There are strict conditions to qualify as a k-drama girl-next-door: (1) must have "accessible" beauty and physical features that women can relate to, (2) must be simple and humble in demeanor yet gutsy when needed, and (3) must be surprisingly strong and/or interested in sports.
Jung So-min fits these criteria and more.
She excels in bringing a down-to-earth quality in whichever roles she plays, whether it be as a high school student who openly pursues her love interest (Playful Kiss), a physically aggressive girlfriend (The Sound of Your Heart), an earnest talent manager (My Father Is Strange), a burnt-out screenwriter (Because This Is My First Life), or a hurting designer (Hundred Million Stars from the Sky).
She made her TV debut in 2010 in Bad Guy (2010), showcasing both her ballet and sports skills. This was followed by her first leading role in Playful Kiss (2010), where she played an indefatigable high school student when it comes to love. After graduating from the Korean National University of Arts, she paid her acting dues by working diligently in a long list of not only dramas but also films—Twenty (2015) and Homme Fatale (2019) among others. An all-rounder, she also recorded songs for her shows’ OSTs, hosted her own radio show Jung So Min’s Young Street, and joined her first variety program Little Forest. She stars in the Hong sisters' new fantasy drama Alchemy of Souls with Lee Jae-wook.
Both in drama and persona, she exudes a sense of goodness. This goodness makes you root for her, whether as the heroine or the anti-hero, as an actress or as a person.
*Profile by Tteokbokki Fairy
In celebration of our girl k-rush, we take a select sample of Jung So-min's decade-long filmography that helped establish her quintessential girl-next-door persona.
Playful Kiss (2010)
In this MBC rom-com series adapted from the hit Japanese manga Itazura Na Kiss, Jung So-min plays high school student Oh Ha-ni. Though she struggles academically, she is tenacious in pursuing her love interest, the smart but cold Baek Seung-jo (Kim Hyun-joong, Boys over Flowers). When an incident forces her family to live with Seung-jo's family, will Seung-jo continue to reject Ha-ni in this forced cohabitation situation?
While Ha-ni is the opposite of today's empowered female lead, Jung So-min had portrayed her so charmingly that it cemented her place in the crowded rom-com sphere. Furthermore, the series was so popular overseas back then that it was sold to 12 countries, earning USD 3 million in revenue.
Available on Viki
My Father Is Strange (2017)
In this KBS2 weekend family drama, she portrays Byun Mi-yeong, a timid agency manager with a history of depression. Ahn Jong-hee (Lee Joon, Bloody Heart), an unpolished actor in her agency, introduces himself as the long-lost son to her father so he could move in with her family. Sparks soon fly between Mi-yeong and Jong-hee, but being half-siblings, they are torn about acting on their feelings. Could revealing a well-kept family secret break down this barrier or break the family apart?
Achieving 36.5% AGB Nielsen peak nationwide ratings, the popular k-drama was extended by two episodes to a total of 52. Jung So-min and Lee Joon's chemistry must have been too intense to contain on screen that they dated in real life for three years.
Available on Netflix and Viki
Because This Is My First Life (2017)
As Yoon Ji-ho in the tvN female friendship and contemporary romance k-drama, she is a disillusioned and burnt-out screenwriter in her 30s. She finds the most practical way to rent an apartment without the social scorn—get married to the socially awkward landlord (Lee Min-ki, My Liberation Notes). Both sensible adults, they will surely keep their relationship strictly as landlord and tenant, roight?
The feminist series challenges the concepts of love, marriage, and gender roles. Although its domestic ratings were low, it has a cult following—the story is thoughtfully crafted, and its relatable characters caught in modern problems find logical solutions. Unlike some of Jung So-min’s earlier roles, her Ji-ho is competent, stands up for herself, strives for something other than a man, has devoted friends (Esom and Kim Ga-eun), and has a male lead who respects her.
Available on Netflix, Viki, and Viu
Hundred Million Stars from the Sky / The Smile has Left Your Eyes (2018)
The tvN melodramatic thriller cast her as Yoo Jin-kang, a warm-hearted ad designer who meets a mysterious microbrewery worker named Kim Moo-young (Seo In-guk, Café Minamdang). Thinking Moo-young is linked to a murder case, her detective brother Yoo Jin-gook (Park Sung-woong, Life on Mars) stumbles upon their shocking connection. Will the enigmatic man wipe her eyes' smile, or help heal her childhood scars—or both?
A remake of the 2002 Japanese drama Sora Kara Furu Ichioku no Hoshi, the series is enhanced by its moving original soundtrack, including “Star,” a duet by Jung So-min and Seo In-guk. Even though it was completed a few years back, fans still can't get over the strong chemistry between the leads and the heartbreaking layers of revelation throughout the drama.
Available on Viki and Viu
Homme Fatale (2019, film)
She portrays Hae-won, a woman who takes care of her brother. While she is out on the street one day, Joseon’s first male gisaeng (courtesan) named Heo-saek (Lee Jun-ho, The Red Sleeve) notices and befriends her. Is it love at first sight? But since a nobleman later proposes to her, does the ill-fated relationship between her and the gisaeng even have a chance?
Though the romance sageuk (historical show) is tagged as "comedy," it touches on heavy themes such as classism and sexism—more specifically, the gisaeng's right to love or be loved and women's freedom to openly seek relief from their loneliness.
Available on Viki
Alchemy of Souls (2022)
She plays Mu-deok, whose body hosts an extra soul, that of the wanted assassin Naksu (Go Yoon-jung, Law School). While recovering after using the forbidden spell “Alchemy of Souls,” she disguises herself as a maid and teaches rookie mage Jang Uk (Lee Jae-wook, Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol) practical magic. Will their unusual setup lead to the fulfillment of their goals—or their death?
Written by the Hong sisters, the 20-episode tvN fantasy/action/romance k-drama was the 5th most watched non-English TV show on Netflix from July 4 to 10. It's not surprising, given that the combination of stunning settings, colorful costumes, computer graphics, and wuxia (Chinese fantastical martial arts genre) is a visual treat. The cast, especially Jung So-min, drew rave reviews: her banter with Lee Jae-wook, her interactions with the other characters, glimpses of her fighting skills despite her clumsiness, and her spunk in the face of danger. Almost halfway into the series, viewers anticipate the unraveling of more mysteries surrounding Mu-deok and the mages.
The production team recently confirmed the start of filming for part 2, with 10 more episodes focusing on the supporting characters’ backstories. Meanwhile, there is public clamor for Jung So-min to be included in the second part of the TV series.
Available on Netflix