[Actor Spotlight] Han Ye-seul
This week our spotlight is on Han Ye-seul, whose newest drama Big Issue just premiered on SBS. In the drama, she stars opposite Joo Jin-mo, playing the editor-in-chief of a notorious tabloid and chaser (and perhaps creator) of celebrity scandals.
Han Ye-seul was born in 1981 and raised in Los Angeles, California. Her professional career started in 2001, when she won SBS’s Supermodel Contest. The following year was her debut as an actor, with a small part as a flight attendant on the sitcom Daebak Family. 2003 saw her make strides in her acting career with a turn in the fourth season of the popular sitcom Nonstop. In 2004, Han gave up her American citizenship to become a naturalized South Korean citizen.
Like many Korean-Americans who left the States to pursue careers in the South Korean entertainment industry, Han Ye-seul met with her fair share of bumps in the road to success. From the production (and professional) disaster that was 2011’s Myung-wol the Spy, to the usual celebrity scandals around financial holdings, dating, and plastic surgery, Han Ye-seul is a very interesting choice to play Big Issue’s paparazzo goddess.
Below are some dramaland moments from Han Ye-seul, followed by her full filmography.
Myung-wol the Spy (2011)
I didn’t watch Myung-wol the Spy myself, but this drama is now infamous for its behind-the-scenes production drama. It. Was. Crazy. Han Ye-seul starred as the eponymous heroine and North Korean spy that was meant to kidnap the top Hallyu actor played by Eric. It sounds like a fun premise for a rom-com with a side of action, plus a bit of a role reversal (I would have expected the spy to be played by the male, and the Hallyu star to be the female character, if I were blindfolded and guessing). But with all of its headline-making production disasters and domino effect of live-shoot snafus, this is one case where the drama outweighed the drama. Han Ye-seul’s reputation took an enormous hit, and as a consequence, she put her career on hiatus and didn’t star in a production again until 2014’s Birth of a Beauty. If anything good came out of that mess, perhaps it was some much-needed light shed on the grueling expectations of live-shoot productions. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced much has changed since then.
20th Century Boy and Girl (2017)
I love a good story of childhood friends falling in love as adults, and 20th Century Boy and Girl was such a sweet telling of this kind of story. While the bulk of K-dramas are feel-good stories, sometimes there are dramas that do this especially so, and for me, 20th Century Boy and Girl was one of those. It didn’t do anything groundbreaking, it didn’t have a plot full of barriers and roadblocks — it was rather a simple story, and I loved it for that. In the drama, Han Ye-seul played a top actress. Usually, that means full-on lovable diva (like Yoo Inna in Reach of Sincerity, for instance), but Han Ye-seul’s character was refreshingly innocent, still hung out with her childhood friends, and lived in the apartment above her parents and had breakfast with them every morning. Kim Ji-suk, who for me is always a fun balance of sweet, silly, and sincere, played the boy she grew up with. All in all, 20th Century Boy and Girl managed to do light and sweet without making you feel like you lost some IQ points while watching, which deserves at least a round of applause.
Big Issue (2019)
With the premiere episodes under my belt, I have to say this drama is way darker and sleeker than I expected. Light-hearted, feel-good drama it is not. Rather, we have (at least so far) a stylish, noir, and a little bit risque story — not your usual primetime fare. Han Ye-seul plays the femme fetale editor of her paparazzo world, and Joo Jin-mo is a washed-up “moral photographer” with a complicated history. The entire first episode is set on a luxury train, and it has such an old, swanky vibe, like Mission Impossible gone noir. The last drama I saw with a tone similar to this was Heartless City, so I’m curious to see how closely the drama keeps to the mood set in the first few episodes. It will also be interesting to see how the drama treats our hero and heroine who are clearly both people who have comprised their integrity (or been very tempted to), in the name of something larger.
Han Ye-seul’s full filmography:
- Nonstop 4 (2003) [Drama]
Han Ye-seul made her debut in Nonstop, like many successful actors before her.
- Tale of the Gumiho (2004) [Drama]
Kim Tae-hee starred as that rare creature, a gumiho (a fox with nine tails that looks human), and could survive only by eating… human livers Jo Hyun-jae and Jun Jin (of Shinhwa) also starred, and Han Ye-seul had the second female lead role.
- Nonstop 5 (2004) [Drama/Cameo]
Han Ye-seul cameoed in the fifth season of Nonstop.
- That Summer’s Typhoon (2005) [Drama]
Weekend drama that starred Jung Da-bin and Han Ye-seul as rival actresses.
- Fantasy Couple (2006) [Drama]
Han Ye-seul starred in this well-received Hong sisters drama that was a loose remake of the 1987 American rom-com Overboard. In some rather unimaginative casting, Han Ye-seul played an American born and bred heiress who returned to Korea and met with some drama-nesia. Oh Ji-ho and Kim Sung-min also starred.
- Miss Gold Digger (2007) [Film]
Though not very commercially successful, this “screwball comedy” featured Han Ye-seul juggling four different men to find the perfect match, and earned her a Blue Dragon Film Award for Best New Actress.
- Tazza (2008) [Drama]
Jang Hyuk, Han Ye-seul, Kim Min-joon, and more, starred in this drama adaptation of the popular manhwa about the high-stakes gambling underworld.
- Will It Snow for Christmas? (2009) [Drama]
Go Soo and Han Ye-seul starred in this wintery melo-romance, but this drama was mostly lost due to its time slot competition, Iris.
- Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) [Film]
Han Ye-seul voiced the main character of Susan Murphy (originally voiced by Reese Witherspoon) in the Korean dubbing of this CGI movie.
- Penny Pinchers (2011) [Film]
Song Joong-ki (can you come back to dramaland, please?) and Han Ye-seul starred in this film as neighbors-turned business partners-turned something more, with a variety of money-related predicaments.
- Myung-wol the Spy (2011) [Drama]
Han Ye-seul played a spy, and the drama made waves for all the wrong reasons (see above).
- Birth of a Beauty (2014) [Drama]
One of the crop of makeover dramas that were all the rage at the time. In this drama, Han Ye-seul had a full-body a.k.a. “extreme” makeover after she was wronged by her husband.
- Madame Antoine (2016) [Drama]
Another drama, another rom-com. Here, Han Ye-seul played the phony fortune teller to Sung Joon’s psychotherapist. Should have been better than it was, though I didn’t make it through (even for Sung Joon!).
- 20th Century Boy and Girl (2017) [Drama]
This shall be known as the drama that made me really like Han Ye-seul (see above).
- Big Issue (2019) [Drama]
Han Ye-seul could use a strong hit drama. Maybe this could be it? If not, at least Joo Jin-mo is around to distract us.
- A shabby Joo Jin-mo and a bedazzled Han Ye-seul in new promo for Big Issue
- 20th Century Boy and Girl: Episodes 1-2
- Madam Antoine: Episode 1
- Han Ye-seul in talks to headline JTBC’s Madam Antoine
- Birth of a Beauty: Episodes 1-2
- Han Ye-seul courted for a return to dramaland
- Movie Review: Penny-Pinching Romance
- Myung-wol the Spy: Episode 1