The Untold Truth Of HoYeon Jung

When it hit the Netflix library in 2021, the Korean action-drama "Squid Game" wasted no time in becoming an absolute blockbuster and breaking streaming records. As noted by Variety, "Squid Game" became the most streamed show ever for Netflix after racking up "a staggering 1.65 billion hours of viewing in 28 days." For comparison, this beat out the previous record holder "Bridgerton," which had 625 million hours viewed in its first four weeks. And one of the series' breakout stars is, but of course, HoYeon Jung.

In the series, Jung played Sae-byeok, which means "Dawn," per Teen Vogue. Her character is a formidable player in a deadly but lucrative competition, and her performance earned acclaim and accolades. At the 2022 Screen Actors Guild awards, Jung went up against veteran actors like Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston and took home the prize for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series. In tears, Jung said in her acceptance speech via her translator, "I have sat many times watching you on the big screen, dreaming of one day becoming an actor. I just want to say thank you so much."

Prior to appearing in "Squid Game," Jung was busy in a different line of work. Although she was used to flashing lights, nothing could have prepared her for the whirlwind of success. With the smash hit on Netflix also came the pressures of fame. Luckily, Jung seems poised to stay a star in various forms of entertainment. This is the untold truth of HoYeon Jung.

Inside HoYeon Jung's childhood

HoYeon Jung was born in Seoul, South Korea. Per Vogue, she's one of three children, and her father owns and operates "a 24-hour roadside diner called Oori Nara, or 'Our Country.'" In fact, her dad continued to run the restaurant even after his daughter became a celebrity.

As for Jung, she quickly began building her own personal brand. For example, the teen modeled during Seoul Fashion Week. Jung said the fashion work was less for glamor because from a young age, she had one main focus. She told Models, "Basically, when I was in middle school, I thought, 'Oh, what can I do to make money?'" To further learn the craft, Jung decided to pursue formal education because "in Korea there are academies for modeling." Jung went to Dongduk Women's University and graduated from the school's modeling department, per Naver.

And it sounds like she has a strong relationship with her family — and they aren't necessarily starstruck by their famous relative. "[My younger sister] just thinks of me as her older sibling, so when she told me that my acting was 'not that bad' in 'Squid Game,' I was quite surprised," Jung told Vogue. 

Who is HoYeon Jung dating?

Long before HoYeon Jung appeared in "Squid Game," she was already used to tabloid news about her love life. According to Naver, Allure Korea noted that actor Lee Dong-hwi seemed to be making eyes at Jung while he was in the audience for a fashion show as she walked down the runway. The two first announced they were dating in January 2016. The actor was well-known in the country for his role on the TV series "Reply 1988" and appearing in movies like "The Handmaiden." His most popular film, "Extreme Job," was "the second highest-grossing South Korean film in history," according to Just Jared

In an October 2021 interview, Jung told Herald Pop (via Soompi) that her boyfriend has been very much in her corner as she's become, you know, a global superstar. "Since he's also an actor, he's a good senior, a good friend, and a good person. He cheers me on a lot, and he worries for me as well. He's sort of like a dad," she said. He's very proud of the success of 'Squid Game.'"

Lee certainly knows the hectic schedule as an internationally known actor and helped Jung navigate her personal success with his steady encouragement. Jung told Starnews (via Soompi) that every time she has to leave South Korea for work, Lee tells her tells her that all that matters is that she gets home "safely" and "healthy." Jung says his sendoff "made me tear up."

HoYeon Jung was floored by her sudden fame

HoYeon Jung suspected "Squid Game" would be a hit. "To be honest, when I read the script and then I met the ensemble members, I did have some expectations that it could be big," she told The Hollywood Reporter about the show's instant popularity. When Netflix released the show in September of 2021, the reception exceeded her expectations. Jung shared, "[W]hen I was at home by myself watching this growth, I was like, 'What?'" She began to realize the unprecedented success about a week after the debut. "I think everything is faster and even online, it happens just so quick," she said.

Celebrity is a fickle thing, and some members of Jung's inner circle have approached her newfound fame with loving caution. "My parents are worried. They tell me that I'm incredible and that they're proud, but they're still worried," Jung said in Starnews (via Soompi). "All my family members have a lot of fear." Fortunately, Jung said the family support has been a great thing and that she stays in regular contact with her mom and others. "I'm always thankful," Jung said.

