Jun Ji-hyun (born Wang Ji-hyun on 30 October 1981), also known by her English name Gianna Jun, is a South Korean actress and model. She has received multiple awards, including two Grand Bell Awards for Best Actress and a Daesang (Grand Prize) for Television at the Baeksang Art Awards.
Early life and education
Jun was born in Seoul, South Korea. She has a brother five years older than her. Her mother and her mother’s friends all encouraged her to be a model or actress due to her height and slim figure. Her childhood dream was to become a flight attendant, but she gave up on this dream after a plane flight experience. In 1997, at the age of 16, she followed her high school female senior and began her career as a model for Ecole Magazine. In 1998, she debuted as an actress and adopted the stage name Jun Ji-hyun, at the suggestion of a producer.
Jun attended college at Dongguk University and graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in Theater and Film. She later enrolled in Dongguk University’s graduate school of Digital Media and Contents in 2011, and obtained a master’s degree.
1997–2005: Career beginnings and breakthrough
Jun first became well known as a commercial model and as a TV actress. Although she made her film debut in the little-watched White Valentine in 1999, it was not until later in the year when she was featured in a commercial for Samsung My Jet Printer that she became a popular sensation. The dancing and attitude expressed in the ad made her into an icon for Koreans in their late teens and early twenties.
The following year, Jun made her first well-publicized film appearance in late 2000 with Il Mare, a handsomely shot melodrama set on Ganghwa Island. The film did respectably well at the box office (despite opening on the same day as blockbuster Joint Security Area) and solidified her status as a star. It was later remade in Hollywood under the title ‘Lake House for the first time in a Korean film starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves.
Jun’s breakout film was comedy My Sassy Girl, a tale of a gullible college student and his slightly unhinged girlfriend. Jun’s “sassy, loud, and domineering character while also embodying traits of a pure-hearted girl” ran contrary to gender norms in Asia. The film became the highest grossing Korean comedy of all time in Korea and also spent two weeks at No. 1 in Hong Kong, launching Jun into pan-Asia stardom as one of the biggest Hallyu stars in the Chinese-language market.
The huge success of My Sassy Girl also solidified Jun’s domestic popularity, and she was given the title of the “Nation’s First Love”. Jun’s growing popularity resulted in many companies requesting her endorsement. She also won the Best Actress award at the 2002 Grand Bell Awards.
In 2003, Jun starred in the psychological thriller film The Uninvited, which was rather well received by critics but failed to catch on with viewers. Throughout this time she was a constant presence in TV ads and on billboards in Korea and also in other Asian countries.
She reunited with Kwak Jae-yong, the director of My Sassy Girl, in 2004, appearing as a policewoman in romantic comedy Windstruck. However, viewers felt her role was too similar to My Sassy Girl. There were also signs that her popularity had started to suffer because of overexposure in advertisements. Nonetheless, Windstruck became the best-performing Korean film in Japan at the time, where My Sassy Girl was not as well known. In a 2005 survey of influential movie producers, she was ranked among the top ten most bankable stars in Korea.
Jun’s next project Daisy teamed her with Jung Woo-sung (who frequently appeared together with her in Giordano and 2% Lotte Chilsung Water advertisements), and drew attention for its 100% location shooting in the Netherlands, and for using the Hong Kong director Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs).
2006–2010: Hollywood debut
In late 2006, it was announced that Jun would be making her long-predicted jump to Hollywood as the lead role in Blood: The Last Vampire. The international co-production, which was filmed in China and Argentina in 2007, is the live-action adaptation of a popular Japanese anime. She went through three months of hard training to play the sword-wielding martial arts heroine. During the filming and promotions for the movie prior to its 2009 release, she adopted the Westernized name Gianna Jun. Jun then launched her own luxury jeans brand in 2008, named “Gianna by True Religion”, her first celebrity line. She was reportedly involved in every stage of their production, from design to deciding on fit and wash and their decoration with accessories.
For the film A Man Who Was Superman, Jun cut off her signature long silky hair to play a cynical documentary producer who meets an odd, Hawaiian-shirt-clad modern-day hero who battles urban apathy and preaches the virtues of lending a hand. Of initially feeling pressured at the opportunity to work with acclaimed actor Hwang Jung-min, she said, “Although luck was probably involved, I think it’s destiny for an actor to ‘meet’ new work. On the first day I met him, I realized that I have much to learn from him, not only from his acting, but also as an individual.”
In 2010, she acted opposite Chinese actress Li Bingbing in the English-language film Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, based on Lisa See‘s bestselling novel of the same name, which was directed by Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club). The film, set in remote 19th-century China, features the lifelong friendship between two women, Lily and Snow Flower, and their imprisonment imposed by the strict cultural codes of conduct for women at that time. She was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the July issue of the American edition of Vogue, the first Korean actress to be included in the iconic fashion magazine.
2012–present: Career resurgence and return to television
As part of the star-studded cast of The Thieves, Jun was a scene stealer in Choi Dong-hoon‘s 2012 heist film about thieves from Korea and China who team up together to steal a diamond worth US$30 million, which is locked in a special room at a casino in Macau. The Thieves became the second top-selling Korean film of all time.
She next played a translator married to a North Korean intelligence agent in the 2013 spy thriller The Berlin File, and director Ryoo Seung-wan praised Jun’s action scenes and her North Korean dialect. Jun’s success on the big screen reaffirmed her status as one of the top actresses in Korea, as well as being one of the biggest box office draw in chungmuro.
14 years after Happy Together in 1999, Jun made her highly anticipated return to television in fantasy romance My Love from the Star, opposite her The Thieves co-star Kim Soo-hyun. Jun plays a present-day top actress who falls in love with an alien who landed on earth 400 years ago during the Joseon Dynasty, played by Kim. The series was a ratings success, sparking trends in fashion, make-up and restaurants. Jun won the Daesang (or “Grand Prize”), the highest award for television, at the 2014