In the past two decades, the Korean Wave (Hallyu) has crash-landed in even the most remote parts of the world reaching a vastly dispersed audience, creating a face for South Korea as one of the most desired places to be. Whether it is in the realm of media and popular culture, sports, music, or even gaming, South Korea leads with pride and this pride has been and keeps swelling owing to the immense global success and influence of these 5 personalities.
Queen Kim Yuna
This Olympic gold medallist figure skater representing the Republic of Korea turns 30 today and we wish her the best of days ahead! Scoring a world record of 228.56 points in Figure Skating at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Kim Yuna left an indelible mark on the history of the Olympics, winning the first-ever gold medal for the Republic of Korea in figure skating. The prodigy was merely 19 years old when she dazzled the audience and the panel with her free program featuring a triple-lutz triple-toe loop combination, her characteristic camel spin (now called the Yuna camel), and a myriad of other superbly executed jumps which brought a crowd of 17,000 to their feet, proving one of the highest points of the 2010 Winter Games and even earning the commendations of IOC President Jacques Rogge. What makes the performance even better is the fact that she performed to a medley of James Bond themes. Two days later, she stunned everyone again with a free program where she showcased her excellent mastery of technique with a double axel-double toe loop-double loop, a triple salchow, a triple lutz, and a double axel. Yuna won the gold medal by a huge margin and scoring the highest ever awarded to a figure skater and was soon declared as a national treasure. Following the Olympics and two other victories at the Worlds in 2010 and 2011, she decided to take a short break. It was her speech to the IOC in Durban in 2011 that earned Korea the right and honor to hold the 2018 Olympic Winter Games after the first round of voting. On returning to the Olympics in 2013, Yuna suffered an injury to her right foot. However, that still couldn’t stop her from winning Silver at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. This second-place win, however, was highly controversial with fans and critics alike suggesting that she undoubtedly deserved first place. Soon after the medal ceremony, Yuna announced her retirement, leaving behind a bulletproof legacy for those to follow.
One cannot speak of a bulletproof legacy without mentioning the indomitable success of the Bulletproof Boys or Bangtan Sonyeondan, better known as BTS. Words are not enough to express the global influence of these artists which has brought them here today, standing strong with an admirable and revered UNESCO campaign about loving oneself which was chosen as one of the most successful campaigns to ever run, a touching and highly relevant speech at the United Nations Generations Unlimited event, a presentation and performance at the GRAMMYs (a first for a Korean Act), 7 world records broken at the 2020 Guinness World Records, an overall of a whopping 20 songs to have hit #1 on the Billboard Worldwide Sales Charts (making BTS the only artist ever to have achieved this), 'Map of the Soul: 7' becoming the best-selling album of 2020 in the USA and the latest feat of having their song ‘Dynamite’ rank No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart which was a dream to the boys for as far back as they could remember. BTS not only blazed a fiery trail in the history of world music but also in the hearts of millions of people, young and old, from corners of the world most didn’t even know existed, convincing them that they were worthy of love and most of all, from their own selves. This is what modern superheroes look like!
Son Heung Min
An absolute icon of South Korea, Son Heung Min or "Sonny"is the captain of the South Korean national football team and plays as a winger/striker for the Premier League Club Tottenham Hotspur. Heung Min is single-handedly considered one of the best wingers in the world and was even nominated for the Ballon D’or in 2019. At the time that he signed for Tottenham, he was the most expensive Asian player to ever be signed. While at Tottenham, Son became the top Asian goalscorer in both Premier League and Champions League history and surpassed Cha Bum Kun's record for most goals scored by a Korean player in a European competition. In 2019, he became the second Asian in history to reach and start a UEFA Champions League final after fellow countryman Park Ji-sung. Son has represented South Korea at the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups and is his country's highest scorer in the World Cup jointly with Park Ji-sung and Ahn Jung-hwan with three goals. Son has also represented South Korea at the 2018 Asian Games, where the team won gold, as well as 2011, 2015, and 2019 editions of the AFC Asian Cup. Son Heung-Min was also the winner of the Goal of the Season award for his spectacular 80m run and strike in a 5-0 shellacking over Burnley on December 7, 2019. There was no other goal that would have possibly come close to this magnificent score!
Bong Joon Ho
While the swooping victory of Bong Joon Ho’s 'Parasite' at the 2020 Academy Awards, with the film winning 6 Oscars (Best Picture, Best International Feature Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing) is easily one of the most impressive achievements in the history of South Korean cinema, what is perhaps even bigger than that is the influence Bong Joon Ho had on the South Korean film industry as a whole. A pioneer of filmmaking, Bong Joon Ho created a solid foundation for directors and filmmakers to come. Right from 'Memories of Murder,' Bong Joon Ho had brought international acclaim to South Korean cinema, establishing it as one of the most potent industries to come out of Korea. He was also responsible for the transnational flow of cultural exchange which was facilitated by the popularisation of the Hallyu wave. He began to be looked up to as a force to be reckoned with, right from the start of his career. Besides the obvious spectacle of filmmaking, the deeper geopolitical and social undertones of his works set him up as a class apart. Today, his film is the recipient of 6 Oscars and he is no doubt, only getting started.
There is perhaps not a single gamer in the world that does not know of the eSports legend Faker. At only 24 years old, he is already a multimillionaire who makes his fortune playing League of Legends. He is a cultural phenomenon and a formidable competitor in the history of LoL. Lee Sang Hyeok or Faker as he is called in-game is one of only 2 players (Bengi) that have won the League of Legends World Championships 3 times and has amassed millions in prize money ever since turning professional in 2013. Adding that to the innumerable endorsement deals and merchandising deals, he makes in excess of 5 million USD a year notwithstanding the income from his Youtube and Twitch channels. The T1 mid-laner has alone contributed more to his country than any LoL player or even any eSports player ever. He won the LCK 9 times and the Mid Season Invitational twice. He’s even famously referred to as the Ronaldo of gaming and the greatest League of Legends player of all-time. Needless to say, he brings immense pride to Koreans as well as young gamers who aspire to be like him around the world.