HoYeon Jung's Squid Game stress

Given the violent and intense nature of the "Squid Game" storyline, it's unsurprising that HoYeon Jung was overwhelmed by some of the scenes. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, she recalled one particular scene in a bathroom "was one of the most challenging scenes because at the beginning of the shoot, I couldn't get rid of the nerves." When it came time to film her last scene of the season, she was understandably "nervous." But she did not let the nerves win: "But I had to do it." The intense work paid off and, of course, turned Jung into a star. 

However, that ascent was not easy on Jung. "I lost 6 pounds in a week when it became successful," she shared with the outlet, noting that she "couldn't eat" while trying to get used to "this feeling" that came with the sudden fame. "I was kind of losing myself."

Her experiences on press tours and other engagements became worse when she traveled to the United States and later Paris. Jung told Starnews (via Soompi), "I didn't even have time to eat, so I lost so much weight." She remembered discovering that "the clothes that fit me when I first went to the United States are now baggy." The actor said in total, she lost almost nine pounds just ten days after "Squid Game" first debuted.

HoYeon Jung's first career

As HoYeon Jung told Models, her modeling career began when she was 17 years old. "There were many people that told me, 'Oh you could be a model because you're tall,'" she recalled. Things really picked up when she joined the competition on "Korea's Next Top Model." Jung made it all the way to the finals but finished as the runner-up and left the competition in tears. In the end, the exposure from the series combined with Jung's talents paved the way for a future in the industry, which included gigs with big names like Chanel, as seen in her runway highlight reel from ADO Models. Her first time at Paris Fashion Week was walking for the legendary Louis Vuitton in their Spring 2017 collection, per Harper's Bazaar. Coming full circle, Louis Vuitton named Jung as one of its global ambassadors in 2021 after her role in "Squid Game."

As for the road that led her from runways to "Squid Game"? "When my modeling agency contract ended and I moved to an acting agency, this was the first script that I got for my first open audition, and I got the role after auditioning for the part," she recalled to Teen Vogue. The pivot to acting has come with significant changes. "When I went for shoots as a model, I went alone. I didn't have a driver or manager," she explained to Starnews (via Soompi). "Now that I'm traveling as an actress, I have a manager, driver, and even a bodyguard."

The connection between HoYeon Jung and Zendaya

When HoYeon Jung and "Euphoria" actor Zendaya crossed paths at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards in November of 2021, a bond seemed to bloom. As Jung said in Starnews (via Soompi), the Disney Channel alum invited her to stop by the set of "Euphoria." Naturally, that invite was accepted. Chatting about her experience, Jung told ET that she enjoyed the day and felt "safe and comfortable" while visiting the HBO series. She also joked that she would love to join the ensemble. (Speaking of the ensemble, like Jung, "Euphoria" star Hunter Schafer also went from model to actor.)

In addition to getting a behind-the-scenes look at the show's creative process, Jung developed a special bond with the show's star Zendaya. She shared with Starnews (via Soompi) that she "had a chat" with Zendaya "about what we eat in our daily lives and on set." Jung also had high praise for Zendaya and witnessed firsthand why so many people love the "Euphoria" star. "When I was with her, I felt at ease. She has the strength to make others relax. I think that's a really important skill," she explained, adding that they "connected intuitively." Per KStarTrend, Zendaya told reporters at a press conference that she and Jung both understand what it's like to be part of a larger-than-life piece of entertainment and that she would like to "get to know her better."

HoYeon Jung is a longtime K-Pop fan

Growing up in Seoul, HoYeon Jung enjoyed K-Pop as a kid, one of the greatest entertainment genres from South Korea. Prior to the international takeover of BTS, "Gangnam Style," and Blackpink, Jung liked to listen to the predecessors of these bands. "I'm a huge fan of 2NE1, Girls' Generation, and BIGBANG," Jung told i-D. "These are the groups that I've been huge fans of since childhood, I think." Jung still enjoys K-Pop, and as she said in Teen Vogue, she's developed a friendship with Blackpink member and solo artist Jennie. What's more, Jung has ended up in several K-Pop music videos, such as "Beat" by the boy band 100% and Kim Yeon-woo's "Move," per Naver.

