Kim Tae Hee and Kang Min Ah: The Two Exquisite Jang Ok Jungs

I really am controlling myself from over-gushing about Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love. It is beyond anything I expected or could have hoped for, that was how low my expectations were going into this drama. I watched it after recapping episode 1 of Gu Family Book expecting an epic mess and a good laugh, and look where I am four weeks later after a complete turnaround. While Kim Tae Hee has been alternatively bashed by the media in Korea for her performance as Ok Jung (DA FUCK! Are they on crack?) while being praised by the international viewers, she’s got such a good head on her shoulders by saying in a recent interview that she will always get criticized and she’s now accepted that. She loves to act and will continue to do her best and challenge herself, but she’s stopped doubting herself and being pulled down by the unending criticism. Good for her! I feel like those Korean media reviewers wrote up their criticism of Kim Tae Hee before the drama even aired and decided to publish it afterwards to save the hassle of rewriting it. Otherwise I can’t believe they are that blind and clueless.

In the past I found Kim Tae Hee to be one of the weakest A-list actresses in Korea and was ready to laugh at her sageuk foray, but instead I am writing gushing odes to her amazingly restrained portrayal of re-imagined Jang Ok Jung. I also want to pimp out Kang Min Ah, who played the teenage Ok Jung and bears a striking resemblance as baby Ha Ji Won. Kang Min Ah is the real deal, and not yet as hyped as Kim Yoo Jung or Kim So Hyun, but just as good and maybe even better considering she’s a newbie. What’s even more astounding is seeing the two actresses actually delivering mirroring performances of the same character. It’s not just good acting, it’s good acting that is aware beyond the scope the page and taking into account more than just a standalone performance. What’s so remarkable about Kim Tae Hee and Kang Min Ah here in JOJ is that their awareness of the camera and their role is undeniable even in stills alone. Check it out below, and I’ve also included a few snapshots of Kim Tae Hee at her worst many years ago. It’s a great reminder of how far she’s come.

Kim Tae Hee and Kang Min Ah are the best one-two actress punch in a sageuk drama in my memory.

Now for some hilarious walk down memory lane. One cannot fully appreciate Kim Tae Hee’s acting transformation in JOJ unless one has watched her worst performances ever, as I have. Kim Tae Hee in The Restless with my I Lub You. “What is that? An UFO? Ironman? A fart coming towards me? I don’t know but I’m really scared! Look at my dilated pupils.”

Kim Tae Hee in Stairway to Heaven with Kwon Sang Woo. “How can you not luuuuuurve me, oppa! Does my glare of evil not turn you on? Look at my leopard print jacket. Don’t make me jump you, I am a wild cat yes I am!”


Kim Tae Hee and Kang Min Ah: The Two Exquisite Jang Ok Jungs — 47 Comments

  1. I am in total agreement. KTH is a total sageuk revelation. She should consider future sageuk projects instead of modern dramas (‘though I did love her in My Prncess). KMA has excellent acting chops at this young an age. KTH has evolved and I’m looking forward to KMA’s future projects. I wish someone would get all the newbie talents together for a project because I would definitely be onboard.

    • Don’t forget in MP, she did get to play royalty, and she did get to order THT around in saguek – pretending she was Mi-shil.
      Those were some of my favorite scenes in that show.

      Especially the ones in the antique car…such nice memories.

  2. I am not watching the drama but the younger actor’s screen presence seems better than the older and more experienced one in these screen caps.

  3. I literally busted out laughing just reading your dialogue for kim tae hee’s preposterous acting in the past. “Dont make me jump you I am a wild cat yes i am” You got me with that one.
    I can’t believe she’s actually doing pretty well in JOJ. I guess that’s what happens when you have pretty low expectations. That’s why there’s hope yet for our recent crop of idols with lead roles — maybe one day they’ll turn the tables on us and completely surprise us? Never know. Most of them are still pretty young.
    Anyways, one thing I always admire is that when you love a show koala, you really LOVE it, so it makes the watching experience that much more enjoyable because you spazz and you post and literally every JOJ post makes me happy before i even read it.
    Can’t wait for monday to come already!!

