For many of us, our first and perhaps most memorable recollection of South Korean actress Gianna Jun Ji-hyun is her role in the 2001 romantic comedy My Sassy Girl. Her career, spanning over 20 years, has been marked with multiple highs and acting awards. For those who miss her on the screen, Gianna has made her small-screen comeback after five years, starring opposite Kingdom‘s Ju Ji-hoon in tvN’s mystery thriller drama Jirisan. In the show, she plays Seo Yi-kang, an expert park ranger known for her knowledge. Jirisan can be streamed on iQiyi.
As one of Korea’s top stars, Gianna maintains a relatively squeaky clean image and favourable reputation — all thanks to the good moves she has made. We take a look at how Gianna has inspired us to become better versions of ourselves, at work and in life.
While we know her as Jun Ji-hyun, Gianna didn’t go by that name until she started her acting career. Prior to that, she went by her given name Wang Ji-hyun. The name change was suggested by producer Oh Jong Rok who cast Gianna in the 1998 drama Steal My Heart as her name didn’t read as smoothly as other actresses’. Her surname, Wang, is said to be rare in Korea and belonged to the Gaeseong Wang clan descended from the Goryeo Dynasty.
Also, did you know that acting wasn’t always in the pipeline for Gianna? When she was younger, Gianna wanted to be a flight attendant until she experienced a particularly turbulent flight. Later at the age of 16, a friend introduced Gianna to a photographer and she debuted as a magazine model in 1997 through fashion publication Ecole.
This proves that you will never know what you’re destined to do unless you try.
Gianna made her TV and film debut with Fascinate My Heart and White Valentine in 1998 and 1999 respectively. She shot to fame across Asia with her 2001 role in My Sassy Girl. Her continued hard work and perseverance paid off when she made her Hollywood debut in 2009 with the lead role in Blood: The Last Vampire.
Fans of Gianna would realise that she doesn’t appear on our screens all that often. In fact, prior to her cameo in Kingdom (2021) and lead role in Jirisan (2021), Gianna’s last role was in My Legend of the Blue Sea (2016-17). As such, it can be said that Gianna doesn’t just accept any role offered to her but instead, picks what resonates with her.
We love the fact that the characters that she plays are all empowered, independent women who are able to act on their will. Take, for example, her role as top park ranger Seo Yi-kang in Jirisan, the courageous Ashin in Kingdom, or the unapologetic famous actress Cheong Song-yi in My Love from the Star (2013-14).
Now, those are strong-minded characters we look up to.
In a 2020 interview with W Korea, Gianna revealed that her secret to maintaining her svelte, toned figure is consistency in her workout routine. She wakes up every day between 6am and 7am to exercise, does pilates three times a week and an hour of cardio before. Despite her busy schedule, Gianna works around it to make time for exercise.
The bottomline: Health always comes first, and like many other successful people out there, Gianna knows that.
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Throughout her career of over two decades, Gianna has worked alongside top stars. These include Cha Tae-hyun in My Sassy Girl, Jung Woo-sung in Daisy (2006), Li Bingbing in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011), Kim Hye-soo and Lee Jung-jae in The Thieves (2012), Kim Soo-hyun in My Love from the Star (2013-14), Lee Min-ho in Legend of the Blue Sea (2016-17) and most recently, Ju Ji-hoon in Jirisan (2021).
There’s no doubt that Gianna has picked up different skills from working with these stars, which have helped her hone her craft and grow into the fine actress she is today.
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With many chart-topping productions under her belt, it should come as no surprise that Gianna is one of the highest paid actors in Korea. Tatler Asia estimates that she commands at least $120,000 per episode. In addition, Gianna is one of the top celebrity endorsers too. She has worked with brands such as Samsung and Lotte Duty Free, and is currently the first Korean ambassador for Alexander McQueen, earning over millions of dollars just from commercials.
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Another testament to Gianna’s star power is her ability to sell things out. Whatever Gianna uses or endorses quickly becomes a hot topic and flies off the shelves. In 2014, it was rumoured that Gianna wore the YSL Rouge Pur Couture lipstick in shade No. 52, Rosy Coral. And while this has been debunked, the lipstick reportedly sold out in Korea and some countries around the world.
This shows how much fans trust Gianna’s taste and preferences that were built through her reputation and good standing.
In 2008, Gianna partnered with luxury jeans label True Religion to release a line called Gianna by True Religion. What impressed us was how Gianna was reportedly involved in every stage of production, from design and wash to fit and accessories.
That level of commitment is certainly admirable.
Throughout the years, Gianna has steadily diversified her income streams by investing in property. She is said to own S$91 million worth of properties in Korea, in particular the affluent areas of Samseong-dong and Nonhyeon-dong. In June 2021, it was also reported that Gianna earned a profit of US$12.5 million after selling a building in Nonhyeon-dong.
She definitely knows the meaning of a good investment.
Despite her fame and success, Gianna doesn’t forget to give back to those in need. In 2015, she donated almost half a million US dollars to children of single mothers through the fashion brand She’s Miss. She also donated 500 lunchboxes to impoverished families that same year after the success of Assassination. Most recently, Gianna donated US$84,000 to support patients afflicted with Covid-19.
That’s a timely reminder to contribute to the less fortunate however we can, especially in times like these.