans imitate their way of dressing which leads to the boost of fashion e-commerce, fans want to know more about their idols so they learn the Korean language (not just in Beijing, but in Paris, too – as I discovered in INALCO). Fans’ ongoing passion is surely a great drive for more Chinese-Korean co-productions.
This article was originally written for KOFIC and published on the KOFIC website. Photo courtesy: KOFIC.
* Nowadays, it is not strange to see a star who is curious of the China market to register Sina Weibo, WeChat public account, Douban, Mtime and Baidu Tieba – Chinese social media platforms to interact with local fans.
** Other Korean stars like So Ji-seob and Ji Jin-hee are also widely admired in China and it takes another 2 pages to write about them. Someday!