  4. Actually, I find it even more telling acting-wise when stills do channel the exact same emotion than the acted scene. But I found myself being totally overwhelmed by the still of the manhandle of King Sukjong on Ok Jung after he found out. The sadness, the “why is it all happenning?” and desolation that the man she loves is now the one she had to seduce when entering the Palace, her fear that he may act on a whim and give her his grace even as she doesn’t want it that way, disappointment in him for lying to her and taking all their moments as calcuating from her part and frustration because she cannot tell the whole truth…Brava Kim Tae Hee! The only other drama that lost me with the stills was I Need Romance 2012 and Jung Yumi is no newbie!

    Have you noticed Koala, how people keep predicting what will happen between Ok-Jung and Lee Soon ? The Granny Queen said that she wished Ok Jung would keep the King company during his hard times and she did! I think this is hw their conflict is going to play out, because no matter what her true intentions were, everything they had ended up serving someone’s purpose.

    JoJ fighting <3

  5. I love this article Koala!Hate to see netizen’s criticism but its good to know there are many who are willing to defend her role in this drama.

    JOJ hwaiting!!Monday’s coming!!

  6. Well I’m not watching this drama cuz its really not my thing but I’m glad to hear Kim Tae Hee is doing well. It proves that she’s working hard and deserves to be appreciated so thx for this post Koala 😉 Even though she wasn’t really good at acting, I find her beautiful, but she also has chemistry with her lead, which makes her not sooo bad to watch 😛 But I really respect her now with the way she is showing confidence in herself and not letting criticism take her down when she KNOWS how hard she’s doing well bcuz of her hard work.

  7. Bad publicity is good publicity. To be honest, if those people are actually watching, they wouldn’t be complaining at all. KTH is doing a fine job.

  8. I only wish that KTH understands English n read this blog and all the other forums where everyone (outside of Korea that is) have nothing but praises for this gals acting. Come on man, give the poor gal a break woncha all? Breaks me heart to read that article about her acting criticism. Its just Not fair! KTH we lub u. U r de BEST!

  9. I find Kang Min Ah to be wonderful and Kim Tae Hee still on the stilted side (don’t hurt me!) even though she has only made amazing strides on her acting since My Princess. KTH’s hanging on the cusp of being really good, but isn’t quite getting there. Overall, JOJ has far exceeded my expectations; that is, minus Sukjong. I’m not too happy about where he’s going anymore…am I the only one who thinks that Yoo Ah In is overacting Lee Soon?

    • I don’t think he’s overacting. It fits the character of King Sukjong, a lonely manchild king who lost trust to anyone and has a childhood trauma. His eyes talk, and even he can change his expressions from happy to shock to sad, from badass to tender in a split second.

  10. Some people are still reluctant to let go of their long time held beliefs. Still stilted? HA! KTH is doing great! She didn’t just exceed expectations (prolly low for some), she made leaps and bounds. Her performance is convincing and moving, especially the crying scene after LS told her not to appear in front of him again. I was blown away. She’s a good actress in my eyes. As for YAI, I think he does overact at times, but generally he’s very good at what he does.
    Thank you Koala for the post! I hope KTH will get the acknowledgment she deserves from Korean netizens. Can’t wait for more JOJ!!

    • Hmm…YAI might be overacting a bit, but at this point, as much as I am astounded by KTH’s improvement, he carries the show on his shoulder. If you want to see YAI’s understated acting, you can check out Push (Wandeuki) and his earlier independent films. It’s his deliberate choice to create an intense characterization of LS. And if you want to talk about overacting, Kim Soo-hyun from Moon Embraces the Sun trumps them all. I couldn’t finish the drama because I did know which I insipid Han Ga In and a shouting KSH. Who plays the king the best? Of course, Han Suk-Gyu from Tree of deep roots and the ever talented Song Joong ki.

      • I totally agree that KTH has made leaps and bounds; she is a gazillion times better than Han Ga In was in the Moon Embraces the Sun, and Yoo Ah In is preferential over Kim Soo Hyun. That said, I’ve been watching “Cruel Palace” and when I see JOJ next to that, my opinions of JOJ go down quite a bit. “Cruel Palace” is a better representation of where I wanted to see JOJ go. A girl who was thrown into hard times, forced to be ambitious, strong-willed, but morally-ambiguous without actually going full blown femme fatale. That’s interesting and engaging, and for those who question her palatability, that not so clean character is still the protagonist of the story.

