Actor You Need to Know: Han Hyo-joo
The multi-award-winning South Korean actress is a force to be reckoned with, be it on the small or big screen
Han Hyo-joo began acting in 2003, at the age of 16. She appeared in the sitcom Nonstop 5 and the film My Boss, My Teacher as a teenager. Spring Waltz, the final installment of the Season drama series, showcased the rookie’s acting abilities. Three years later, Han’s exceptional performance in the independent film Ad-Lib Night garnered rave reviews. She won Best New Actress awards at the Korean Association of Film Critics Awards and the Singapore International Film Festival for the portrayal of Lee Bo-kyung – a girl impersonating a dying man’s daughter to fulfill his final wish.
In 2007, the Heaven & Earth actress shared screen space with Lee Joon-gi as Eun Chae in the historical-action-romance drama series Iljimae – the Korean Robin Hood from the Joseon era. Both dramas were blockbuster hits, and Han rose to stardom. Her subsequent role in the independent film Ride Away added to her success.
Han went on to star in the Korean-Japanese telefilm Heaven’s Postman thereafter. In Brilliant Legacy, she played Go Eun-sung alongside Lee Seung-gi. The series was one of the highest-rated Korean dramas of 2009, and topped the audience rating chart for 20 consecutive weeks. Han’s domestic and international fame grew as a result of the show’s enormous popularity. With her main role in the musical drama Soul Special, the year proved to be a game-changer in her career. In 2010, she added to her already impressive record by playing the titular character in Dong Yi – one that earned her multiple accolades, including the highly coveted Baeksang Arts Awards for Best Actress.
The actress co-starred with So Ji-sub in the melodramatic movie Always, in the role of a blind telemarketer. In 2011, the film was screened as the opening film at the Busan International Film Festival. Among her several other endeavors, the actress continued to deliver incredible performances in films such as Masquerade (the highest-grossing Korean film ever) and Love 911.
The action-thriller film Cold Eyes (2013) was a huge hit, with Han winning the Best Actress award at the Blue Dragon Film Awards and the Buil Film Awards. She later appeared in the short film Myohyangsangwan – about an encounter between a South Korean painter (Go Soo) and a North Korean waitress (Han).
The versatile actress is also multilingual, well-versed in Korean, English, and Japanese. Needless to say, her talent placed her in the global market, and she made her foreign film debut in Miracle: Devil Claus’ Love and Magic, based on the novel Debikuro-kun no Koi to Mahou – an entangled love story of a bookstore worker (J-pop boy-band Arashi’s Masaki Aiba), and three other young people on Christmas night. Han was seen in the film as So Young, a world-famous lighting designer.
In 2015, the 35-year-old appeared in the musical biopic C’est Si Bon, which chronicled the highs and lows of the folk-music band Twin Folio from the 1960s to the 1980s, and Han played the group’s muse. She later starred alongside Park Seo-joon, Lee Jin-wook, Lee Dong-wook, Park Shin-hye and other well-known actors in the rom-com The Beauty Inside, which told the story of a man who wakes up daily in a different body, and who Yi Soo (Han) falls for. For this role, Han was nominated for the Best Actress award in a slew of prestigious ceremonies. In January 2017, it was announced that Emilia Clarke would reprise Han’s role in an American adaptation of the film.
Han reunited with her former co-stars Yoo Yeon-seok and Chun Woo-hee in the film Love, Lies – a historical drama about the last remaining gisaeng during the Japanese rule of Korea. The film was praised for its flawless depiction of 1940s Seoul, and the actress received an Asia Star Award for playing a bitter, envious, mistreated woman.
Making a comeback to the small screen with the fantasy suspense drama W (2016) alongside Lee Jong-suk, Han won the Top Excellence award at the 5th APAN Star Awards and MBC Drama Awards for the same. Two years later, she appeared in the thriller Golden Slumber and the sci-fi action thriller Illang:The Wolf Brigade. In 2019, she was confirmed as one of the main characters in the American television series Treadstone, and in 2020’s Japanese action film Taiyo Wa Ugokanai she appeared as a mysterious spy.
Last year, Han starred in the apocalyptic K-zombie series Happiness with Park Hyung-sik. Her depiction of Yoon Sae-bom, a Special Operations Unit police officer, was well received by the audience. In addition, she was seen as Hae Rang, the captain of a pirate ship, in the recent multi-starrer film The Pirates:The Last Royal Treasure, which was a tale of treasure-hunting involving a band of pirates and bandits.