Cover Seasoned fashion model Jung Ho-yeon saw overnight success and became the girl to watch with her acting debut in Netflix's global smash hit, 'Squid Game' (Photo: Netflix)

Feast your eyes on these South Korean celebrities who went from fashion icons to K-drama sensations

K-dramas are celebrated for having beautiful leading characters who get viewers hooked immediately on their beauty and charm. With good looks, compelling personalities, and great talent, models have not only been transitioning into the acting space; for some, it has catapulted them to fame.

Read more: K-Drama: 7 Iconic & Lovable Trios We Will Never Stop Rooting For

Here are 10 popular Korean stars who started on the runway and took a leap into the K-drama world:

1. Han So-hee (My Name, Nevertheless, The World of the Married)

Han So-hee (real name Lee So-hee) stole the hearts of viewers as mistress Da-kyung in The World of the Married and as art student Na-bi in Nevertheless. She wowed viewers again as an action star with her role as the kick-ass undercover cop Jiwoo in My Name, where she impresses by doing her own stunts.

Before she was a rising K-drama icon, the Ulsan-born actress worked at bars, restaurants and in retail in her hometown before moving to Seoul to pursue her dreams. She started out as a professional model whose projects included several South Korean brands such as All@Me and Banila Co, and was even scouted through social media for Shinee's Tell Me What To Do music video.

See also: Exclusive: Han So Hee On Portraying Yu Na Bi In ‘Nevertheless’

A number of music videos later (Cnblue’s Jung Yong-hwa, Roy Kim, and MeloMance), she made her acting debut in a minor role in 2017's Reunited Worlds.

2. Kim Woo-bin (School 2013, The Heirs, Uncontrollably Fond)

Kim Woo-bin (real name Kim Hyun-joong) debuted as a runway model in 2009 at the age of 20 and began appearing in prêt-à-porter and Seoul Fashion Week collections. As his modelling career progressed, he started doing commercial films and began studying acting, under the guidance of acting coach Moon Won-joo. He eventually fell in love with acting.

In 2012, Kim starred in teen drama School 2013, which earned him his first acting award at the 2nd APAN Star Awards under the category Best New Actor. A year later, he became the breakout star of The Heirs (also known as The Inheritors), starring alongside Lee Min-ho and Park Shin-hye. Through The Heirs, Kim experienced a surge in popularity both domestically and internationally, earning him an increase in advertising contracts and acting offers, such as 2016's Uncontrollably Fond with Bae Suzy.

Don't miss: Korean Celebrity Suzy Bae Models The Gem Dior High Jewellery Collection

Kim is scheduled to make his comeback to the big screen in director Choi Dong-hoon's upcoming sci-fi film Alien. He was also recently made Jaeger-LeCoultre's new brand ambassador.

3. Jung Ho-yeon (Squid Game)

Jung Ho-yeon is another model-turned-actress who needs no introduction after appearing in the world-dominating series Squid Game as North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok.

Prior to being Player 067, Jung began her career as a model at 16 years old, strutting on the catwalks of Seoul Fashion Week before placing as a runner-up on the fourth season of Korea’s Next Top Model. She has since dominated fashion week shows across the globe, walking for Chanel, Roberto Cavalli, and more. Jung shows no signs of stopping as she was recently made Louis Vuitton’s Global House Ambassador.

Read also: Netflix: The Making Of 'Squid Game', The Global Sensation

Not forgetting, she also recently overtook K-drama mainstay Song Hye-kyo to become the most-followed South Korean actress on Instagram. As at time of writing, Jung has 21.7 million Instagram followers.

4. Lee Soo-hyuk (The Scholar Who Walks the Night, Born Again, Doom at Your Service)

Lee Soo-hyuk (real name Lee Hyuk-soo) debuted as a model in designer Jung Wook-jun's Lone Costume fashion show in 2006. He walked down the runways for the nation's famous fashion brands including General Idea and Songzio, and did cover shoots for several renowned fashion magazines.

After appearing in music videos of girl groups Gavy NJ and 2NE1 in 2009 and 2010, he expanded his career into acting. His credits include the television series White Christmas, What's Up, Vampire Idol, and Shark. In 2015, Lee was cast in the period vampire romance The Scholar Who Walks the Night, based on the webtoon of the same title. His role as Gwi, a bloodthirsty and evil vampire who wishes to rule over humans, bagged him Best New Actor at the 2015 MBC Drama Awards.

See more: Snowdrop: What To Know About Blackpink Jisoo’s New K-Drama

Lee represents numerous global brands such as Adidas and Bulgari. On top of being selected as the new face of Nivea Men, he is still often booked for fashion editorials in magazines. The luxury brands he has worked with include Dior Homme and Balenciaga.

5. Shin Min-a (Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, Oh My Venus)

Shin Min-a graced our screens as Yoon Hye-Jin, the heart-melting double-dimpled dentist from Seoul who moves to a small seaside town and meets fellow double-dimpled village chief Hong Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho) in Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha.