        KTH is certainly pulling the right notes acting-wise for the character she’s been given, but I can only wish that the writer had made Ok-jung more interesting. Right now, she seems like a dignified, Joseon version of a Candy Girl. Though infinitely better than the characters we get in rom-coms, Ok-jung is too much of a goody-two shoes and a pawn to the whims of her uncle and the politics around her. She’s just not calculating enough–right now, the only thing that’s going to get her to Hee-bin is circumstance and Lee Soon, not her own merits or ambition. Why do I need to root for her to become queen? If the end goal is her finding love and being secure in life, isn’t Hee-bin enough, or even Suk-won? And honestly, that’s not very difficult, given that Lee Soon already loves her. This also makes Choi Suk-won/ Suk-bin useless because she wouldn’t actually be any sort of threat. (In-hyeon would still be, simply because there’s some bad blood b/w Ok-jung and In-hyeon)

        YAH and KSH are passable as kings, and for me, it’s almost as though they are trying to act better than they actually are. Keep in mind though, that doesn’t mean that the two of them are actually bad. SJK however, as you said, was utterly enthralling in his role.

        It all comes down to the nuances.

        Don’t doubt, however, my love for JOJ being what it is. It’s hard not to point and compare, but if you think about this story as another attempt at what Moon-sun wanted to be- a fusion sageuk romance; then by golly, JOJ is knocking it out of the park. As a true re-adaptation to make Jang Hee-bin sympathetic, not so much.

    • I never said she was a bad actress, and if you really read what I said, I mentioned that she was “on the cusp of being really good” AKA she’s doing a great job. I was just pointing out that she isn’t quite deserving of accolades like Song Joong Ki yet, unlike her younger counterpart who blew me away with her acting, and is well deserving of the same pedestal that Kim Yoo Jung has. I’m not as moved by the story as a lot of you are (reasons are enumerated below under ennui’s comment) so that clearly skews my opinion of KTH towards her weaknesses (as small as they are right now.) True acting successes are the marriage of great acting/extraordinary writing, great writing/extraordinary acting or extraordinary writing/extraordinary acting. Right now we have great acting, all we lack is an extraordinary character.

      • I understand your point and appreciate the constructive criticism. I am in agreement that she still has a way to go to be considered a great actress. There’s always room for improvement. However, considering how far she’s gone and how much bashing she’s gotten, the girl deserves a break and a simple acknowledgment for her hard work.

  11. I don’t understand the criticisms of her from a country filled with her fans.
    Is it because they have seen her grow up before them but only remember her from then?

    I loved the younger version’s actors – both had such personality playing the kids. Not cut-outs in looks or energy.

  12. Kang Minah is a promising young actress. I hope she’ll be a great actress when she grows up. And I don’t understand either with so many negative publicity in Korea for KTH. They even said that the low ratings is because KTH’s poor acting ability. What in the what? I don’t think they even watch JOJ in full episodes.

  13. This is only my opinion. I think KTH being chosen as Korea’s beauty and seems well loved by netizens is just a matter of national pride. Koreans want someone who’s a natural beauty and who went to a prestigious university to represent their ideal woman. However, I doubt she is well liked besides from that. She doesn’t seem to get any support from them, only criticism. *sigh* Seriously where are her fans?

    • Since her dating scandal with Rain it appears Koreans love to hate her, because ‘he is not good enough for her’ and he got all those leaves from the army. KTH will have a hard time to make ppl forget.

      • Oh, that must be it!

        Nobody puts Rain in a corner that only she can get to…

        These fans are jealous and fickle, aren’t they>

  14. She’s okay, not the best, but not the worst. I’m just pining over Yoo In Ah, oooohhh, his voice is to die for! 🙂 I love him in sageuk, he matches traditional better than modern. It’s like he totally shines.

  15. Thank you for providing us with all these small details about the drama and actors. I’m a little behind as I can only watch JOJ on weekends.
    Yes, I did notice some change in KTH; even her face is now emanating some goodness, and eyes do not look too prickly anymore. Kang Min Ah is adorable and talented. She looks like a Mexican chiquita.

  16. Hate how she’s being compared to Suzy. The only reason why Suzy isn’t attacked as much is because JYP has journalists at his feet willing to media play the heck out of Suzy.I seriously can’t stand watching Gu family book because of Suzy. In fact, I just can’t stand Suzy acting in anything. Jang Ok Jung is the only kdrama I’m watching right now. And I just feel so empty because I’m usually balancing 3-4 dramas a week.

