Who doesn’t love cameo appearances? Short, sweet and designed for maximum impact, here are our fave unforgettable A-lister cameos from recent Korean dramas, starting with Squid Game

What’s a top-rated K-drama without a famous cameo or two, and sometimes three?

Oftentimes, the A-list actors and actresses who make brief appearances in a Korean drama are good friends with the stars of that show, or they may have headlined another drama together. In other instances, the directors or producers of the show may have worked with these stars in other programmes and pulled in a favour, asking them to pop in to create excitement, hype and additional stardust. Sometimes, these famous folks even cameo as themselves, and other times, they take on roles so fleeting but unforgettable, we have to replay that scene about 50 times.

Here are 12 memorable cameos from our fave K-dramas.

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1. Gong Yoo in Squid Game

Who else was floored by the sudden appearance of the Train to Busan and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God luminary in the most viral K-drama of the year, Squid Game? And who else wants Gong Yoo to play ddakji with them and slap them silly? The actor plays the mysterious Salesman, who recruits main character Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae) at a subway station into entering the high-stakes Squid Game. They play a game of ddakji, a traditional Korean kids’ game where you throw a folded paper tile to try and flip your opponent’s tile over.

Gong Yoo is, as always, handsome and enigmatic, and the Internet exploded with imaginative theories about the Salesman and the red and blue ddakji tiles. But Squid Game writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk has said that the character is simply a former staff member who earned the trust of the game’s creator and got a chance to work outside the game in the ‘real world’. And the red and blue tiles are inspired by a Korean ghost legend, and don’t hold additional meaning, unlike The Matrix’s red pill and blue pill.

We have another wild Squid Game cameo in the last spot of this story, which is a bit of a spoiler if you haven’t watched the show, so scroll away before you get there if you hate spoilers.

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2. Park Bo-gum in Itaewon Class

The sight of a beautiful and glowing Park Bo-gum in slo-mo in the last episode of Itaewon Class is more than our little hearts can take. His appearance as a chef trying to get a job at Kwon Na-ra’s restaurant elicits a stunned “daebak” (amazing) from her. Fortunately, his cooking is also daebak. He’s hired, but of course!

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3. Park Seo-joon in Record of Youth

After Park Bo-gum appears in his show Itaewon Class, Park Seo-joon returns the favour in the PBG vehicle Record of Youth, where he cameos as a famous actor who presents the Best Actor award to Park Bo-gum’s character. The two also indulge in a bit of backstage banter in character. The actors are pals in real life!

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4. Hyeri in Record of Youth

The actress, recently seen in hit K-drama My Roommate Is a Gumiho, paired up with Park Bo-gum in 2015’s Reply 1988, as Duk-seon and Choi Taek, in one of the most beloved shows in K-drama history. When fans heard Hyeri was going to make a cameo in Record of Youth, they were beside themselves and eager for a sweet reunion. Disappointingly, Park Bo-gum and Hyeri didn’t appear in any scenes together (Hyeri played an actress who had interaction with Park So-dam’s character), though they did gift fans with a cute backstage photo together.

5. Lee Sung-kyung in Record of Youth 

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo and Dr. Romantic 2 star Lee Sung-kyung’s cameo was a little more exciting, as she plays an actress who shares a charged exchange with Park Bo-gum’s character. She even has a scene where she treats fans to a modern dance sequence. Now that’s what we call a real cameo!

6. Lee Jong-suk in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo

Speaking of Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, did you catch Lee Jong-suk’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the 2016 hit drama? The Pinocchio and While You Were Sleeping star appeared as a customer at Bok-joo’s father’s chicken restaurant. While the appearance was short and sweet, it had the makings of a good cameo, which involved lots of loving and lingering shots of the star looking extremely handsome, while another character swoons over him.

