[Actor Spotlight] Jang Nara
Our spotlight series continues, this week with Jang Nara. Jang Nara is currently starring in the successful SBS drama An Empress’s Dignity, and has already won an SBS Best Actress award for her performance as a naive musical actress who finds herself married to the Emperor of the Korean Empire. The role showcases what Jang Nara does best: cute and innocent at first glance, but when threatened or wronged, full of spunk and fighting spirit. Jang Nara is famous for the sweet girlish quality that she brings to her roles, and it’s to her credit that she brings this flavor while also making each of her characters distinctive and three-dimensional.
Born in 1981 in Seoul, South Korea, Jang Nara debuted in 2001 as a singer. Her debut solo release did not perform as well as expected, and it wasn’t until she starred in her first acting role that her career — both as a singer and actor — took off. Since that time, Jang Nara has not only released several albums and singles (sometimes for her dramas’ OSTs), but has had a strong acting career in South Korean dramas and films. She’s also equally active in China, with an impressive number of Chinese productions on her resume.
Here are some dramaland highlights from Jang Nara, followed by her full filmography.
Fated to Love You (2014)
Zany rom-com at its best. Jang Nara and Jang Hyuk play a budding artist and a crazy chaebol respectively, who had an accidental one night stand (it’s complicated). While brimming with the usual rom-com stunts, Fated to Love You was both entertaining and funny. Jang Hyuk played his best loud and ridiculous hero with a raucous (and rather unforgettable) laugh, and Jang Nara was in prime form as the sweet but spunky heroine who had a lot on her plate. (Also, she looks adorable in glasses!) Second leads, crazy antics, and chaebol family problems were only the beginning. Fated to Love You is also where we got to experience Jang Nara and Choi Jin-hyuk on the screen together — they worked so well as a pair that they wound up starring in current drama An Empress’s Dignity. Sometimes the drama gods really do listen!
I Remember You (2015)
I Remember You (a.k.a. Hello Monster) was a well-received crime and psychological drama starring Seo In-gook and Jang Nara. Seo In-gook played a genius profiler who joined the special unit that Jang Nara’s character was a part of. Throughout much of this drama, there was a lot going on beneath the surface and in the past. This drama was the first time I had seen Jang Nara in a more serious and dark role, and I have to be honest: I like her better as bubbly and baby-faced than I do with a handgun and emotional baggage. Park Bo-gum and Choi Won-young, in equally dark and complex roles, were also great here, but of course the show belonged to Seo In-gook.
Go Back Spouses (2016)
Go Back Spouses is one of those rom-coms that I missed when it was airing, and I have regretted ever since. Based off of a popular Naver webtoon, this 12-episode drama starred Jang Nara and Sohn Ho-joon as a married couple who both reached a breaking point in their lives and marriage. When they woke up as the younger version of themselves, they had a chance to reassess their decisions, and to change their fate and future. I love that this story is about a married couple reconnecting — married couple stories are hard to come by in dramaland, so it’s always nice to see one that talks about marriage instead of just falling in love. Bonus: I didn’t realize till recently that Jang Ki-yong is in the second lead here. He knocked my socks off in Come Here and Hug Me, so this drama just got bumped up my watch list by a few spots.
An Empress’s Dignity (2018)
Where, oh where, to start when talking about this drama? It’s a prime example of how a drama can sound one way on paper — and then become something totally different in execution. The word makjang and An Empress’s Dignity have said in the same breath since the drama first aired, and its outrageous antics don’t seem to be letting up at all. Jang Nara plays a musical actress who’s a little…on the naive side, shall we say? When the (yes, fictional) Emperor of Korea (played by Shin Sung-rok) swoops in and asks for her hand in marriage, what’s an Emperor fangirl to do but say yes and pack her bags for the palace? Of course, things are not what they seem, and the palace is about ten times worse than your standard evil chaebol corporation. Murder, spies, mistresses, secret children, secret passageways, secrets pasts, and also Choi Jin-hyuk as the hero. This drama sucks you in with the power of the much-PPL’d Dyson vacuum, so once you start watching, there’s no escaping. Even if you want to. This is not exactly what I had in mind when I was looking forward to the Jang Nara/Choi Jin-hyuk re-pairing, but I can’t say I’m not enjoying it.
Jang Nara’s full filmography:
- Nonstop (2001) [Drama]
Jang Nara’s acting debut was in this long-running and multi-season sitcom.
- Successful Story of a Bright Girl (2002) [Drama]
Sweet country girl Jang Nara meets haughty chaebol Jang Hyuk. Hugely popular, with over 40% ratings when it aired. The excitement was palpable when the two teamed up again in 2014 for Fated to Love You.