    I watched The Restless. What an awful, awful movie.

    • I honestly don’t think it’s JYP, as he lacks the iron fist in the entertainment industry a la SM Entertainment (or possibly YG Entertainment.) I think it’s Suzy herself that has caused this reaction as a “nation’s little sister.” She really has the top spot right now as Younha lost it to IU and IU got in that scandal with Eunhyuk, decreasing IU’s influence. That leaves perfect little Suzy for the media. It doesn’t help that KTH and Rain were outed, and that Rain was already in trouble for his army related stuff.

  17. more than acting, What I didn’t expect more is KTH actually has a good chemistry with YAI… I am in shocked..hahha
    I just love seeing them on screen together… gahhh My feels… didn’t expect a baby face like Yoo Ah In and Song Jong Ki can create a good chemistry with much older woman…

    knowing the real history, it makes me uneasy… maybe they will do a princess man ending? but I don’t mind a sad ending either

  18. I hope someone or her manager will tell KTH about those praise on the net because she deserves encouragement for her efforts. I didn’t watch Stairway to heaven, only watched 1-2 of her projects (I actually liked her in Boku to star no 99 nichi), as I’m neutral towards her acting I didn’t expect anything from JOJLIL either. But when a character makes me feel so much that now every time I think about her ending makes me tear, and any foreshadow about her life in the drama just gets me deep down. KTH is startling in this role, her eyes emote in every scene she’s in. *applauds*

  19. Kim Tae Hee is really doing well in JOJ. I was incredibly doubtful when I first heard the casting news but I am thrilled to see that she rose to the occasion.

    Kim Tae Hee was amazing in the rain scene of episode 8. That scene was intense, but she managed to be incredibly restrained while excellently portraying her deep sorrow and frustration for being so far away from the man she loves.

  20. Hmmm…I do believe that Kim Tae Hee can act, but i’m not fond of the way she chose to interprete the role. That calamity to me seems like if not apathy, surely detachment from the circunstances and a created gap in the interaction with the other characters (although i like to watch her alongside Queen In Hyeon). I mean, Jang Ok Jung was one of the worst bitches out there. I do understand that her character has gotten through beautification, but she seems like the cousin of Candy or a Buddhist high priest to me. After being falsely accused, humiliated by the dowager queen with a hysteric bang, deprived to sew, taken off her seat and literally thrown to a dirty lake, where arrogant magpies think they rule , [all in one episode!] follows the great rain scene, which i adored, but i only saw her frustration for not being able to be with the man he loves. I do believe that in the papers, JOJ is an ambitious woman, so after all of these, i’d want to see some anger behind her angelic face. Or if she’s that romantic, be in some pain for not being able to touch the last thing that could make her happy-she is, i can’t feel it though as much as i did with Yoo Ah In. I’m admittedly not a fan of dramatic scenes, but i really really liked the acting of Yoo Ah In especially in that scene (Oh my God, that walking). Some might say that he over-reacted or that KTH that way counterpoises and dull the tension. I think Yoo Ah In was perfect there, if he was even a lttle bit lower, we wouldn’t have that great scene, but KTH made it seem a little bit two-speed, that’s why i said that i’m not taken aback with her interactions. Phewwwwwww, so much i said and not that many were good. I meant no bashing for her, it’s just that i’m so fixated with that drama, that explains my fastidious ways 🙂

  21. I think she’s decent in this project and I found her charming in her jdorama but otherwise she’s not a very good actress. I respect that she’s confessed to this and that she really does want to improve.

    I’m hoping though that in the end they wont make her the victim, that she would be innocent in killing Queen Inhyeon and is just framed. Show her instead as a woman who had ambitions to become a Queen and got rid of her competition with severe consequences.
    She is quite the Candy character already.

  22. Yes they must be on crack!! Kth is at least showing decent acting vs Suzy who can’t speak saeguk! I quite like Suzy and love Seung GI but once I hear Suzy speak I switched off the drama. It’s really so bad..not half bad but really so bad. She just just stick to modern dramas.

  23. As for media critizing KTH’s acting in JOJ…. I think. There is double standard going there and her being labeled as bad actress for quite long already makes all people blind. And maybe for some people who is clueless and doesn’t know to appreciate good acting show up and makes bad comment. Each person seems has their own preference and standard including acting?

