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Ha Ji-won  (born 28 June 1978) is aSouth Korean actress. She is best known amongst international viewers for playing "Hwang Jini" in KBS's historical drama Hwang Jini, "Gil Ra-im" in SBS's romantic comedy Secret Garden, and "Empress Ki" in MBC's historical dramaEmpress Ki . She starred in several films and television series, winning various awards and accolades along the way in both films and TV series.

Ha Ji-won is one of South Korea’s most sought after actresses, known for her versatility in pulling off roles in various genres such as action (including martial arts), comedy, drama and sports.

In 2013, Ha Ji Won set up her own agency, Haewadal Entertainment, while being simultaneously signed to BM+ Entertainment which manages her activities abroad. In the same year, she also signed with Hollywood agencyUnited Talent Agency (UTA), allowing them to manage her American ventures. She is the first Korean actress to sign a contract with UTA. In 2015, Ha Ji Won signed with Invincible Plan to manage her Chinese ventures.

Biography

Early career

Jeon Hae-rim was scouted by an agency when she was still a senior high school student. She later graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Film and Television or BFTV in Dankook University. “Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of becoming an actress. When I was a senior in high school, an agency contacted me after seeing my picture at a photography studio.” In 2012, the actress also revealed that she had failed over 100 auditions before her debut. “I passed my college entrance and written exams and was accepted to the department of theater and film. Before my debut, I auditioned for 100 or so projects but didn’t get the roles.”

Jeon candidly revealed that she adopted “Ha Ji-won” as her stage name as a favor for her previous manager as it was the name of his first love. “When I was about to debut, the first love of my manager’s name was Ha Ji-won. I think he wanted to at least use the name of his love that was not fulfilled. The first time I heard the name Ha Ji-won, I thought it was pretty and also bold.”

Acting career

1996-2003

Ha Ji-won made her TV debut in the 1996 teen drama New Generation Report: Adults Don’t Understand Us. She continued to play supporting roles in dramas Dragon’s Tears and Dangerous Lullaby in 1998 and 1999 respectively. But it was through the 1999 popular drama School 2, where she played the role of a troubled teen named Jang Se-jin, when she was finally recognized as actress Ha Ji-won.

In 2000, Ha made her movie debut in the thriller movie Truth Game alongside Ahn Sung-ki, where she portrayed a bipolar character, and she was awarded Best Rookie Actress both at the 37th Grand Bell Awards and at the 1st Busan Film Critics Awards. In the same year, she won the 21st Blue Dragon Film Awards Best Supporting Actress for the movie Ditto, where she played a supporting role with main leads Kim Ha-neul and Yoo Ji-tae. Also in year 2000, she starred in Ahn Byeong-ki’s horror movie Nightmare. Later that year, Ha reunited with Kim Ha-neul in the drama Secret, landing her an antagonist role. On the contrary, the actress received much love despite the fact she played the antagonist. The drama earned her Best Rookie Actress Award at the 2000 MBC Drama Awards as well as Best Rookie TV Actress Award at the 37th Baeksang Arts Awards in year 2001.

Ha had her first lead role in the 2001 drama Beautiful Life, where she played the role of a chaebol hotelier’s daughter, opposite actor Kim Rae-won.

The following year, in 2002, Ha had her another lead role in the drama Days in the Sun, where she acted as a hotel chambermaid, opposite actor Ji Sung. In the second half of the same year, she starred in another Ahn Byeong-ki’s horror movie Phone, officially dubbing her as “Asia’s Horror Princess”. Following Phone in the same year was Yoon Je-kyoon’s American Pie inspired movie Sex Is Zero, co-starring Im Chang-jung. The movie was the 3rd most popular Korean movie of 2002 and ranked 5th among all films released in that year. Ha was also given a Photogenic Award at the 3rd Korea Visual Arts Festival, and she also won Popularity Award at the39th Baeksang Arts Awards in 2003 for the movie.

2004-2007

In 2003, Ha proceeded to her next movie Reversal of Fortune alongside actor Kim Seung-woo. The movie, unfortunately, was not successful with the audiences. Afterwards, the actress’ popularity skyrocketed through the 14-episode period drama Damo, directed by Lee Jae-kyoo. In her first lead role in a period drama as Jang Chae-ok, together with actors Lee Seo-jin and Kim Min-joon, she was highly praised for her efforts and was given the Top Excellence Award, Miniseries in the 2003 MBC Drama Awards as well as Netizen Popularity Award and Best Couple Award with Lee Seo-jin. Damo was highly popular, and this can be attested by the huge popularity it enjoyed online, causing MBC to earn an estimated ₩10 million a day through Internet residual fees.