Don't miss: Exclusive: Meet Kim Seon-Ho and Lee Sang-Yi, the Leading Men of Netflix's ‘Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha’

Prior to her acting debut in 2001 melodrama Beautiful Days, Shin was one of the most in-demand models in South Korea, having been featured in campaigns for LG, Giordano (alongside boyfriend Kim Woo-bin), Calvin Klein, and appeared in music videos for popular K-pop boyband g.o.d. The actress continues to model on the side with an ambassadorship with French brand Roger Vivier.

6. Nam Joo-hyuk (Start-Up, The School Nurse Files, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo)

Another rising K-drama star is everybody’s favourite Start-Up founder Nam Do-san, Chinese-language teacher Hong In-Pyo from The School Nurse Files, and the cheeky Baek-ah or 13th Prince Wang Wook in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. Nam has been gaining heat since he charmed viewers in his breakout role in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo.

Read more: K-Beauty: 3 Korean Skincare Trends To Look Out For In 2021

Before making his way to the small screen, this Busan boy started walking the runway at 19 years old after winning Top Model, a modelling contest sponsored by K-Plus, a Southeast Asian pay television channel. Soon after, Nam signed an exclusive contract under a modelling agency and debuted in 2013 as a model for the Songzio Homme 2014 S/S collection.

In 2019, Nam was chosen as the brand ambassador of Dior Men in Asia. A year later, he was featured in Forbes 30 under 30 owing to his successful acting and modelling career.

7. Bae Doona (Kingdom, Sense8)

You loved her as a businesswoman and underground kickboxer in American science fiction drama Sense8, a physician who tries to find a cure for the zombie infestation in Netflix's period zombie thriller Kingdom, and not to mention, she’s a total bae.

See also: Netflix: 3 Revelations From 'Kingdom: Ashin Of The North'

Before kick-starting her shining acting career, Bae Doona was scouted as a model in 1998 while attending Hanyang University in Seoul and she began doing catalogue work for Cooldog before taking on the small screen. Her breakout performance came in 2006 when she starred in Parasite director Bong Joon-ho's monster film The Host, which became the highest-grossing film in South Korean box office history.

If you can’t get enough of Bae, catch her in the upcoming sci-fi mystery thriller series The Silent Sea starring alongside Gong Yoo and Heo Sung-tae.

8. Lee Sung-kyung (It’s Okay, That’s Love, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo)

Until last month, Lee Sung-Kyung, 31, was the most followed South Korean actress on Instagram. Then Squid Game and Jung Ho-yeon came along. No matter, we still love @heybiblee on Instagram and beyond, especially her charming performance in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo and her palpable chemistry with her love interest in the show, Nam Joo-hyuk. Their relationship famously blossomed into real-life romance but sadly wilted shortly after.

Don't miss: Ji Chang-Wook's Most Stylish Moments

The 1.75m-tall looker started her career as a model in 2008, taking part in the 17th Super Model Contest. She catwalked for Seoul Fashion Week before pursuing her passion and making her acting debut with a supporting role in 2014’s It’s Okay, That’s Love. Since then, she’s starred in Cheese in the Trap, The Doctors, Dr. Romantic, and of course, the massive 2016 hit Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo. While we await her next K-drama, Shooting Stars, slated for release next year, we’re enjoying her Instagram photos, where she showcases her mettle as a model in stunning shoots for ad campaigns and editorials in magazines like Vogue Korea.

9. Jang Ki-yong (My Roommate is a Gumiho, Sweet & Sour)

The 28-year-old star of My Roommate is a Gumiho, Netflix movie Sweet & Sour and upcoming Song Hye-kyo K-drama Now, We Are Breaking Up stands at 1.87m, and was an award-winning fashion model before taking the K-drama world by storm. He started his modelling career in 2012 and won the Fashion Model Award at the 2014 Asian Model Awards, and has strutted the runways for top designer labels. Interestingly, he inspired Nam Joo-hyuk to become a model, and the two remain pals.

Read also: ‘Sweet and Sour’ on Netflix: 5 Things to Know About the New Korean Romantic Comedy

We wonder if they trade model-turned-actor tips? Because these two strapping good-lookers are smashing the cliche that models can’t act.

10. Kim Ji-won (Fight For My Way, Descendants of the Sun)

The Lovestruck in the City, Fight For My Way and Descendants of the Sun star was a CF (Commercial Film) princess who was an in-demand model for ads before her successful acting career. Her singing and dancing for soda brand Oran-C is still remembered today, and she made her TV debut in an LG ad with Big Bang, where she appeared as the 'Lollipop Girl'. She was also called 'little Kim Tae-hee' due to her resemblance to the actress.

Read more: 11 Korean Dramas With the Highest Ratings in 2021: Which Haven’t You Watched?

We can’t wait to see which role the 28-year-old brings her sunshine and sweetness to next.

Tatler Asia
© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.