We look at Jun Ji-hyun and her rise from My Sassy Girl to how she became one of Korea’s leading actresses.
By Jason Yu
If you had to name one of Korea’s leading ladies in movies and TV dramas today, who would it be?
If your answer was Jun Ji-hyun, not only would we not argue, but it would most likely be our response as well.
Just hearing her name evokes a variety of responses. For the older folks that grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s, she’s known as “the Girl” from the 2001 hit My Sassy Girl.
For the newer generation that grew up in the late 2000s and beyond, she may be known for her newer roles in the 2012 movie The Thieves or the 2014 hit drama My Love From Another Star. Some may also know her as Gianna Jun, her English name she adopted during her Hollywood films.
While she has done 12 movies thus far (as of November 2015), let’s take a look at the 8 Jun Ji-hyun films that most defined her career.
Original Title: White Valentine / 화이트 발렌타인
Genre: romantic drama
The movie follows Jung-min, a young woman who writes letters to soldiers. However, when one solider, Park Hyun-jun (Park Shin-yang), responds back, they begin a pen pal relationship. Years later, they would see each face to face without even recognizing each other at first.
White Valentine is Jun Ji-hyun’s first foray into movies as a romantic lead. In fact, her first three movies would be in the romantic drama or romantic comedy genres.
Original Title: Siwollae / 시월애
A time travel romance between two people sharing a lake house called Il Mare (meaning “the sea” in Italian), but during different time periods. The two are actually separated by two years, but can communicate with one another using a magical mailbox.
While the movie was not a commercial success, it later got a loyal following. Hollywood took notice and created a remake called The Lakehouse in 2006.
Original Title: That Bizarre Girl / 엽기적인 그녀
Genre: romantic comedy
This movie both catapulted Jun Ji-hyun’s career and made her known as “The Girl” to many. The story follows a university engineering student Gyun-woo (Cha Tae-hyun) unexpectedly meeting a drunken girl (Jun Ji-hyun). From there, this starts a crazy relationship, filled with sassiness, skipping class, and the famous phrase “wanna die”?
It can be argued that for people that grew up in the 2000s, as well as Asian-Americans, this was the gateway film for Korean cinema.
As expected, Hollywood also remade the Korean classic in 2008, also called My Sassy Girl. China, not wanting to be left behind, also made their own “sassy” movie called My Sassy Girl 2(not connected to the Korean version).
However, a new official sequel called My New Sassy Girl came out in 2015. The film stars Cha Tae-hyun taking his original role of Gyun-woo, with Victoria Song (from the K-pop group f(x)) as the new sassy girl.
While the sequel flew under the radar, it didn’t do so hot just by looking at the ratings on Naver(Korea’s Google).
Original Title: Let me introduce you to my girlfriend / 내 여자친구를 소개합니다
Genre: romantic comedy, drama, action, fantasy
An energetic young cop, Yeo Kyung-jin (Jun Ji-hyun) serves on the Seoul police force. One day, when she is chasing down a purse snatcher, she accidentally arrests Go Myung-woo (Jang Hyuk), who was also trying to chase down the thief.
From there, a romance begins between the two. Windstruck is notable for its multiple genres within the movie: romance, action, comedy, and fantasy. The film also has some Easter eggs from My Sassy Girl.
Original Title: Deiji / 데이지
Genre: romantic drama, thriller
A beautiful painter, Hye-young (Jun Ji-hyun), lives in the Netherlands charges 30 Euros per painting. When Park Yi (Jung Woo-sung), a professional hitman, first sees her, he instantly falls in love. He soon sends her flowers at 4:15 pm every day secretly, and Hye-young soon falls in love with this mysterious admirer.
But when Interpol detective Jeong Woo (Lee Sung-jae) starts closing in on Park Yi’s location, he, too notices Hye-young. He asks for her to sketch her and as predicted, also becomes smitten with Hye-young immediately. However, Hye-young thinks Jeong Woo as her secret daisy admirer and starts taking a liking towards him too.
The love triangle soon sets up a thrilling melodrama between the three.
After Daisy, Jun Ji-hyun would go onto international films from 2007-2011. While she was praised for her acting in the 2009 film Blood: The Last Vampire, her non-Korean films were nowhere near as successful as her previous hits.
Original Title: Dodukdeul / 도둑들
After coming back to Korea, she teamed up with new rising star Kim Soo-hyun in the Korean heist movie The Thieves. Dubbed as Korea’s Ocean 11, the movie has her reunite with some of her old castmates, as the cast was a “who’s who” of Korean actors.
Playing the role of Yenicall, a sultry cat burglar, she and her team successfully steal a rare artifact in Korea. With the police following them, so they escape to Hong Kong.
Once in Hong Kong, they join forces with Chinese thieves and plot an even bigger heist – to steal the Tear of the Sun, a diamond worth US$20 million. But even before the heist is to take place in nearby Macau, things start to fall part. Alliances and treachery are abound, as everyone on the team has their own agenda.
The greatest obstacle to stealing the diamond may not be the security cameras, lasers, and guards, but themselves.
Original Title: Berlin / 베를린
Genre: action, thriller
When North Korean spy Pyo Jong-seong (Ha Jung-woo) tries to broke an illegal arms deal with his clients, it gets broken up when they are ambushed by an unknown entity. Pyo narrowly escapes the encounter, but senses that he was set up.
While the South Korea government thinks Pyo may be a double agent, his own government in Pyeongyang has another suspect. Pyo’s own wife, North Korean translator to Germany, Ryun Jung-hee (Jun Ji-hyun). North Korea suspects her leaking out military secrets to the south.
Pyo is given 48 hours to turn in his own wife or face charges of betraying the North Korean government. From here, it is just the beginning of Pyo’s dilemma.
Original Title: Amsal / 암살
Genre: espionage, action
Set in 1933 during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, an order is given to assassinate two high-profile targets. One of the targets is Kawaguchi Mamoru, the Japanese garrison governor in Gyeongseong, and Kang In-gook, a pro-Japanese Korean business tycoon.
To carry out this mission, a small group of pro-Korean independence leaders in hiding carry out this daunting task. In turn, these commanders choose three assassins to do the job. Explosives specialist Hwang Deok-sam (Choi Deok-moon); Chu Sang-ok (Cho Jin-woong), a graduate from the Independence Military School; and Ahn Ok-yun (Jun Ji-hyun), a deadly sniper are assigned the assassination mission.
However, among the group is a traitor that is secretly working for the Japanese. This unknown agent secretly hired two mercenaries to kill off the assassins and foil the plan.
Green Tea Graffiti's Jason Yu contributed to this report.
[Special thanks to Ally Kim and Emily You]