Because if you’re going to write a Korean American character into a K-Drama, at least do the role some justice.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some unfortunate English dialogue awkwardly shoved in and thoughtlessly carted off as someone’s native tongue. (Read: Stop faking it, K-Drama world. You’re not fooling anyone.)
Need ideas? So glad you asked. Some of the actors below you’ll know very well, while others may be brand spankin’ new to your face. All have concrete performing backgrounds, and can dish out a bit of Korean along with legit American English.
1. Steven Yeun, “The Walking Dead”
He may be known primarily as a dramatic actor battling zombies on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” but Steven Yeun has a knack for comedy and a solid improv background. The Detroit native has already worked with 2NE1’s Sandara Park and K-Drama thespian Park Hyuk Kwon (“Producer”). Check it out in “What’s Eating Steven Yeun” below:
Bonus: if you write him into a scene at a Korean spa, he’s no stranger to getting scrubbed down on camera.
2. Justin Chon, “Seoul Searching”
Other Credits: “Twilight” films, “21 & Over,” “Sin City Saints“
Justin Chon is all over the place. The actor’s been especially coming into his own in recent years with “Revenge Of The Green Dragons” and “21 & Over,” while emerging as a creative producer with his own YouTube channel, often collaborating with fellow online talent Kevin Wu (including features “Man Up” and “Hang Loose”).
The Orange County-based actor now stars in this year’s “Seoul Searching,” which portrays teens spending the summer in Seoul in the ‘80s.
I liked his interesting turn in short film “Jin” (2011) (on iTunes), but I also count his heart-to-heart with #4 on our list as one of my favorite Youtube vids.
Bonus: He’s appeared in the web series “Ktown Cowboys.”
3. Ki Hong Lee, “The Maze Runner”
Other Credits: “Everything Before Us,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “The Nine Lives Of Chloe King“
On the big screen, Ki Hong Lee’s part of the cast of the massive “Maze Runner” films (based on the novels by James Dashner), with the series’ next installment due out later this year. He’s guest starred on Netflix gem “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as Kimmy’s love interest, Dong Nguyen. The actor once graced the stage at East West Players (the oldest Asian American theater in the US), and has built recognition while working with Wong Fu Productions.
He could play an American character visiting his cousins in Korea. I mean, he probably has them in real life anyway. (Check out the clip at about 00:40 below.)
4. David So, YouTube
What’s not to like about David So? Just seeing him onscreen makes people happy. I’ve yet to see him in a dramatic role, but he’s got the comedic side down – just take a look at his channel – vlogs, sketches, and all. He’s oozing with so much talent, he could even bust out some R&B if need be (he has a music channel, too). Check out his deliciously fun parody of a certain North Korean leader below, complete with Korean dialogue:
5. Arden Cho, “Teen Wolf”
And David’s co-star of the above video, as his significant other? In case you’re wondering where else you’ve seen her, Arden Cho has played Kira Yukimura on “Teen Wolf” and has collaborated with plenty of YouTube talents, including Ryan Higa and the Wong Fu troupe. Her credits also include a round of modeling and hosting duties.
6. Sung Kang, the “Fast and Furious” films
Other Credits: “Bullet To The Head,” “Gang Related,” “Better Luck Tomorrow“
Sung Kang has a look that reminds me of one of those timeless matinee idols. The actor’s probably one that audiences have known longer, from the “Fast and Furious” franchise or maybe “Better Luck Tomorrow.” He’s originally a Georgia peach and has mastered the cool and brooding, but has taken on more romantic characters in indie features like “Sunset Stories” and “4 Wedding Planners.” I’d argue that others owe him props for helping open doors for other Asian American actors in Hollywood.
He’s even done a bit of K-Drama parody on MadTV way back when.
Fun fact: Sung Kang was once featured in a g.o.d. music video, “Lie.” Small world, right?
7. Nancy Lee, “Wedding Palace”
No stranger to the stand-up comedy circuit, Nancy Lee has versatility when it comes to creating characters. (Just check out her self-produced reel.)
I was pleasantly surprised to see her in the indie “Wedding Palace”; the comedienne does have a gift for playing a tremendously great ahjumma – because what point is there in portraying an ahjumma character, unless it’s the most spectacular ahjumma that ever lived? (She’s the one applying lipstick in the video below.)
8. Julia Cho, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”
Julia Cho has guest starred on “Scandal,” “Silicon Valley” and “Real Husbands Of Hollywood,” but may be mostly known for her turn as Charlotte Lu on “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” I’m a fan of her guest star role (albeit much too brief) on “The Office” a while back (starting at 5:03). Cho played a daughter giving her mother a heads up (in Korean! With Amy Hill!) on a gay couple coming in for a couples discount. The thesp is very active on the theater scene, starring in “99 Histories” and flexing producing muscle with theater collective Artists At Play.
Which one of these actors would you most want to see swap dialogue with Kim Woo Bin or Gong Hyo Jin in a K-Drama? As Jung Kyung Ho’s visiting cousin? Kang So Ra’s lovelorn crush? Kim Young Kwang‘s college roommate? The possibilities are endless.