Who made our list for the greatest Korean Actresses of all time? Ranking great actresses in Korean cinema is always a subjective choice in the end. However, SEOULSPACE looked back through Korean cinema history and chose the women who proved what it means to be a great actress in Korea. Doing the list was not easy unless there are some guidelines. Performances come in a variety of different types based on the genre and the era it occurred. In addition, actresses today have a lot more freedom to push the boundaries than in Korean films in the past. Many females actresses now are leading films and paving the way for versatile female roles.
In order to do the Top 10 Greatest Korean Actresses of all time the right way, here are our guidelines.
- The number of awards won for their acting
- The number of memorable characters played
- How many films have they done? Experience matters.
- Can they play a range of characters?
- Reviews from critics
We also did an article on the greatest male Korean actors of all time. So make sure to check that out as well.
Jeon Do-yeon is all about intensity and range. There is probably no Korean film actress to carry the kind of dramatic weight as Jeon Do-yeon. She has proven herself several times over to be the best Korean actress working today. Jeon Do-yeon has earned a reputation for outstanding work outside the big studio system. She has won a lifetime achievement award at an Italian film festival. She has come a long way from her debut back in 1997. Since then she has earned much critical acclaim and even won the best actress award at the 60th Cannes Film Festival for her role in the 2007 drama Secret Sunshine. Her latest film Beasts Clawing at Straws has been praised by critics, and there is an outside chance of an Oscar nomination.
Kim Hye-ja is a veteran actress who has won the grand prize in the television category at the 2019 Baeksang Arts Awards. This is her 4th Baeksang Arts Award with her first one coming all the way back in 1979. Therefore, if you measure acting skills based on awards and acclaim, an argument can be made that Kim Hye-ja should be #1 on this list. She often plays the motherly figure in film and TV. Her most famous and most recognized role is from Mother, a 2009 thriller that is considered one of the best Korean films of all time. Her latest film The Light in Your Eyes has also garnered critical acclaim.
While the global audience might know her from the hit Netflix Korean drama Crash Landing on You, Son Ye-jin has built a reputation in South Korea for being one of the best actresses working in both film and television. Son has been many awards for her performance in both film and television with over 50 awards. This includes some of the most prestigious acting awards from The Blue Dragon Film Awards, The Grand Bell Awards, and the Oscars of Korea, the Baeksang Arts Awards. Besides all this, many of her films are some of the highest-grossing films in Korean history which makes her a legend in both Korean cinema and dramas. Son is expected to make her long-awaited Hollywood debut at some point in 2022 for the film The Cross.
Yun Jeong-hie is forever cemented as one of the greatest Korean actresses of all time. She is one of the true icons in Korean cinema. She has only appeared in one film since 1994. Yun Jeong-hie was one of the best actresses during the 60s and 70s in Korean cinema. She was also considered the most beautiful actress at the time. Most of her films were period pieces and melodramas. Her most famous role was in the 1972 classic Oyster Village. She won “best actress” at the Blue Dragon Film Awards and was nominated for a Golden Bear at the 22nd Berlin International Film Festival. In total, she has over 330 films and 24 best actress awards.
Moon So-ri is not only an actress but also a director and screenwriter. She is best known for her role in the Oasis and A Good Lawyer’s Wife where she won the Best Actress Award at the 2004 Grand Bell Awards. Many praise her for her wide range. She has earned a strong reputation for outstanding work outside the big studios in the Korean film industry. Moon acted and directed in her first short film The Actress. Moon is also the first Korean actress to get invited as a jury member of the Locarno International Film Festival.
Bae Doona burst onto the scene with her fantastic performance in Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in 2002. You also might recognize her as the archer in Bong Joob-ho’s The Host in 2006. She made her English-speaking debut in Wachowski’s film Cloud Atlas in 2012. You can also check out her work in her latest film which is available on Netflix called Kingdom. Many see her as the greatest Korean actress of her generation and is one of the few that have been able to transition well into Hollywood.
Young Yuh-jung has been a star for both film and television. She is known for her roles in The Housemaid, The Taste of Money, and the American film Minari. Her career spans 50 years While she mainly plays supporting roles, she might be one of the best supporting actresses in Korea. She won the best supporting actress award at the 31st Blue Dragon Film Awards for her role in The Housemaid. That gives her a total of 15 best supporting actress awards in Korea. In addition, she has a chance to win a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance in Minari. If she does, she will definitely rise in the rankings.
While many might know her from her great performances in Korean dramas such as Spring Waltz and Brilliant Legacy, she has been equally praised for her work in Korean cinema. Her role in Cold Eyes in 2013 got her the best actress award at the 34th Blue Dragon Film Awards. Furthermore, she has been able to transition back and form between Korean films, Japanese films, and Korean dramas smoothly. While she is relatively still young, she has earned the right to be considered the most gifted Korean actresses ever.
Kim Hye-su is considered one of the sexists Korean actresses working today and she recently turned 50! She seems to be one of the few Korean actresses to get better with age. She is best known for her roles in Tazza: The High Rollers, The Thieves, and Familyhood. Kim Hye-su has been one of Korean cinema’s most dependable female leads since the late 1990s. She is perfect at playing the glamourous and confident femme fatale. Therefore, she is one of the few Korean actresses working today that can lead a movie all by herself.
Jun Ji-hyun is currently the highest-paid female Korean drama actress today. She makes $84,000 per episode and if you have seen her work, you understand why. She rose to fame from her role as a sassy girl in…My Sassy Girl. During that time, it was very clear she was a brilliant actress. Her performance in the romantic comedy made her one of the most in-demand Korean actresses. It was one of the highest-grossing Korean comedies of all time and instantly made Jun Ji-hyun a superstar. Her other famous roles were in The Thieves, The Berlin File, and Assassination. In 2019, Jun Ji-hyun made Gallup Korea’s list of the 10 best actors of 2016, she was the only woman on the list.