Thanks to the meteoric and historic successes of Parasite, Squid Game and BTS, we are seeing more Korean movies, dramas, music and celebrities gaining popularity overseas. Ma Dong-seok (or Don Lee) makes his debut as Marvel’s first Korean superhero in Eternals while Park Seo-joon, Kang Dong-woon, Son Ye-jin and many others are making their way to Hollywood.
The growing presence of Korean stars in Hollywood or English-language projects wouldn’t have been possible without the original stars that paved the way. Here, we look back at some of the Korean celebrities that made it to Hollywood and allowed more for Korean stars to follow suit.
1. Lee Byung-hun
Lee Byung-hun is a household name in South Korea, having received critical acclaim for his work across various genres. Some of his most notable movies include Joint Security Area, A Bittersweet Life, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, I Saw the Devil, Masquerade and Inside Men—almost all of these movies earned him awards from prestigious award ceremonies. His most well-known TV projects include Iris and Mr Sunshine and he recently made a cameo in Squid Game.
Lee made his debut in the US as Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the sequel, G.I. Koe: Retaliation. He has also appeared in Red 2, Terminator Genisys and The Magnificent Seven. Paving the way for many Korean stars after him, Lee became the first South Korean actor to present an Oscar at the annual Academy Awards and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Along with actor Ahn Sung-ki, they were the first South Korean actors to imprint their hands and footprints at the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles.
Most recently, Lee received the Asian Film Excellence Award at the 15th Asian Film Awards, the first Korean actor to be selected. He has also been working on many films, Ashfall, The Man Standing Next and Emergency Declaration, all of which screened at international film festivals.
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