Ha continued playing lead roles in dramas and won awards for each effort. In 2004, she starred in the heavy melodrama What Happened in Bali, where she played the role of Lee Soo-jung, who was stuck in a complicated love square with Jo In-sung, So Ji-suband Park Ye-jin. She then won Best TV Actress Award at the 40th Baeksang Arts Awards and Top Ten Stars Award and Top Excellence Award, Drama Special at the 2004 SBS Drama AwardsWhat Happened in Bali was a huge success, with its final episode reaching a peak rating of 39.7%, and is still Ha’s drama with the highest viewership rating up to date. While the actress was conquering the small screens through What Happened in Bali, she also made her way to the big screens with two movies, 100 Days with Mr. Arrogant and Love, So Divine. Ha starred opposite actor Kim Jae-won in an internet fiction themed movie 100 Days with Mr. Arrogant while opposite actor Kwon Sang-woo in Love, So Divine. Both, however, were not as successful with audiences.

Afterwards, in 2005, Ha took a break from dramas and returned with two movies. She played the role of the female protagonist inDaddy-Long-Legs, which was inspired by the novel of the same title written by Jean Webster, alongside actor Yeon Jung-hoon. She then starred in Lee Myung-se’s martial arts film Duelist, where she portrayed the character of a detective named Namsoon, opposite actor Kang Dong-won. The movie also had her reunited with Korea’s National Actor Ahn Sung-ki, whom she had previously worked with in Truth Game. The actress also won Popularity Award at the26th Blue Dragon Film Awards. Ha later quoted Director Lee’s line, “An actor never stops learning,” which she said she had always been applying in her life as an actress. Also in the same year, Ha made a cameo appearance in the movie All For Love.

In 2006, Ha starred in the award-winning period drama Hwang Jin Yi. She played the titular character Hwang Jin Yi, who lived in 16th-century Joseon and is considered the most famous gisaeng in Korean history. Jang Keun-suk’s and Kim Jae-won’s character are among others who vied for the heart of Ha’s Hwang Jin Yi. The drama was critically acclaimed, and lead actress Ha Ji-won bagged a total of 5 awards for her performance including Netizen Popularity Award, Best Couple Award with Jang Keun-suk and even Daesang (Grand Prize) at the 2006 KBS Drama Awards as well as Best Actress Award each from the 34th Korean Broadcasting Awards and BNT32nd Golden Chest International TV Festival, both in year 2007.

2008-2011

In 2007, Ha reunited with Director Yoon Je-kyoon and actor Im Chang-jung, whom she had worked with in Sex Is Zero, in the movie Miracle on 1st Street and challenged herself as she played the role of a female boxer. Coming from the team behind Sex Is Zero, the movie ended up as the 5th most popular movie of the year. Later that year, Ha made a cameo appearance in Sex Is Zero 2, sequel of Sex Is Zero, reprising her role in the movie.

Ha continued taking lead roles in numerous movies in 2008. She played a role of a pianist in the movie Miracle of Giving Fool, which was based on a popularwebcomic, alongside actor Cha Tae-hyun, and won Popularity Award at the 44th Baeksang Arts Awards. She also had a cameo appearance in Shin Hyun-joon’s movieHis Last Gift.

In 2009, Ha worked with Director Yoon Je-kyoon for the third time through the blockbuster disaster film Haeundae with A-list actorsSol Kyung-gu, Park Joong-hoon and Uhm Jung-hwa. The movie was funded by CJ Entertainment with a budget estimated at US$10–15 million, one of the largest for a Korean production. Haeundae was both critically acclaimed and commercial success. It had received a total of 11,301,649 admissions in South Korean theaters, making Ha “The 10 Million Movie Actress” for bringing the glory of more than 10 million audiences, also causing the movie to be the 4th highest-grossing film in South Korea that time but was later outperformed by The ThievesMasqueradeMiracle in Cell No. 7The Admiral: Roaring Currents and Ode to My Father. In addition to that, distribution rights for the movie have been sold to 15 countries. Ha won HOT Movie Star Award at the 2009 Mnet 20's Choice Awards, Best Actress Award at the 5th Korean University Films Festival and Popularity Award at the 30th Blue Dragon Film Awards for her performance in the blockbuster movie. Furthermore, also in 2009, the actress starred in Park Jin-pyo’s Closer to Heaven, a melodrama movie about a man who has been battling Lou Gehrig's disease and his wife, who works as a funeral director. Ha portrayed a character of a dedicated and loving wife to actor Kim Myung-min’s sick character, which later earned Best Actress Award at the 30th Blue Dragon Film Awards and Best Movie Actress Award at the 46th Baeksang Arts Awards in 2010, officially taking her spot as an A-list movie actress.