Jung told Vogue that during the production of "Squid Game," she "listened to a lot of music" to relax. While filming emotional scenes with actor Lee Yoo-mi (who played the character Ji-yeong), Jung especially enjoyed listening to songs from South Korean singers Yoo Jae-Ha and Kim Kwang-seok. One of her favorite tracks at the time was the smooth grooving song "Reminiscence" by Sanulrim, a rock band from South Korea. "Listening to that song assisted me emotionally," Jung said.

How HoYeon Jung broke into acting

Though she already had an impressive modeling resume, HoYeon Jung decided to branch out. "I felt that urge to express myself on screen," she told Teen Vogue. In the off seasons from her full time modeling gigs, Jung began to take acting lessons, for a total of about three months. "'Squid Game' came at a moment where I was really thinking seriously about my acting career, so I wanted to put this into action finally," she explained. The timing was perfect as Jung's modeling contract ended, which allowed her to sign with the South Korean talent agency Saram Entertainment. The agency helped Jung get an audition for "Squid Game" and the actor delivered. Even more impressive, it was Jung's first acting role. 

Jung definitely is a good actor because her character, a cold and ruthless player, is completely different from her real life personality. According to Jung, she was able to channel this dark character because, as she explained to Starnews (via Soompi), "I believe that one person has many different sides to them." That said, the actor admitted that the role started to make her question what parts of her character were real and what parts were fake. She remembered thinking, "What kind of person am I?" She credits her real-life international work experiences to helping her craft Sae Byeok's on-screen personality.

Behind the scenes of Squid Game with HoYeon Jung

HoYeon Jung vividly remembers the day she auditioned for "Squid Game," the show that would completely change her life. As she recalled in W Korea, days before the tryout, Jung found out her audition material was more demanding than she originally expected. "It was pretty lengthy. So, I went home and did nothing but study the script again," she said. Jung went all in on her studying — so much that it took a physical toll on the actor. Describing a photo she took during the audition, she said, "I had circles under my eyes that came down to my cheekbones." Part of the reason she was so intent on landing the part was her admiration for the show's director Hwang Dong-hyuk. "It was such an honor that I was cast," Jung told The Hollywood Reporter.

To prepare for the role, Jung wanted to make sure her accent matched the background of her character from North Korea. So, she met with people who spoke in the dialect from the Northern Hamgyŏng province, per Teen Vogue. More than just verbal skills, Jung improved her physical abilities by practicing martial arts. "They sent me to practice, but I did too much, I think, so the director and producer said I shouldn't go that much," Jung admitted to The Hollywood Reporter, " like, 'Take it easy, Ho-yeon.'"

The actor became an Instagram sensation

Thanks to the exposure from "Squid Game," HoYeon Jung turned into a social media megastar. As outlets like Forbes pointed out, HoYeon Jung went "from 410,000 followers to 15 million in barely three weeks" and quickly became one of the most followed celebrities from South Korea on Instagram. Jung's influence has only continued to grow, and as of March 2022, her Instagram account has over 23.5 million followers. 

"In the beginning, I was very surprised as I checked in real-time," Hung told Herald POP about seeing her Instagram blow up with more and more fans (via Soompi). "When I opened the app once, the number went up, and when I opened it again, it went up further," she explained about her impressive growth. Jung felt many of those accounts were fans of "Squid Game" and she was thankful to see so many supporters. "Just the fact that so many people around the world are showing their interest puts me in a good mood," Jung said. 

When Teen Vogue asked her about her social media surge, Jung called it "unreal." She continued, "I never expected this sort of thing to happen so I think the biggest emotion that I'm feeling is that I just can't believe it.What I'm trying to do is I'm trying to see people that are very close to me so that I can stay [grounded] and I don't get carried away because of this."

The fashionable side of HoYeon Jung

When she's not busy modeling extravagant garments for major fashion brands, HoYeon Jung shows off her own personal style. One of the features that first made Jung stand out on and off the runway was her crimson red hair. She said the decision to veer from her natural color came in a moment of wanting something radically different. "I wanted a personal transformation for myself as I was starting my career overseas," she told Teen Vogue. She credited her hair stylist with successfully turning her into a redhead and the new look "helped me achieve a very successful modeling career." Though it helped build her resume, the red hair eventually gave way to Jung's natural hue after about two years with the color. Plus, the upkeep started to weigh on the model. "You have to dye it every two weeks and this meant just torture for my scalp," she said. According to Jung, her opportunities in modeling started to dwindle as her hair transitioned to a darker shade.

