Are Korean actors really getting popular in Hollywood?

April 7, 2014
Ha Ji-won, from left, Lee Byung-hun and Soo Hyun. Including them, a growing number of Korean actors have been given the opportunity to play with global movie stars in Hollywood films this year.  (Korea Time files)

Ha Ji-won, from left, Lee Byung-hun and Soo Hyun. Including them, a growing number of Korean actors have been given the opportunity to play with global movie stars in Hollywood films this year. (Korea Time files)

By Park Si-soo

Are Korean actors increasingly getting popular in Hollywood, or is it a sheer coincidence that a record number of them will have the opportunity to feature in Hollywood films this year?

So far five Korean actors — Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Jung Ji-hoon, Bae Doo-na, Soo Hyun — are set to play in a Hollywood movie or are awaiting the release of their film.

Lee Byung-hun is set to appear in Hollywood blockbuster “Terminator: Genesis,” in which he will perform with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke and Emilia Clarke among others. He will leave for the United States later this month to start shooting in early May, according to his management agency BH Entertainment. It’s unclear what role he will play, but the agency claims that the role will be a “significant one.”

Choi Min-sik

Choi Min-sik

The fifth sequel of the famous sci-fi action flick “The Terminator,” released in 1984, is Lee’s fourth casting in a Hollywood film, after “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (2009), “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (2013) and “RED 2” (2013).

His upcoming casting was announced last week, roughly one month after actress Kim Soo-hyun was confirmed to be acting in another Hollywood blockbuster “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” which is currently being filmed in Korea. Her exact role in the film is unknown, but an unidentified Marvel official was quoted as saying in a report that Kim may be playing a doctor with connections to Ultron, who is tasked with Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) medical care.

It’s a “substantial” supporting role that is more than just a background character, said the official.

Veteran actor Choi Min-sik, known for his acclaimed role in “Oldboy,” performed with Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Analeigh Tipton in renowned French director Luc Besson’s science fiction movie “Lucy.” The film’s trailer made its online debut last Thursday, in which Choi portrays a mid-level manager of a drug trafficking syndicate in Taiwan who chases the protagonist “Lucy” played by Johansson.

The film will hit domestic theaters in August.

K-pop singer and actor Jung Ji-hoon, better known as Rain, recently completed filming of his second Hollywood movie “The Prince.” He made his Hollywood debut in 2008 in “Speed Racer.” In the new film, he plays alongside Bruce Willis, John Cusack and Jason Patric.

“The Prince” is expected to be released at the end of the year.

Actress Bae Doo-na’s second Hollywood film “Jupiter Ascending” will be released in July. The first American film she appeared in was “Cloud Atlas” (2012), a sci-fi epic in which she appeared along with such major Hollywood stars as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. Both films were directed by renowned American sibling director duo Andy and Lana Wachowski.


Actress Ha Ji-won is expected to enter the American film scene in the near future. In August last year, she signed a contract with the United Talent Agency (UTA) that represents Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Gwenyth Paltrow, and other A-list Hollywood actors. It was the first time that a Korean actor signed with the agency.

Her UTA representatives are said to be eyeing international roles in films and TV as well as digital media and endorsements for the actress known for roles on both the big and small screens, including the internationally popular Korean TV drama “Secret Garden,” period drama “Hwang Jini” and big-budget monster flick “Sector 7.” They are also looking into Korea-U.S. co-productions.

Actor Ha Jung-woo has openly said that he will go to Hollywood with his own work. He played a leading role in several hit films such as “The Terror Live” (2013), “The Yellow Sea” (2010) and “The Chaser” (2008), and made his directorial debut with the comedy film “Fasten Your Seatbelt” in 2013.

“While watching a film directed by a Korean, ‘Snowpiercer,’ which employs Hollywood staff, I thought there is no reason to wait any longer,” Ha was quoted as saying in an interview published by movie magazine “Max Movie” last October. “So I plan to go to Hollywood with my own work, although it wouldn’t be as big-scale as ‘Snowpiercer,’ with my own style.”

Ha went on, “I’m already collaborating with a production company in Hollywood. A script writer is working on a script with me as the main character of a movie.”

He said, “Instead of a rushed collaboration, I plan to make an independent American movie using American staff and actors. My plan is to make a movie that would sell in the United States.” He cited “Juno” (2007) and “District 9” (2009) as successful models.

English matters

Film experts say that the ability to speak English fluently is the common factor among those who recently landed Hollywood roles.

“It’s still uncomfortable for me to speak in English. But I try to improve it through trial and error,” said Lee Byung-hun during a TV interview last July. He is said to have improved his English proficiency through private tutoring and casual conversation with English-speaking foreign friends.

Jung Ji-hoon is widely known to have learned English from actor Lee Bum-soo’s wife Lee Yoon-jin, a professional Korean-English interpreter.

“I started teaching him (Rain) with his U.S. debut only 100 days away,” interpreter Lee said. “Back then he did not have enough time to learn English step by step. So my teaching was focused on how to deliver ‘key messages’ in English during interviews there. Actually there is no problem catching a speaker’s key message with only a couple of words or sentences.”

Bae Doo-na seems to be another trial-and-error English learner like actor Lee. “I acted in ‘Cloud Atlas’ with English that I learned during my high school years,” Bae said in an interview last year. “I managed to film my scenes through countless trial-and-error. Many of those who watched the movie think I’m a fluent English speaker, but that’s really not the case. I still feel uncomfortable speaking in English.”

Following the production, she stayed in London for six months to learn English, according to her management agency.





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  2. Mari Kim

    September 13, 2016 at 9:10 AM

    Hi thank you for publishing good article, i personally love Lee Byung Hun and i am very happy for him being one of the successful asian actor in the hollywood movie and hopefully, there will be more Korean actors will play as a co star in the United States film in the near future! With that being said thank you for sharing the information with us and keep up with nice work!

  3. 2017

    November 22, 2017 at 1:59 PM / home