7 Things you should know about Jung Ho-yeon, the 'Squid Game' breakout star
On the rise
If you've watched Squid Game on Netflix, you'll know Jung Ho-yeon as Player 067—AKA Kang Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector with a tragic past. She'd lost her father and grandparents before being forced to leave her mother behind in North Korea, escaping to South Korea with only her younger brother, Cheol. More hardships awaited the siblings in their adopted country. When Sae-byeok could no longer afford to take care of him, she made the heartbreaking decision to leave her sibling in a children's home.
All alone now and barely able to get by, she becomes one of the 456 participants taking part in a deadly game to win ₩45.6 billion (more than RM160 million). Her dream is to buy a house and reunite her family with the prize money. Jung Ho-yeon's portrayal of Sae-byeok's trauma, resilience and resourcefulness has made both the character and actress a fan favourite.
Jung's popularity has also been boosted by the surprise success of Squid Game. It's currently Netflix's number one show in the world and the first K-drama to reach the top spot on Netflix's US chart.
Watch the trailer for Squid Game here:
With Jung Ho-yeon's star on the rise, we predict you'll be seeing more of her in the near future. In the meantime, here are some things you may not have known about her:
1. She has been modelling since the age of 16
She may be new to K-drama viewers, but Jung Ho-yeon is a familiar face in the Korean and international fashion scene. Born on 23 June, 1994—in Seoul, South Korea—she began modelling when was 16. Even without an agent, she managed to establish herself at Seoul Fashion Week before signing on with ESteem Models.
To gain further exposure and raise her profile, Jung participated in the fourth season of Korea's Next Top Model. She finished the season as its runner-up.
2. She left Seoul in 2016 to pursue a modelling career overseas
In 2016, Jung Ho-yeon made her international modelling debut as an exclusive model for Louis Vuitton. She's since walked the runways for numerous luxury brands including Chanel, Prabal Gurung, Jeremy Scott, and Roberto Cavalli. In print, she's also graced the covers of Vogue Korea and Vogue Japan, among other publications. In her earlier days as a model, Jung was known for her fiery red hair and spunk, the latter a trait she shares with her on-screen character.
Jung was able to connect, too, with Kang Sae-byeok's loneliness in a foreign country. "In 2016, I left Korea to further my modelling career overseas, and I spent a lot of time alone. At the time, the emotion that I felt the most was 'loneliness'," she told W Korea. "That feeling of loneliness while trying to persevere and live isn’t all that different (from Sae-byeok's experience)."
3. Her 'Squid Game' audition clip was recorded during New York Fashion Week
At the start of 2020, she joined the newly established Saram Entertainment agency in Korea as an actress while maintaining her modelling career. With her management's encouragement, she decided to audition for Squid Game by sending in a self-taped video from New York, around the time of fashion week.
"I remember how I spent all my time reading the script apart from when I ate food. I sent the video in, and the director contacted me, asking me to meet in person. So I dropped everything and flew in right away," she told W Korea. No one was more shocked than she was to find out she'd landed the part of Player 067, her first-ever acting role.
4. Jennie from Blackpink is one of her friends
Korea's top model turned up-and-coming actress is friends with a member of the world's biggest girl group! In a recent Instagram post on Jung's account, we got to see her hanging out with Blackpink's Jennie on the set of Squid Game. The show's star, Lee Jung-jae, confirmed that Jennie had also sent a coffee truck to show support for her close friend. This earned Jennie a mention in the ending credits of Squid Game—see if you can spot her name.
These two go way back, with Jung first appearing on Jennie's Instagram in 2019. They're spotted on each other's social media accounts quite regularly, whether it's to express support for a professional project or to commemorate their friendship.
5. Her Instagram following has grown massively since 'Squid Game'
From having around 400,000 Instagram followers before Squid Game started airing on Netflix, Jung Ho-yeon now has over 15.9 million followers and counting. Her social media feed offers a glimpse into her daily life and career, from pictures of her latest modelling campaigns to a peek behind the scenes of her projects.
6. She is dating actor Lee Dong-hwi
Jung and actor Lee Dong-hwi, who's known for his role in the Reply 1988 K-drama, have been a couple since 2016. This was confirmed by Lee's label, who stated that the actor "didn’t want to lie about his personal relationships". He is a singer, too—he made his solo debut with his recent song, 'Keep Your Head Up', and is a member of the R&B project group called 'MSG Wannabe' alongside Simon D and Kim Jung-min. The group was formed by MBC's reality show Hangout with Yoo.
7. She's Louis Vuitton's latest global ambassador
As mentioned earlier in point number two, Jung has been a runway model for Louis Vuitton since 2016, for their SS17 show. She was also cast in the maison's Pre-Fall 2017 campaign. Following her massively successful acting debut in Squid Game, she's now been promoted to the ranks of the French luxury brand's global ambassador.
"“I’m honoured to kickstart my acting career with Louis Vuitton, which I’ve worked with throughout my modelling career,” Jung shared in a statement. Nicholas Ghesquière added: “I immediately fell in love with Ho-yeon’s great talent and fantastic personality, and I am looking forward to starting this new chapter of the journey we started at Louis Vuitton a few years ago.”
We, too, are so excited to see what's in store for this rising star in the K-drama scene!