The top 10 K-drama supporting actors and actresses, from The Penthouse’s Ha Do-kwon to Kingdom’s Kim Sang-ho
- Oh Jung-se caught the eye in It’s Okay to Not Be Okay and When the Camellia Blooms, while Kim Sun-young impressed in Crash Landing on You
- Kim Hae-sook appeared in hit dramas Hospital Playlist and Start-up, while Moon Sook’s graceful presence shone through in The Uncanny Counter
When watching K-dramas we tend to be dazzled by their beautiful leading actors and actresses, whose faces are adored by the media and many of whom command vast social media followings.
Yet the on-screen stories that capture our imaginations are filled with other compelling characters: colleagues who make us laugh, family members who tug at our heartstrings, and villains who send shivers down our spines.
These are the characters that challenge the leads, the ones that make us care about them.
Thankfully, South Korea has a seemingly limitless supply of talented performers capable of bringing these characters to the screen. Here is our pick of 10 of the most reliable supporting actors and actresses in K-dramas.
1. Oh Jung-se
Fans of It’s Okay to Not Be Okay will remember the moving performance of Oh Jung-se as Kim Soo-hyun’s autistic older brother. This came in the wake of his role as Kong Hyo-jin’s landlord in When the Camellia Blooms, which earned him the best supporting actor prize at the Baeksang Arts Awards, and the team owner he played in Hot Stove League.
Originally a stage actor, Oh debuted in films 20 years ago, with memorable roles including the vain star in romantic comedy How to Use Guys with Secret Tips.
2. Kim Hae-sook
Kim’s career stretches back to the early 1980s and she has long been a recognisable name in film and TV, particularly for playing stern or supportive mother figures. Highlights of her career include K-dramas like Autumn in My Heart and Pinocchio, as well as box office hits such as The Thieves.
3. Kim Sun-young
Few actresses can master dialects quite like Kim Sun-young, who played a North Korean villager in Crash Landing on You, a role that earned her a best supporting actress prize at the Baeksang Arts Awards.
Viewers will also recognise her rich provincial twang as one of the neighbours in the nostalgia-fuelled drama Reply 1988, a character for which she used her own name. Recently she also played a feisty neighbourhood “ahjumma” in When the Camellia Blooms, and an agent working undercover in a modest restaurant in Vagabond.
4. Lee Kyung-young
Often seen playing well-heeled CEOs or politicians, frequently those with shady intentions, veteran actor Lee Kyung-young brought his slimy gravitas and gravelly voice to full effect in last year’s hit affair drama The World of the Married, playing a businessman who could be Park Hae-joon’s ticket to becoming a filmmaker.
He was also the imperious founder of Ju Ji-hoon’s law firm in Hyena. Typically, any character that comes up against Lee in a film or drama will wind up having a tough time contending with his wealth and influence.
5. Ha Do-kwon
Ha majored in vocal music in university, which no doubt helped him to play the singing teacher. He previously played an ace baseball player in Hot Stove League and also appeared in Zombie Detective.
6. Kim Sang-ho
Every time Kim Sang-ho appears in a drama, the screen immediately warms up. One of the most genial actors working today, his broad smile, crinkled eyes and choppy laugh are a gentle breeze that lightens whatever situation his character has dropped into.
Over the past two years, however, he’s turned into a surprising go-to for action roles, after appearing in a pair of major genre series on Netlfix: as the Crown Prince’s trusted bodyguard in Kingdom, and as the handicapped hermit who makes monster-bashing weapons out of household objects in Sweet Home. He is also in the current sci-fi action series L. U. C. A.: The Beginning.
7. Moon Sook
Moon Sook drew attention for her graceful presence as Wigen, the afterworld partner to Jo Byung-gyu’s demon fighter in The Uncanny Counter. With her long silver locks and piercing eyes, she has been making waves as a nun in Priest, and as Jung Kyung-ho’s mother in Life on Mars.
Moon originally acted in the early 1970s, often for her director husband, Lee Man-hee, but retired soon after his death. Thirty-eight years later, she was convinced to return in the film The Beauty Inside, and she’s been on a roll ever since.
8. Lee Bong-ryun
As the sassy film company representative (and Shin Se-kyung’s roommate) in Run On and as the desperate mother who lost her child and becomes the strangest monster in Sweet Home, Lee Bong-ryun has been responsible for two memorable but completely different characters over the past few months.
After debuting a decade ago, she has quietly been making a name for herself on both the big and small screens, and larger roles have steadily come her way. She is also known for her roles in recent films Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 and Exit.
9. Kim Won-hae
One of the busiest actors working in Korea today, Kim Won-hae typically appears in around eight dramas and a pair of films a year. Yet what’s most impressive about his filmography is not its quantity but its sheer variety.
He proved his comedy chops on the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live Korea, was a nervy member of Kim Hye-soo’s cold case team in Signal and a flamboyant Russian gang leader in The Fiery Priest. From melodrama to period tales and tense thrillers, he is at home in any character and always delivers the goods.
10. Jang Young-nam
Jang Young-nam was able to show off her versatility in a major way last year when she played a cool-and-collected head nurse in It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, a character who is later revealed be a completely different kind of person in the show.
From playing Lee Jong-suk’s tragic mother in Pinocchio to a coach in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, there are few character types she hasn’t tackled on the small screen. She has had an equally varied trajectory in her film and stage work over the past two-and-a-half decades.