Twenty years ago, few people outside the Korean peninsula had seen a Korean movie or television drama, or listened to a Korean pop song. Thanks to the sudden and ongoing success of the country's entertainment industry, heartthrob Korean actors and gorgeous Korean singers are recognized and adored throughout the region, by millions from Beijing to Singapore, and Hokkaido to Mindanao.
Lee Ha-nui, as she's known within Korea, was born within an elite family (senior intelligence official father, professor mother) on March 2, 1983. As a child, she became famous within musical circles on account of her exceptional skill on the gayageum, the 12-string Korean zither. Soon graduation from South Korea's most prestigious university, she was crowned Miss Korea 2006. The following year, she represented the Republic of Korea (South Korea) at the Miss Universe event in Mexico City, where she was awarded the third runner-up prize.
Just Tom Cruise is a spokesperson for Scientology, and Bono an activist for a slew of human-rights and development issues, Lee (pictured top) uses her high-profile to promote a cause close to her heart: pesco-vegetarianism (a form of vegetarianism that allows the consumption of fish and seafood). She hasn't eaten the flesh of land animals since 2003, although while filming in Canada a few years ago found herself in a situation where she had to place real meat in her mouth. She reassured her fans that, true to her principles, she spat out the meat as soon as the shot was completed.
Oh (born in 1984) enjoyed a huge surge of fame after sashaying down the carpet at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival. The attention didn't come because of any recent movie appearances, her choice of male companionor, or even the way she'd done her hair. Instead, it was the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination garment she wore.
Three years on, online-image search results using her name (in English or Korean) are still dominated by photos taken that evening, on which she worse a striking red-orange gown. The Grecian-style dress almost touched the ground, yet struck many as inadequate when it came to covering the top half of Oh's body. Asked if she's had breast augmentation surgery, she once responded that the only part of her anatomy that's benefited from plastic surgery (which is exceptionally common in South Korea) is her nose.
Career-wise, she's been doing pretty well, appearing in four films since the start of 2013. Earlier roles include a starring turn in the decidely raunchy and sequel-spawning Red Vacance Black Wedding (2011).
The current queen of K-Pop, HyunA (capitalizing the final letter is a marketing ploy, somewhat like the exclamation that appears in Yahoo's logo) is best known in the West as the girl who dances on a subway train with Psy in the official video of his monster-hit Gangnam Style. Born Kim Hyuna on June 6, 1992, this perfectly-proportioned young lady - occasionally credited as Hyun Ah or Hyun-A - became famous before her 15th birthday, thanks to a short by immensely successful stint with Wonder Girls, the South Korean equivalent of The Pussycat Dolls.
Her 2011 video Bubble Pop has attracted almost 81 million views on YouTube. Most often seen with her hair dyed a blonde or orange shade, she went for a shiny black hairstyle in her recent Red video:
'Red' by HyunA
The oldest lady on this list, Song (shown above) was born on November 22, 1981 in Daegu, South Korea's fourth-largest metropolis. A sickly infant and, by her own description, a shy teenager, Song learned her grace and poise through competitive figure skating. As a 14-year-old high school student, she was chosen to model school uniforms, a job which led to further modeling opportunities and, before her 18th birthday, roles in TV dramas.
Like many other stars in East Asia, she has accepted lucrative endorsement contracts, including one to advertise LG, South Korea's leading consumer-electronics brand. More recently, however, Song - who has never married - has had some negative publicity. In August 2014 she made a public apology after admitting tax evasion. Back taxes and penalties totalled US$3.7 million; Song blamed for accountant, saying he was negligent.
Like HyunA an alumnus of Wonder Girls, Sohee (left) is nine weeks HyunA's junior and hasn't enjoyed quite so much success. Leaving Wonder Girls at the end of 2013, she has continued modeling (for the likes of Tommy Hilfiger), recording and taking movie roles.
Born Ahn So-hee in Seoul, she seldom colors her hair, and her face is relatively rounder than many Korean stars. The feature which seems to especially enslave male fans are her lips, which some describe as delectably heart-shaped.
Born to Korean parents in California on the final day of 1989, Song (right) is either 149, 154 or 160cm tall, depending which source you believe. She weighs a svelte 49kg, or perhaps 53kg.
There may be some confusion about her vital statistics, but few can deny her sex appeal. That, combined with her less-than-average height, is perhaps why - like Japan's Ameri Ichinose - she's followed the glamour route to fame and fortune, rather than conventional modeling. However, she seems to have steered clear of California's notorious no-holds-barred adult movie industry. Sometimes assumed to be Thai on account of her light-brown skin and the shape of her mouth, she's appeared in Penthouse magazine as well as every corner of the internet.