If you haven’t seen Squid Game yet, chances are you know someone who has.
The original South Korean drama is on track to eclipse Bridgerton, currently Netflix’s most watched show of all time. It’s dominated the top spot in the UK and 90 other countries around the world since its release on September 17 making it a bona fide global phenomenon.
One of the reasons it’s a runaway success? The characters. This lot aren’t your typical bunch of hysterical headless-chickens: we meet all sorts, from a disgraced banker, a surgeon in financial hell, an exploited immigrant, and most compelling of all, a North Korean defector, played to perfection by HoYeon Jung.
There’s nothing like a hit show to launch you into superstardom, which Jung now knows first hand.
She plays street-smart pickpocket Kang Sae-byeok in the show until the shady overlords reduce her to a number. She’s player 067. Her heartbreaking backstory unravels during a game of marbles. Born and raised in oppression in North Korea, she’s in the diabolical life-or-death tournament to reunite the remaining members of her family. Throughout the show the ice queen’s facade melts as she opens up to her fellow contestants.
Jung touched such a nerve with viewers around the world that her Instagram audience has surged from a respectable 400,000 to an astonishing 17 million followers in the few weeks since Squid Game has been on air. She’s now the most followed actress in South Korea.
Here’s what we know about the woman of the moment:
She’s already pretty famous
The model-turned-actor is used to being in front of a lens, but it’s normally a photographer behind it, not a director. The Seoul-native was tipped as South Korea’s next supermodel by Vogue who described her as a cross between the UK’s very own bushy-eyebrowed Cara Delevingne and Belgian beauty Hanne Gaby Odiele.
Jung has walked for the fashion A-list
Jung starred in TV show Korea’s Next Top Model back in 2013, but finished a runner-up. She had the last laugh though, and went on to walk for fashion royalty - think Louis Vuitton, Fendi, D&G, Prabal Gurung and Chanel amongst others, before Squid Game came calling and she swapped couture for the now-iconic green tracksuit.
Squid Game is her first on-screen adventure
Jung was sent the show’s script while working at New York Fashion Week. After nailing her audition video, it seems she was hit by imposter syndrome, revealing in an interview with W Korea: “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 clearly put her all into acting, even switching accents between North and South Korean in scenes to nail her part. Now the show has achieved global acclaim, thanks in part to her stellar performance, it’s fair to say she’s made the switch seamlessly.
Her net worth is set to soar
As a top model, she’s already got plenty in the bank - thought to be around the $4m mark. With an audience bigger more than triple that of Scotland’s entire population, it won’t be long before those #sponcon deals come knocking. She’s just been named Louis Vuitton’s newest Global House Ambassador becoming the face of the luxury brand.
We have a feeling it’s just the beginning for this overnight A-lister.
How do the rest of the cast stack up?
Lee Jung-jae: another former model, Lee had a slew of screen credits under his belt before taking the lead in Squid Game. He plays Seong Gi-hun or Player 456, a divorced gaming addict who lives with his elderly mother.
Park Hae-soo: winning a Best New Actor award in 2017, you can also catch Park on that other Netflix hit, Money Heist (the Korean version). In Squid Game, he plays Seong’s childhood friend Cho Sang-woo (Player 218), a man who will do anything to escape a financial hellscape of his own making.
Oh Young-soo: the oldest player in Squid Game is known by his player number, 001. We later discover his real name is Oh Il-nam when he strikes up a friendship with Seong Gi-hun.
Anupam Tripathi: the New Delhi-born actor plays illegal Pakistani immigrant Abdul Ali (player 199) who is naïve and trusting of his fellow contestants. Tripathi, who moved to Seoul for university, has appeared in other TV shows in the country, but Squid Game is his first major role.
Lee Byung-hun: probably the best known of all Squid Game cast (although we don’t get to see his face until episode 8), Lee has been cast in several Hollywood blockbusters before: Terminator Genisys, The Magnificent Seven and G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra. He plays the mysterious Front Man in Squid Game, putting players through their paces.