Even with all the gorgeous clothing, jewelry, beauty products, and accessories that Jung wears all day, this isn't exactly a real representation of the actor. "I feel glamorous when I take my makeup off," she revealed to i-D. In fact, Jung revealed that she hates wearing skirts or anything that comes across as "too cute." Instead, she would rather be at home wearing Adidas clothing in jersey material to stay comfortable.

HoYeon Jung is close with Blackpink's Jennie

A few years before "Squid Game" became a sensation, HoYeon Jung became friends with a member of Blackpink, a K-Pop group that has taken the world by storm. "Jennie was happy for me ever since I told her I was cast in 'Squid Game,'" Jung said to Herald POP (via Soompi). The musician was also incredibly supportive while her pal filmed the Netflix series. Jung shared that Jennie visited her on set and even arranged for a coffee truck to stay close by while filming to keep her friend caffeinated. "She actively cheered me on by even uploading to her social media," Jung said about Jennie and her millions of followers on Instagram. "Jennie is always there on the list of people I'm grateful for while acting in 'Squid Game.' She congratulated me so happily, as if my joys were also her own, that I wondered how such an angel could exist."

The two actually met for the first time not in South Korea but in Paris during Fashion Week. Jung was walking down the runway for Chanel and Jennie was in the audience. "Jennie's stylist knew us both so we coincidentally came across and were introduced to each other," Jung told Teen Vogue.

A few of HoYeon Jung's favorite things

Growing up in a culinary home, HoYeon Jung cultivated a deep appreciation for food culture at a young age. Per Vogue, she has "inherited her own love of cooking" from her restaurateur father, but she is rather humble. "I can cook but I don't think I'm a good cooker," she told Vogue. Whether or not her cooking is exceptional, Jung enjoys the social aspect of breaking bread with her loved ones — and it sounds like she also enjoys a good snack. When describing her ideal party to i-D, she pictured her nearest and dearest gathering on a private island where they could have "potato chips or french fries and wine" and "do whatever they want to do."

Something about the sun and sand brings the actor to a positive state of mind. "Whenever I'm occupied with too many thoughts, I head for the sea," she shared with W Korea. "Even when I'm traveling abroad, I make sure I'm staying near a beach," Jung added. 

And on the beauty front, Jung shared with Vogue that a lip gloss called Lucas Papaw Ointment is her "favorite thing."

Life in New York for HoYeon Jung

HoYeon Jung relocated across the world to New York in 2016, and according to the star, it's a move that boosted her career and helped her grow as a person. "I actually learned how to relax during my days in New York," she revealed to W Korea. Jung said modeling in South Korea was difficult because she didn't feel like she had much free time, but it was a different story in the Big Apple. "I finally learned how to reflect on myself and chill in New York," she remembered. "On my days off, I stayed home alone, watching movies, reading books, and taking time to think." 

Speaking of movies, Jung told Vogue she is not always inclined to pick out a scary flick, as she "preferred art-house cinema to thrillers and gore." In the aforementioned W Korea interview, she noted that Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma" stuck with her — specifically the performance by Yalitza Aparicio, who made her acting debut in the film. "You can see that her acting is somewhat inexperienced and unrefined, but how she so vividly exists within the character," Jung said.

Even after the success of "Squid Game" and international fame, New York City still holds a special place in Jung's heart. "I love it so much," she said of the city in Vogue. "Really. So much."

How much is HoYeon Jung worth?

HoYeon Jung started earning big bucks at a young age. Thanks to an appearance on "Korea's Next Top Model," she became one of the most in-demand models in the country. She went on to appear on the cover of Vogue Korea, started flying around the world for fashion gigs, and her first international show was for the retail company Opening Ceremony in New York City. Jung went on to work for numerous brands and was so successful that Models put her in its Top 50 model list called "The Graduates." After walking the runway, she transitioned into acting with her debut in "Squid Game." Since it was Jung's first acting role, she couldn't exactly command an A-list movie star's salary. For each episode of the Netflix series, Jung reportedly earned a "few hundred thousand Taiwan dollars," according to Today Online. For reference, 100,000 TWD is about $3,500 in USD. 

Jung is also benefiting from the show's success, both from press events and sponsorships. She is one of the global faces of Chanel Beauty and Louis Vuitton, as seen on Jung's Instagram posts. While we can't say for certain how much she's earned in total, unconfirmed reports place her net worth between $1 million and $4 million.