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K-rush of the Week: Kim Go-eun

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

From playing a lovelorn singleton in Yumi's Cells to being the Queen of Corea, Kim Go-eun's career and talent have been nothing short of incredible. We trace her most notable roles in cinema and K-drama, from her controversial film debut to her most recent works.

GwenchaNoona K-rush of the Week: Kim Go-eun

Whether it’s in character or in real life, Kim Go-eun does not go by trope. Her very first role was a risky choice - an underage high school student being lusted after by a 70-year-old poet in “The Muse” (2012). This controversial but critically acclaimed film immediately garnered Kim Go-eun a sweep of Best New Actress awards. Any actress would have taken advantage of this momentum, but instead, she chose to focus on finishing her college degree. She then played a string of serious and complex characters in films before starring in her first drama, “Cheese in the Trap” (2016), then followed it up with what may be her most well-known work: “Goblin/Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” (2017).

She brings her film experience into her TV work, keeping emotions understated but visceral. When her character feels exasperated, like in Cheese in the Trap, we sigh along with her. When she mourns the loss of something she can’t even remember in Goblin, our hearts beat painfully in our chests, too. And when she finally releases it all and wails – it is the kind of cry all mothers know too well, one that makes your heart instantly break when your child is in pain.

There is much humility - and humanity - in the way she carries her roles and public image. No act feels put upon. Her innocence feels genuine, her awkwardness embarrassingly real. She had to play parallel characters in last year’s “The King: Eternal Monarch” and managed to make them all feel like the same person, but still different, as parallel characters should be.

Fans of Kim Go-Eun know to expect both consistency and unpredictability, which makes us root for whatever turn she makes next.

Some of her more notable works include:

Eungyo / A Muse (2012, film)

GwenchaNoona K-rush of the Week: Kim Go-eun in "Eun-gyo" (2012)

Kim stars as a 17-year-old student whose innocent appeal awakens the desires of both a 70-year-old poet and his 30-year-old disciple. This controversial Lolita-esque film was Kim's first foray into acting outside school plays. She was still an acting student at the Korea National University of Arts when she was offered the role, and after discussing with her parents the nudity the role demanded, she went on to play the role decisively.

For her risky move, Kim won a handful of major acting awards, including trophies from the Korean Association of Film Critics and the Daejong Film Awards, paving the way for her future career in cinema.

Memories of the Sword (2015, film)

GwenchaNoona K-rush of the Week: Kim Go-eun in "Memories of the Sword" (2015)

Kim starred alongside Hallyu heavyweights Lee Byung-hun and Jeon Do-yeon in this period martial arts drama. It was a dream come true for Kim, as she had long considered Jeon her ultimate role model. Interestingly enough, Jeon also claims a fondness for Kim before they met, even telling Kim that her "Eungyo" reminded her of her younger self when Jeon was just getting started in acting.

Cheese in the Trap (2016)

GwenchaNoona K-rush of the Week: Kim Go-eun in "Cheese in the Trap" (2016)

Based on the webtoon of the same name, this is Kim's first foray into K-drama (she had only worked in films before this K-drama). Here, Kim plays a poor college student Hong Seol who is drawn to Yoo Jung (Park Hae-jin), a senior with a rather dark side.

The director, Lee Yoon-jung, even adjusted shooting schedules simply to work with Kim. His insistence paid off: Kim eventually would go on to win the Best New Actress trophy at the 2016 Baeksangs for her work on the drama.

Goblin (2016)

GwenchaNoona K-rush of the Week: Kim Go-eun in "Goblin" (2016)

The iconic fantasy drama that helped introduce a new generation of fans to the "second wave" of Hallyu, Goblin cemented Kim Go-eun as an A-list star with a reputation for serious talent.

As Ji Eun-tak, her life is eventually entwined with the immortal goblin Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) who has long desired to end it all. The supernatural romance went on to smash viewer ratings, and eventually reaped multiple awards for its cast, including the Daesang (Grand Prize) for its writer, Kim Eun-sook.

Tune in for Love (2019)

“Tune in for Love” is a sweet love story that unfolds over ten years. Mi-su (Kim Go-eun) works part-time at her late mother’s bakery. Hyeon-woo (Jung Hae-in), a young man on probation for a crime he did not commit, later joins the bakery’s staff and forms a friendship with Mi-su. As they grow closer, they face several challenges, including his troubled past and his pending military service. But despite their efforts to maintain a long-distance relationship, they continue to miss out on each other’s timing. A series of near-misses continues, and soon they have to ask if their love can endure the hardship of being apart, or if will they lose each other forever.

The King: Eternal Monarch (2020)

GwenchaNoona K-rush of the Week: Kim Go-eun in "The King: Eternal Monarch" (2020)

In present-day Korea, Kim is Lieutenant Jeong Tae-eul, a smart detective whose fate crisscrosses with that of an alternate Corea... and its king (Lee Min-ho).

Kim had previously worked together with The King's screenwriter Kim Eun-sook in Goblin. Instead of pure fantasy, the drama attempted to bring mathematics into the fray and used multiverses and wormholes to bring a fresh spin to a royal romance.

Yumi's Cells 1 & 2 (2021, 2022)

GwenchaNoona K-rush of the Week: Kim Go-eun in "Yumi's Cells" 1 and 2 (2021, 2022)

Based on the eponymous webtoon, Kim is Yumi, a single working woman whose life we follow as she navigates life and love. We are privy to her thoughts and feelings through the animated "cells," which represent all that's going on in her inner life.

"Little Women" (2022)

In this modern (and rather crazy) Korean adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic, Kim Go-eun ("Goblin"), Nam Ji-hyun ("Suspicious Partner"), and Park Ji-hu ("All of Us Are Dead") play three poor sisters who get involved in a case that will pit them against the country’s richest and most influential family. This 12-episode tvN drama co-stars Uhm Ki-joon ("Penthouse"), Uhm Ji-won ("Birthcare Center"), Wi Ha-joon ("Squid Game"), and Kang Hoon ("The Red Sleeve").

Which one is your favorite Kim Go-eun performance?

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