Netflix's hit k-drama Squid Game does not have many heroes. The thrilling series follows several people in financial ruin as they voluntarily enter a deadly Game for the chance at a literal fortune, a grand prize (opens in new tab) worth $38 million. The characters (opens in new tab) of the show mostly exist in a gray area, neither good or bad, selfless or selfish. However, fans have come to deeply care about some of the main cast, especially Kang Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector also known as 067 who needs money to reunite her family.
Sae-byeok is played by top model HoYeon Jung in her first-ever film role. Her fierce and captivating performance has made her the show's breakout star, and we're excited for her to take the Korean entertainment industry (opens in new tab) by storm. In the meantime, here's everything we know about the rising star.
She's one of Korea's top models.
Jung was born in Seoul, South Korea, in June 1994, and started modeling at age 16. In 2013, she was the runner-up on Season 4 of the reality show Korea's Next Top Model. She made her international modeling debut as an exclusive model (opens in new tab) for Louis Vuitton in 2016. Since then she's had a successful career, walking runways for fashion houses including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prabal Gurung, Jeremy Scott, and Roberto Cavalli. She has also graced the cover of Vogue Korea, Vogue Japan, CR Fashion Book, and Harper’s BAZAAR Korea.
Squid Game is her first-ever acting role.
In an interview with W Korea, translated by NME (opens in new tab), Jung revealed that she was at New York Fashion Week when she was asked to send in a video audition for Squid Game.
"I remember how I spent all my time reading the script apart from when I ate food. I sent the video in, and the director contacted me, asking me to meet in person. So I dropped everything and flew in right away," she said.
She also recalled her reaction to learning that she had been cast in the show.
"When my CEO told me I’d been casted, the first thing I said was, 'Why?' I was so happy when I heard the news, but it was like a greater fear had taken over me. [I was like] ‘Thank you very much, but I can do this?'"
She says that she's very similar to Kang Sae-byeok.
Jung also told W Korea how she prepared for her Squid Game role, a refugee from North Korea. "I watched a lot of documentaries about North Korean defectors. I also practiced speaking in a North Korean accent with a teacher, and studied a lot."
She continued, "More than anything, I think I was able to accept [the character] Sae-byeok without any big difficulties because I am similar to her. In 2016, I left Korea to further my modelling career overseas, and I spent a lot of time alone. At the time, the emotion that I felt the most was 'loneliness'… That feeling of loneliness while trying to persevere and live isn’t all that different."
She's good friends with Jennie from BLACKPINK.
Though we don't know when they met, Jung and Jennie often support each other and share goofy selfies on social media. In a variety show clip (opens in new tab) with the Squid Game cast, Lee Jung-jae revealed that Jennie even visited the set and sent a coffee truck in support of Jung. Also, Lee ended up checking out the group's Netflix doc BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky and becoming a fan.
She's dating actor and MSG Wannabe member Lee Dong-hwi.
Jung and Lee first went public (opens in new tab) with their relationship in 2016. The 36-year-old actor is best known for playing Ryu Dong-ryong in the k-drama Reply 1988 (opens in new tab), though he's also appeared in the films (opens in new tab) The Handmaiden (2016) and Extreme Job (2019). He also debuted as an R&B singer earlier this year, as part of the group MSG Wannabe.
Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.
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