Cover Song Hye-kyo (Photo: Getty Images)

The list of richest Korean celebrities sees new entrants like Squid Game's Lee Jung-Jae and veteran actresses Lee Young-Ae and Go Hyun-Jung

Last year, K-drama A-lister Kim Soo-hyun made headlines when it was reported that he would bag a whopping SG$600,000 (about 500 million won) per episode for his drama, One Ordinary Day, which premiered in November 2021. It’s by far the most an actor has been paid per episode for a K-drama, and puts his paycheck for the entire eight-episode series at a sweet SG$4.6 million.

Trying to keep up are fellow Korean actors and actresses like Song Joong-ki, Lee Jung-jae, Song Hye-kyo and Jun Ji-hyun, who each make hundreds of thousands of dollars per K-drama episode. With the continuing and skyrocketing popularity of Korean content worldwide, will your favourite K-wave stars make even more money from dramas, films and commercials? Probably.

While we wait with bated breath to see the mind-blowing paycheck Kim Soo-hyun will take home with his next project, here’s how much the power earners of K-drama are worth per episode in 2021.

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1. Kim Soo-Hyun: SG$600,000 per episode

The 34-year-old heartthrob made an eye-popping 500 million won per episode for his harrowing 2021 drama One Ordinary Day, which is streaming on Viu and based on British TV series Criminal Justice, about a college student who unwittingly becomes a murder suspect. He was also a co-producer on the drama. His SG$600,000 per episode paycheck trumps the SG$240,000 per episode he was paid for his previous hit drama, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. We can’t wait to see what he appears in next—and whether his asking price will hit another amazing new high.

Watch him in: One Ordinary Day, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, My Love From the Star, Moon Embracing the Sun, Dream High

2. Lee Jung-Jae: SG$340,000 per episode

A new entry to the list of K-drama top earners is veteran actor Lee Jung-jae, riding high as the lead of record-breaking worldwide phenomenon Squid Game. The 48-year-old was paid a sweet-as-dalgona-candy 300 million won (SG$340,000) per episode, bagging a total of SG$3 million for the nine-episode mega-hit series. The Netflix show has also been confirmed for a second season. Will Lee’s paycheck hit new heights as well? We think that's a yes.

Watch him in: Squid Game, Sandglass, An Affair, Il Mare, Typhoon, The Thieves, City of the Rising Sun, The Housemaid, Assassination

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3. Song Joong-Ki: SG$230,000 per episode

All hail the rise and fall, and rise again, of Song Joong-ki. The 36-year-old bounced back from his divorce to Song Hye-kyo and boatloads of ugly rumours by doing what he does best—charming the socks off K-drama aficionados by playing roguishly loveable characters.

His smash hit 2021 drama Vincenzo put him back at the top of the pile of K-entertainment power earners, and bagged him an impressive 200 million won (SG$230,000) per episode. And since Vincenzo, about a mafia consigliere who gets caught up with the tenants and the drama of a building slated for demolition, was 20 episodes long (as opposed to the usual 16 or less), Song made a staggering SG$4.6 million bucks.

Next up for the actor is another high-profile outing with revenge-reincarnation K-drama The Youngest Son of a Conglomerate, slated for a release later this year, and the crime thriller film Bogota.

Watch him in: Vincenzo, Space Sweepers, Descendants of the Sun, Arthdal Chronicles, The Battleship Island

In case you missed it: ‘Vincenzo’ Star Song Joong-ki Talks To Tatler About The Netflix Hit

4. Song Hye-Kyo: SG$230,000 per episode

For her 2021 drama about the fashion industry, Now, We Are Breaking Up, K-drama sweetheart Song was also paid a whopping 200 million won (SG$230,000) per episode, bringing home a cool SG$3.67 million for the 16-episode drama. The 40-year-old also has plenty of CFs and endorsements, and holds court as one of the highest-paid K-drama actresses.

Watch her in: Now, We Are Breaking Up, Encounter, Descendants of the Sun, Autumn in My Heart, All In, Full House, That Winter, the Wind Blows, The Grandmaster

Read more: Song Hye-Kyo: 8 Things to Know About the Korean Actress

5. Jun Ji-Hyun: SG$230,000 per episode

Also bringing home the extremely pricey bacon is top actress Jun Ji-hyun, or Gianna Jun. For 2021’s Jirisan, where she plays an expert mountain ranger, Jun made 200 million won per episode. Where making SG$80,000 to SG$150,000 per episode was previously considered sky-high for K-actors, the top earners all seem to now be raking in at least SG$200,000, probably due to Kim Soo-hyun’s record-breaking SG$600,000 per episode paycheck. That, along with the growing popularity of K-drama around the world, have made South Korea's top actors more valuable than ever.

Watch her in: Jirisan, Kingdom: Ashin of the North, My Sassy Girl, My Love From the Star, Legend of the Blue Sea, Il Mare, Windstruck, The Thieves

6. Lee Young-ae: SG$230,000 per episode

Veteran actress Lee Young-ae is enjoying a comeback, after starring in only a precious few projects after her incredible turn as Seo Jang-geum in 2003’s Jewel in the Palace, the OG drama which kickstarted an international interest in K-wave back in the day. She did two films, Lady Vengeance in 2005 and Bring Me Home in 2019, and a 2017 series, Saimdang, Memoir of Colors. Besides cameos in 2018’s Gangnam Beauty and 2021’s Taxi Driver, last year’s Inspector Koo, where she plays a policewoman-turned-insurance investigator looking into a murder, is her only new project, but netted her a cool 200 million won (SG$230,000) per episode. The 12-episode K-drama bagged her around SG$2.7 million. 

Watch her in: Inspector Koo, Saimdang, Memoir of Colors, Lady Vengeance, Jewel in the Palace

7. Hyun Bin: SG$113,000 per episode

The K-drama hunk is reportedly worth SG$113,000 per episode, though some could argue that every minute he appears on screen in 2020 smash hit Crash Landing on You is totally worth millions of dollars. Besides being busy making wedding plans with lady love and CLOY co-star Son Ye-jin, Hyun Bin is appearing in several new films, namely The Point Men, Confidential Assignment 2 and Harbin, which will add millions to his already impressive net worth, last pegged at SG$28.5 million.

Watch him in: Crash Landing on You, Memories of the Alhambra, Secret Garden, Confidential Assignment, The Negotiation

Read more: Is Hyun Bin’s US$4.3 Million Penthouse His New Marital Home With Son Ye-jin?

8. Go Hyun-Jung: SG$112,000 per episode

The veteran actress, who starred in 1995’s Sandglass, one of the highest-rated Korean dramas, was a Miss Korea runner-up in 1989, who abruptly retired from showbiz after marrying a rich chaebol (or son of a large Korean conglomerate) in 1995. She returned to acting in 2003 after a messy divorce, and catapulted back to the top with successful turns in 2009’s Queen Seondeok (2009) and 2010’s Daemul. With last year’s Reflection of You, which she starred in with Hospital Playlist’s Shin Hyun-been, the 51-year-old appears to be back in the big time, taking home an impressive SG$112,000 per episode, making SG$1.8 million for the 16-episode series.

Watch her in: Reflection of You, Queen Seondeok, Daemul, Dear My Friends

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