After taking a 4-year break from dramas, Ha made a very successful comeback through the romance, comedy, fantasy, actiondrama Secret Garden, opposite actor Hyun Bin. She played the role of a stunt woman Gil Ra-im, who magically switches bodies with Hyun Bin’s wealthy CEO character. Proven to be a commercial success, it was reported that Secret Garden had already been sold abroad before its premiere in South Korea. The drama had high ratings, and Ha received the following awards for recognition: Best Couple Award with Hyun Bin, Top Ten Stars Award, Netizen Popularity Award and Top Excellence Award, Drama Special at the 2010 SBS Drama Awards and Best Actress Awards at the 2011 Grimae Awards.

2011-2013

Once again, Ha worked with Director Yoon Je-kyoon and actor Ahn Sung-ki through the science fiction, action 3D movie Sector 7, alongside actor Oh Ji-ho. Although the 14 billion-won project had a disappointing 2.2 million in admissions in South Korea, it garnered over 20 million yuan in China after just one week, beating previous records set by 200 Pounds Beauty at 16 million yuan and The Host at 14 million yuan. The actress later revealed that she had received psychiatric treatment after filming Sector 7. After filming Sector 7 I received psychiatric help. I could not break away from my character. In the movie Sector 7 the monster dies, and all the people I love die and I am the only one left alive and for some reason I could not break away from the pain of that character for quite some time. After the conclusion of Sector 7 I needed to go in for the script reading for Secret Garden, but I could not break away from my character on Sector 7 so the entire script reading was a mess. I knew I could not do it alone so I sought out professional help.

In 2012, Ha surprised everyone for playing the role of a North Korean Special Forces Officer named Kim Hang-ah in The King 2 Hearts, an alternate history drama in which South Korea is a constitutional monarchy, and singer-actor Lee Seung-gi’s South Korean King character and Ha’s North Korean Special Forces Officer character marry as a political strategy. The drama also reunited the actress with Director Lee Jae-kyu, who had also helmed Damo before. Despite the drama’s decreasing viewership ratings, Ha and Lee were both praised for their performance. It was also revealed that Ha had studied the North Korean dialect to make her portrayal more realistic. She was also nominated in Best Actress International Category at the 2012 Seoul International Drama Awards for her performance and was the only Korean actress to have done so in that year. Her next movie was As One, a cinematic retelling of the first ever post-war Unified Korea sports team which won the gold at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan. Ha played the role of South Korean table tennis player Hyun Jung-hwa, alongside actress Bae Doona, who played the role of North Korean table tennis playerLee Bun Hui. The real Hyun Jung-hwa said that Ha was her first choice to play her role. “I requested that Ha Ji Won play my role. It was difficult to make the actresses into table tennis players within 3 months. The actresses were very passionate and picked up table tennis very quickly.” Ha kept up with highly intensive training as she enjoyed the physical challenges of learning the sport with a goal to retell a true story. She also observed Hyun Jung-hwa’s speech and body language carefully during training, striving to embody all of Hyun's playing habits and techniques. The actress was said to be crossing boundaries by appearing as a North Korean on the small screen and a South Korean on the big screen.

The following year, in 2013, Ha was reported to be leaving Wellmade STARM, her agency for 10 years. She declined all the love calls sent by other agencies with giant contracts and decided to establish her own one-person agency Haewadal Entertainment (lit. Sun and Moon Entertainment) instead. “Ha Ji-won came up with the name for the agency herself. She said it expressed her wishes to become an actress who shines bright like the sun and the moon.” Also in the same year, Ha signed withUnited Talent Agency, one of the largest talent agencies in the world, for her Hollywood venture. Haewadal Entertainment released a statement saying, “Ha Ji Won became the first female Korean star to sign with one of Hollywood’s largest agencies UTA and plan to kick off her advancement overseas in full-swing.”

Also in 2013, after 7 years since the period drama Hwang Jin Yi, Ha returned to the world of sageuk (historical/period dramas) through Empress Ki, where she was stuck in a love triangle between actors Joo Jin-mo and Ji Chang-wook. The 51-episode drama is a fictional account about the love and struggles of a Goryeo born woman named Ki Seung-nyang and her long journey to becoming Yuan dynasty’s Empress Ki. The drama was a winner in terms of viewership ratings during its entire run that lasted for 6 months. The actress, who played the titular character, won PD Award, Popularity Award and her second Daesang (Grand Prize) at the 2013 MBC Drama Awards, following her first one back in 2006 for her performance in Hwang Jin Yi. Along with actress Kim Hee-ae, Ha was also again nominated in Best Actress International Category at the 2013 Seoul International Drama Awards, where the drama Empress Ki was awarded Best Series Drama (Golden Bird Prize). Particularly in Taiwan, the drama reached a peak rating of 5.35%, making it the second Korean drama that had surpassed the 5 percent mark in the ratings, next to Dae Jang Geum’s 6.22% in 2004.