- My Love Patzzi (2002) [Drama]
Jang Nara stars with Kim Rae-won, Kim Jae-won, and Hong Eun-hee in this modern retelling of a Korean fairytale.
- Hello! Balbari (2003) [Drama]
Jang Nara has a side role in this daily rom-com.
- Oh! Happy Day (2003) [Film]
Jang Nara tramples injustice, and Park Jung-chul’s heart.
- Love Is All Around (2004) [Drama]
Love is all around… and not in a good way, because Jang Nara finds out her first love is also her mother’s boyfriend (Kim Mi-sook and Yoon Jung-hoon also star).
- Banjun Drama (2005) [Drama]
Jang Nara played parts in six different dramas in this long-running series of mini-dramas that famously aired two versions with reversed (or banjun) endings.
- My Bratty Princess (2005) [Drama]
Jang Nara stars in this Chinese historical drama about a princess who doesn’t know she’s royalty. This was the start of Jang Nara’s success acting in China.
- Wedding (2005) [Drama]
Love “quadrangle” drama starring Jang Nara, Ryu Shi-won, Lee Hyun-woo, and Myung Se-bin that was known as a bittersweet rom-com.
- Good Morning Shanghai (2007) [Drama]
- Girl’s Revolution (2007) [Film]
Another year, another Chinese film; this time a quirky rom-com.
- Sky and Ocean (2009) [Film]
Jang Nara, Yoo Ah-in, and Hyun Juni are three troubled friends that bond over music.
- Iron Masked Singer (2010) [Drama]
Jang Nara stars with Lu Yi in this Chinese suspense romance set in the early 1900s.
- Diao Man Qiao Yu Yi (2011) [Drama]
Also known as Physician, Jang Nara stars in this Chinese historical drama about a girl who disguises herself as a boy with the hope of becoming a physician.
- Baby-Faced Beauty (2011) [Drama]
Popular rom-com starring Jang Nara as the eponymous heroine who lands her dream job thanks to her young face. Choi Daniel plays the mature-looking, but young, hero.
- Flying With You (2012) [Film]
Jang Nara stars with Jimmy Lin in this Chinese rom-com.
- Whoever (2012) [Film]
- Race Course (2012) [Drama]
Jang Nara supports Myolie Wu and Bosco Wong in this Chinese horse racing drama.
- School 2013 (2013) [Drama]
Jang Nara is reunited with Choi Daniel on screen, and plays teacher to the likes of Kim Woo-bin and Lee Jong-seok in this rendition of the famous School series.
- Red Palanquin (2013) [Drama]
Chinese drama set in the Qing Dynasty, where Jang Nara plays a six-fingered heroine.
- Fated to Love You (2014) [Drama]
Jang Nara + Jang Hyuk together again in this zany rom-com (see above).
- Old Farewell (2014) [Drama]
Jang Nara + Jang Hyuk (again!) in this one-episode drama special about a divorced couple, and a secret time-travel attic that helps them heal their wounds.
- Mr. Baek (2014) [Drama]
Strange concept of a 70-year-old who becomes 30-years-old and falls in love for the first time.
- One-Winged Eagle (2015) [Drama]
Uplifting Chinese drama about a hero with one arm.
- I Remember You (2015) [Drama]
Jang Nara in a rare detective role, opposite Seo In-gook (see above).
- Polaroid (2015) [Film/Cameo]
Jang Nara cameos in her father’s directorial debut.
- One More Happy Ending (2016) [Drama]
Jang Na-Ra, Yoo Da-in, Yoo Inna, and Seo In-young used to be girl group idols. Now they’re struggling at adulting.
- Go Back Spouses (2016) [Drama]
Jang Nara and Sohn Ho-joon have a chance at a life re-do. What will they re-do? (see above)
- An Empress’s Dignity (2018) [Drama]
Jang Nara is the empress, and the Imperial family really, really needs some dignity (see above).
Jang Nara plays a Korean living in Shanghai who signs a “convenient contract” with Shawn Yue (and I’m pretty sure I know what that means).
Another Chinese romance, this time with Jaycee Chan.
- [Ask an Actor] Jang Nara answers Beanies
- [Ask an Actor] Jang Nara
- An Empress’s Dignity: Episodes 1-2
- An imperial wedding for An Empress’s Dignity
- Jang Nara up to play actress-turned-empress in An Empress’s Dignity
- Go Back Spouses: Episode 1
- Go Back Spouses feel the difference eighteen years makes
- Jang Nara, Sohn Ho-joon tie the knot for new KBS drama
- Fate of Jang Nara’s Housewife Detective up in the air