    Btw…lol @the last picture…

  24. Agree that KTH has come a long way (the walk down memory lane was hilarious). She’s not the best actress, but she’s pretty damn good. I think the domestic viewers didn’t like her simply because they are jealous… she is a local like them, but so beautiful without any plastic, smart, rich/successful… something’s gotta give, so they picked something relatively subjective, which is acting, and went hard out with criticism. Oh, and she’s got Rain too (altho I think it’s such a waste of her beautiful genes… what if they end up together and have babies looking like him?! Yes, Rain is a famous, talented and hot singer/dancer/actor, but objectively speaking, he’s really just average looking… lol)

    • Rain’s parents and his sister are pretty good looking. Hopefully, the majority of very good looking genes and pretty good looking genes will fuse and produce beautiful babies for them. LOL! Undoubtedly, their babies will have tons of natural talent genes! 🙂

  25. Koala, thank you so much for your post! It is high time that more people who love JOJLIL step forward and do something to deflect the negative views out there. But having said that, I also think that after we’re done with it, we all should move on. We should not continue wasting our energy and time “entertaining” negative medias, viewers and netizens for all these people have already made up their mind to view KTH and JOJLIL badly. Even KTH accepts the fact that her acting will still be an issue to people out there because there will not be 100% love for a person. We ourselves also experience like, love and hate in our daily lives. Really, there is no difference between her and us, save for the circumstances that we are in. We shall then sit back, relax …… and let KTH takes us on JOJ’s romantic journey into SJ’s life!

    Oh yes, KMA is quite a revelation as teen JOJ. She is beautiful! I believe she will do well in the future as an actress. Do not be surprised if she is soon casted in another drama. Who could resist her looks and talent that she has?

  26. I mentioned after the first three episodes aired that I loved how in synch kma and KTH’s JOJs were. That also lead me to think that LS should have connected the dots quicker because the way she looked at him as an adult is the same as she did as a child. 🙂 bravo.

    For me, I do understand… Everyone loves and sees different things when it comes to entertainment. KTH was one of the top worst k-actors in my mind. Natural beauty, smart but really just another one of those who overacts to compensate for her lack of skills. We get it, k- media. But the relentless negative bashing is rough. I think she is doing a really decent job here as OJ, especially as the drama has been progressing. Wonderfully restrained and she can draw tears from me. I feel like she is joj.

    IMO, I don’t really want to see OJ just be the ambitious one, loses the love and takes whomever down with her into her death. That’s pretty much the joj that I saw in dong yi and how she’s written in the history books. That joj, though not the title character, was done really well. I am certain she will died here as well but just show me something different.

  27. Wow.. if u dont mention this.. i will not recognize that kang min ah has such modest beauty but perfect feature.. if kim yoo jung look so cute with her dimples and soo hyun with her sexy lips than kang min ah’s is classic. It reminds me of monalisa.. *sorry i dont talk about their acting… kekekeke

    • She’s like a ha ji won mini-me like others have mentioned. Not a classic beauty just looking at first glance, but gets prettier the more you watch her in her projects. kang min ah is still young so she has alot more time to grow into her looks.

  28. I don’t hate or like KTH. But I’m not impress with her acting, so I can understand the criticism. She’s not bad but neither is she good. I just don’t think that she gives the characters enough layers. Her acting and character doesn’t seem to connect with each other. For me what’s even worse is that she doesn’t seem to have much chemistry with the lead guy. That’s just my opinion.

    • Ouch! no chemistry at all?!their chemistry remind me of Kim so hyun acting skill on TMTETS that HGI never reach the level, it was very frustrating to see them…so i’m really enjoying KTH and YAI chemistry right now..just my thought, too 🙂

  29. I love her the most when she acts really cool while measuring LS as a king…so dignified!Girl should be like that

  30. KTH is such like an actress that can act good if her partner can act good. Not telling that her partner before her recent project was bad

    Some actress/actor need a trigger to wake up his ability. The trigger can come from anywhere

  31. I thought it was just me that saw the resemblance between min ha and ha ji won. I kept thinking of gil ra im(ha ji won) from secret Garden. They have the same expressions, it’s uncanny! Maybe they’re related?

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