Korean lead actresses are commonly divided into three types. The first one is the innocent, conventional beauty type like Song Hye-kyo followed by the sexy ones such as Uhm Jung-hwa.
Finally, the third group do not follow the typical Korean standard of beauty and are more well-known for their eccentricities such as Gong Hyo-jin.
Since being pretty and sexy are not part of their public image, they are known to take more daring roles compared to their colleagues.
For example, Hyo-jin even takes up a female lead role with (gasp!) unshaven armpits in movie Love Fiction (2012). (It’s not just South Korea, even Hollywood is afraid of female body hair.)
Born in 1980, the actress began her career working as a model. Her acting debut was a supporting role in Memento Mori, a horror flick in 1999.
Over the years, she has become known as the Korean queen of romantic comedies due to her series of successful rom-com dramas.
She has starred in more than 15 television series but here are eight of KajoMag’s favourite dramas of hers:
1.Gong Hyo-jin as a single mother with her HIV-positive daughter in Thank You (2007)
There are two reasons the drama Thank You made a lot of buzz in 2007; firstly it was actor Jang Hyuk’s successful comeback after his mandatory military service and draft-dodging scandal. Secondly, Hyo-jin made a bold move playing the non-glamorous role of a single mother with a daughter who is HIV-positive.
Several actresses had turned down the role mostly because it was Jang Hyuk’s redemption from scandal. The drama could have turned out to be a hit or a miss. Thankfully, it was a hit for Hyo-jin, as most viewers regarded the drama as heartwarming.
The story follows Jang Hyuk as Doctor Min Gi-seo who is an arrogant, wealthy surgeon. As his girlfriend lays dying, she confesses that she inadvertently gave a young girl HIV via a contaminated blood transfusion.
In order to make amends on his girlfriend’s behalf, Gi-seo finds the girl living happily with her mother Young-shin (Gong Hyo-jin), unaware of her sickness.
The drama manages to deal well with the sensitive topic of HIV, educating the Korean audience about how to treat and respect HIV patients.
2.Gong Hyo-jin as an aspiring Italian cuisine chef in Pasta (2010)
The drama that really catapulted Hyo-jin’s career, marking her name in Korean rom-com drama is Pasta (2010).
She plays a sly and relentless celebrity chef wannabe named Seo Yoo-kyung who is stuck in a love triangle. Her chemistry with her co-star Lee Sun Kyun who plays the celebrity chef Choi Hyun-wook makes this drama even more entertaining to watch.
Hyun-wook believes that there is no place for a woman in his kitchen so when he starts to work at La Sfera he makes sure all the women there are fired, including Yoo-kyung who is just a kitchen assistant.
However, she is then rehired and starts to work with Hyun-wook. Love starts to simmer between them, in comes Kim San (Alex Chu) who is secretly taking care of Yoo-kyung.
3.Gong Hyo-jin as a famous celebrity who falls from grace in The Greatest Love (2011)
The Greatest Love (2011) gives a glimpses of what might be the true side of the Korean entertainment scene where entertainers hide behind their public image.
It follows Hyo-jin as Gu Ae-jung who was the most popular member of girl group Kukbo Sonyeo before she became embroiled in a series of scandals costing her career.
Ten years later, the washed up star takes up any TV or radio programmes that will hire her.
Meanwhile, Do Ko-jin (Cha Seung-won) is the public favourite action star known for his looks and humility. Behind camera, he is actually mean and arrogant to people around him.
Their fates collide and they begin an up and down relationship throughout the drama.
Hyo-jin’s natural talent to make the audience laugh and cry with her is obvious in The Greatest Love. So it is no surprise that she won Best Actress title in 48th Baeksang Arts Awards for her role in the drama.
4.Gong Hyo-jin plays the girl who can see ghosts in Master’s Sun (2013)
Hyo-jin’s role as ghost-seeing Tae Gong-shil may starts off annoying and clingy in Master’s Sun but as the drama progresses, you can slowly sympathise with her.
Since she can see things that people cannot see in the story, there are many scenes showcasing Hyo-jin seemingly speaking to herself. It is quite convincing to watch as she talks to ‘ghosts’ but actually doing the monologue on her own.
With So Ji-sub as the cold and distant CEO Joo Joong-won, the pair makes quite a funny and entertaining couple.
When some of these ghosts possesses her body, you cannot help but to be impressed by Hyo-jin acting skills as you watch her switching from one character to another.
5.Gong Hyo-jin as a psychiatrist in It’s Okay, That’s Love (2014)
As a psychiatrist, Ji Hae-soo (Gong Hyo-jin) self-diagnoses her self as having anxiety issues, a fear of commitment and sex phobia. All of these due to an incident where she saw her mum cheating on her dad with another guy.
What happens when she meets Jang Jae-yeol (Jo In-sung) a mystery novelist/radio DJ who is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder?
The romance between Hae-soon and Jae-yeol is classic tale of hate turns to love relationship. As they finally fall in love, the pair later come to grips with Jae-yeol’s undiagnosed schizophrenia.
While Thank You (2007) highlights the issue surrounding HIV, this drama shines the light on those surrounding mental illnesses.
6.Gong Hyo-jin as a meteorologist in Don’t Dare to Dream (2016)
Lee Hwa-shin (Jo Jung-suk) is a handsome, impressive anchor who comes from a well-to-do family.
Hyo-jin plays his competitor, a meteorologist named Pyo Na-ri. Unlike Hwa-shin, Na-ri does not have a shining resume or good family background.
As both of them fight to become the broadcasting station’s most valued employee, they start to fall in love with each other.
When a rich man Go Jung-won (Go Kyung-pyo) comes into picture and falls for Na-ri at first sight, will her heart quiver?
7.Gong Hyo-jin as a television producer in The Producers (2015)
Here, Hyo-jin is PD Ye-jin an experienced PD who works on a long-time music programme. Her long time friend is Joon-mo (Cha Tae-hyun) who has been working in the entertainment industry for 10 years.
The overall drama is amusing to watch as it features real-life TV programs such as Music Bank and 2 Days & 1 Night.
Though the work that goes behind these shows might be real, the love stories and drama are too good to be true.
For example, Seung-chan (Kim Soo-hyun) is a rich chaebol who decides to work at a television network just to follow his secret crush. Which rich dude in the world is willing to do that?
8.Gong Hyo-jin as a single mother in When the Camellia Blooms (2019)
Dong-baek (Gong Hyo-jin) is a single mother of one living in the small town of Ongsan. There she runs a bar-restaurant called Camellia.
Due to her status as a single mother and being the owner of a bar where men are the main patrons, Dong-baek becomes the subject of the town gossip.
Regardless of what gossip keeps on spinning in the rumour mill, local police officer Hwang Yong-sik (Kang Ha-neul) is in love with her.
Things get complicated when Dong-Baek’s ex-boyfriend Kang Jong-reol (Kim Ji-suk) suddenly shows up in her life.
Things get further complicated as there is a serial killer in Ongsan and Dong-baek might be on his kill list.