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The OG Stars of "School"

With the much-awaited School 2021 premiere, we look at some of the top actors and actresses who started their careers with the help of this 22-year-old KBS series.

School 2021 kicked off yesterday, starring Kim Yo-han (of idol group WEi), Cho Yi-hyun (Hospital Playlist), Choo Young-woo (Police University), and Hwang Bo-reum-byeol. The youth drama tells the stories of students who defy traditional expectations by opting to study at a vocational school rather than college.

This is the eighth installment of the 22-year-old series that has helped launch the careers of many top actors and actresses since it first premiered on national public broadcasting channel KBS2. The first four editions of School aired from 1999-2001, and after a long hiatus, the franchise returned for a reboot in 2013; with editions in 2015 and 2017.

Here are some of the OG Hallyu stars (including many of our GwenchaNoona Premium Oppas) who got their start in the early editions of this enduring franchise.


School (1999)

Jang Hyuk

After modeling for two years, Jang Hyuk landed his first lead role in a television drama in the very first School. Then 23 years old, he played the role of Kang Woo-hyuk opposite Choi Kang-hee (Queen of Mystery, Good Casting). He has since gone on to play memorable roles in The Slave Hunters, Deep Rooted Tree, Fated to Love You, and Money Flower.

He is slated to star in the historical drama Red Single Heart with Kang Han-na and Lee Joon in the first half of 2022.

Bae Doo-na

Long before becoming one of the favorite actresses of auteurs Park Chan-wook, Lee Chang-dong, Bong Joon-ho and Hirokazu Kore-eda, Bae Doo-na debuted as a supporting character in School. She has since starred in such film classics as Barking Dogs Never Bite and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, popular dramas Stranger and Kingdom, as well as Hollywood productions Cloud Atlas and Sense8.

A true artist at heart, she is happy to play by her own set of unconventional rules. Yet despite her bare-faced acting, this multi-awarded actress is also the face of Giorgio Armani cosmetics and a favorite of the Louis Vuitton fashion house. Her upcoming sci-fi drama The Silent Sea with Gong Yoo is coming to Netflix on December 24.

Kim Nam-gil

Actor, director, producer, photographer, and philanthropist Kim Nam-gil also got his start in the first School, playing a minor role at the age of 19. It would take another four years for him to fully pursue his acting career by joining MBC's 2003 talent audition. The rest, as they say, is history. This true renaissance man is noted for his work in hit dramas Queen Seondeok and The Fiery Priest, on top of his many other commendable pursuits.

Ever busy, Kim Nam-gil has several new projects lined up for 2022: the star-studded films Emergency Declaration and Hunt, and the television dramas Those Who Read Hearts of Evil and Island.


School 2 (1999-2000)

Kim Rae-won

Two years after making his acting debut in the teen drama Me, Kim Rae-won was cast as the male lead in School 2 at the age of 18. He shot to popularity through the drama Cats on the Roof (2003) and the second-highest-grossing domestic film My Little Bride.

While his work in TV gravitated towards rom-coms, he broke this mold by starring in the hit melodrama A Thousand Day’s Promise (2011), legal thriller Punch (2014), and the fantasy drama Black Knight: The Man Who Guards Me (2018). His film work includes Gangnam Blues (2015), The Prison (2017), Long Live the King, and Crazy Romance (2019). Most recently seen in the sci-fi drama L.U.C.A.: The Beginning (2021), his next role is as a navy commander in the action thriller Decibel, coming to cinemas in summer 2022.

Kim Min-hee

The only Korean actress on The New York Times' "25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century," Kim Min-hee is best known for her body of film work.

Heavily criticized for her "pretty but blank" acting early in her career, which included a starring role in School 2, she vowed to improve herself in order to grab a role in the 2006 drama Goodbye, Solo. Years of toiling in small film roles would pass before she got cast in the psychological thriller Helpless, eventually leading to work with such notable Korean directors as Hong Sang-soo (Right Now, Wrong Then) and Park Chan-wook in the erotic blockbuster The Handmaiden. This two-time Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear Award winner sure has come a long way!

Ha Ji-won

After playing supporting roles for three years, Ha Ji-won rose to fame by playing the troubled teen Jang Se-jin in School 2. Now one of the most sought-after, award-winning, and well-known film and television actresses both at home and throughout Asia, Ha Ji-won has carved out a name for herself as an actress who loves to take on tough roles.

With a huge following, she has helped lead many of her dramas to ratings success, including Damo (2003), What Happened in Bali (2004), Secret Garden (2010), and The King 2 Hearts (2012). Her performances in the hit historical dramas Hwang Jini (2006) and Empress Ki (2014) were so strong that she was awarded the Daesang (Grand Prize) for both. She has also won acclaim for many of her films, such as Ditto (2000), Tidal Wave (2009), and Closer to Heaven (2009).

Lee Dong-wook

Lee Dong-wook is arguably best-known for his role as the Grim Reaper in the fantasy-romance Goblin (2016), but few of today's fans know that his first two television roles were in School 2 and School 3.

In 2005, fame found him through My Girl — the drama that spawned at least four Asian remakes and catapulted him to Hallyu star status. He has since portrayed the role of an ER doctor in the medical drama Life (2018), a workaholic lawyer in the rom-com Touch Your Heart (2019), a dentist in the thriller Strangers from Hell (2019), and a nine-tailed fox living as a civil servant in the fantasy drama Tale of the Nine Tailed (2020).

Watch for his upcoming romantic films Single in Seoul and the star-studded Happy New Year, as well as season two of Tale of the Nine Tailed.


School 3 (2000-2001)

Jo In-sung

Since landing a leading role in School 3, his first television drama, Jo In-sung has been one of Hallyu’s most in-demand leading men, starring in some of the most popular dramas and movies of the 2000s: The Classic (2003), Memories of Bali (2004), Spring Day (2005), and A Dirty Carnival (2006). His second decade as an actor only solidified his star status further, with the dramas That Winter, the Wind Blows (2013) and It’s Okay, That’s Love (2014) becoming huge, enduring hits across Asia.

Jo In-sung has spent the past few years building his film portfolio with The King (2017), The Great Battle (2018), and most recently Escape from Mogadishu. He has recently started filming the 1970s-set action movie Smuggling with Kim Hye-soo and Yum Jung-ah. Drama fans will be happy to learn that this will soon be returning to the small screen via the fantasy drama Moving with Han Hyo-joo. We can’t wait!


School 4 (2001-02)

Lim Soo-jung

Lim Soo-jung made her acting debut as a student at Sewon Arts High School in School 4. She has gone on to play leading roles in the dramas Sorry, I Love You (2004), Chicago Typewriter (2017) and Search: WWW (2019), and is also well-known for her award-winning work in such films as Park Chan-wook’s I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay (2006), Hur Jin-ho’s Happiness (2007), and Lee Yoon-ki’s Come Rain, Come Shine (2011).

Lim Soo-jung is currently starring alongside Lee Do-hyun in the tvN drama Melancholia.

Gong Yoo

After graduating with a degree in theater from Kyung Hee University, Gong Yoo landed his first professional acting role in School 4. Years of toiling in small roles eventually led him to his breakthrough performance in 2007’s Coffee Prince. His talent and incredible charm have been credited with luring non-k-drama fans with the massively popular Goblin (2016), and for bringing to screen several important stories in Asian cinema: Train to Busan (2016), Silenced (2011), The Age of Shadows (2016), and even the controversial Kim Ji-Young: Born 1982 (2019).

His much-awaited comeback drama, The Silent Sea with fellow School alumnus Bae Doona, premieres on Netflix this coming Christmas Eve.


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