2014-present

In 2014, Ha, together with actress Kang Ye-won and idol-actress Son Ga-in of Brown Eyed Girls, played lead roles in the Charlie's Angels-inspired action, adventure,fusion sageuk (period dramas with a modern touch, have all the elements needed to attract national and international viewers alike: captivating plots, mesmerizing characters, fascinating costumes and sweet romance) The Huntresses.

In 2015, Ha was cast by actor-director Ha Jung-woo to play his character’s wife in his self-directed movie Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, a film adaption of the bestselling 1995 Chinese novel of the same title written by Yu Hua. In 2015, Ha, alongside actor Lee Jin-wook starred in the Korean remake of the 2011 hit Taiwanese drama In Time with You titled The Time We Were Not in Love. She reportedly earned a salary of $41,800 per episode for the drama. However in contrast to her previous dramas The Time We Were Not in Love received low ratings scoring viewing figures in the 6% to 7% range. However Ha commented she was happy with the drama and enjoyed filming. And stated she considered her character of Oh Ha-Na closest to her real life personality.

Music career

Ha Ji-won made an appearance in the music video of Wax's debut song "Mother's Diary" in 2000. Soon after, she performed Wax's song "Oppa" on stage.

Ha Ji-won released her debut album Home Run in 2003. The eponymous single from the album Home Run, featuring singer Psy, was later used as the OST for her movie Reversal of Fortune. She later performed the song on live music broadcast to help promote the movie. Ha Ji-won has jokingly mentioned that she was tricked by the CEO of her agency CEO to perform on stage, and that she felt bashful of the performances and disliked to be reminded of them.

In 2004, Ha Ji-won recorded the OST for her movie Love, So Divine (여자를 내려주세요) with her co-actors, Kwon Sang-woo and Kim In-kwon.

After an eight-year hiatus on stage, Ha Ji-won performed with her labelmates AA for their debut at the K-pop Super Concert in 2011.

On June 13, 2014, Ha Ji Won released a digital single 나 지금 이자리에 "Now In This Place" for the fans who have been so supportive of her drama Empress Ki. The lyrics of the song was written by the scriptwriter of Empress Ki, Jung Kyung Soon. The song was composed and produced by popular music producer Jae Chong (also known as Jung Jae Yoon).

Charity Work

Ha Ji-won does charity work with her fans on a regular basis, such as delivering coal to Bangbae-dong, a rural village not covered under government subsidies.

She has played an active role in helping underprivileged and disabled children, running a donation project named "Smile Again Foundation" with Gangnam-gu Family Welfare Center. The project was supplemented by Ha Ji-won's fan club members while she went the extra mile to ensure the sustainability of the project. Ha Ji-won was conferred the Prime Minister's Award for the '2008 Family Month Event', in recognition of her consistent and active hard work in contributing to programs for poor and handicapped families.

Ha Ji-won also donated the proceeds from her first book, This Moment, to charity. The recipients of the book earnings, children’s aid group Choi Kyung Joo Foundation and Yonsei University Hospital, announced their decision to set up a scholarship for prospective arts students and to subsidize treatment for deaf and blind children respectively.

Along with fellow actor Song Joong-ki, she attended the 'Medical Korea 2013 Sharing Medical Treatment Commemorative Event', an event hosted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, promoting greater international co-operation for medical technology and positive medical tourism. During the event, both actors spent time with recovering children and received an award for their previous efforts in promoting the sharing of medical services. Although organ donation was not common in South Korea at the time, in January 2005, Ha Ji-won pledged to donate her cornea after death.

Ambassadorial Roles

Ha Ji-won has held a number of ambassadorial positions throughout her career. She was appointed as an honorary coach for young athletes until the 2012 London Olympics to promote exercise and to help develop young athletes. As New Zealand’s Cultural Ambassador to Korea, Ha Ji-won has contributed to the New Zealand-South Korea bilateral relations.

She received a presidential commendation in March 2014 and was appointed to serve as a promotional ambassador for the National Tax Service for a year. In November 2014, Ha Ji-won is chosen as Smile International Ambassador of NGO Operation Smile .This organisation is give attention and help for treatment of deformities in children surgery. She is the first Asian woman and second Asian after Jackie Chan to be named promotional ambassador for NGO.

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