7. Kim Soo-hyun in Crash Landing on You

One of the nuttiest cameos in recent memory surely belongs to K-drama A-lister and one of the industry’s highest-paid actors, Kim Soo-hyun. In Crash Landing on You, the 2020 K-drama that made millions around the world swoon and turn into K-drama aficionados, Kim hilariously reprises a character from his 2013 comedy-drama Secretly, Greatly as Won Ryu-hwan, a North Korean spy disguised as a village idiot. Complete with his signature bowl haircut and green tracksuit (even before Squid Game, guys!), he delighted audiences with buffoonish behaviour as he gave advice to the five North Korean agents who came to Seoul to look for Captain Ri, before proceeding to merrily skip away. Such a treat.

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8. Choi Ji-woo in Crash Landing on You

Another CLOY cameo that had viewers in a tizzy was the appearance of OG Hallyu superstar Choi Ji-woo as herself. In the adorable scene, North Korean soldier Kim Joo-muk (played by Yoo Su-bin), a huge fan of the 2003 drama Stairway to Heaven and its female lead, discovers that Yoon Se-ri had set up a surprise date with his fave actress. At the sight of Choi Ji-woo sitting by the window, a shining vision in all her K-drama goddess-ness, Joo-muk swoons, but recovers to have a cute date with Ji-woo, even getting her to recite an iconic line from Stairway to Heaven. Awww.

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9. Kwak Dong-yeon in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

Before his amazing turn in Vincenzo, Kwak Dong-yeon gave us a similarly quirky and memorable cameo in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, where he played Kwon Ki-do, a psychiatric patient. Dressed in a trench coat with nothing on underneath and a mad look in his eyes, he flashes Ko Moon-young (Seo Ye-ji), who laughs at his small weenie, before running amok at his father’s political campaign event. His performance was manic yet tinged with sadness, and totally unforgettable. 

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10.  Lee Joon-gi in Hotel del Luna

After their sizzling chemistry in 2016’s Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Lee Joon-gi and IU reunited in IU’s supernatural drama Hotel del Luna. Lee cameos as a priest who’s performing an exorcism, much to the consternation of IU’s character, who gave him the ability to see ghosts so he would join her hotel, only to have him obsessed with hunting down dangerous ghosts instead. Lee Joon-gi as a hot priest exorcising demons? What’s not to love?

11. Yeo Jin-goo in Start-Up

In a double cameo of sorts as he technically plays two different characters, Yeo Jin-goo fans who loved him in Hotel del Luna and The Crowned Clown were in for a real treat with last year’s Start-Up. He provides the voice of Young Sil, an AI virtual assistant used by Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho), who has some great lines and moments in the show. He also appears in the last episode as the owner of a start-up company which pairs teen orphans with adult mentors. His appearance gives Ji-pyeong, himself an orphan, a chance to give back, and he tells him, “I like your voice. I'll invest 100 million won and donate 300 million.” While some fans recognised Yeo’s signature deep voice as Young Sil, despite the robotic tone, others were pleasantly surprised to find out it was him, and his poignant appearance at the end of the show rendered this a fantastic cameo.

12. Lee Byung-hun in Squid Game

Admittedly, unless you watched Squid Game really early on and as soon as each ep dropped, it’s hard to avoid this spoiler, especially if you’re on social media. The Front Man reveals his identity in episode eight, and it’s none other than iconic A-list Korean actor Lee Byung-hun, who shone in Mr. Sunshine and countless K-drama hits, and who successfully crossed over to Hollywood, where he starred in the G.I. Joe films, Terminator Genisys and The Magnificent Seven, among others. When he removes his Front Man’s signatured faceted mask, the world must have let out a collective gasp, especially as it’s also revealed that the man who makes sure the Squid Games run smoothly is Hwang In-ho, the missing older brother of police officer Hwang Jun-ho, played by Wi Ha-joon. While some may have recognised Lee’s voice, especially when he spoke English in the show (he sounds just like he does speaking English in Mr. Sunshine), it was still a shocker. 


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