Vietnamese K-Pop fan turns South Korean actress

By Hieu Nhan   September 27, 2021 | 11:07 pm PT
Nguyen Thi Huong went to study in South Korea because she admired a boyband, ending up playing supporting roles on TV.

Huong, a Vietnamese teacher living in South Korea, is currently attracting attention for appearing with famous actress Honey Lee in "One the Woman", a TV series that aired on Sept. 17.

In the series, Huong plays Trang, a Vietnamese maid living with a rich family named Hanju. Trang is fluent in English and Korean, knows how to drive a car, cooks well, and meets many strict requirements of the family. A scene in which Trang and Kang Mi Na (played by Lee) - Hanju's daughter-in-law - talk in Vietnamese, thrilled many series lovers.

Kang Mi Na (played by Lee) speaks Vietnamese with Trang (played by Huong) in "One the Woman." Video cut from the TV series

But this is not the first time Huong has worked with Lee. In 2007, she first met the South Korean actress during a cultural exchange program in Hanoi.

Lee was the cultural ambassador, and she was an event coordinator. Fourteen years later, the two met again on the set of "One the Woman".

"Such a destiny," Lee told Huong when hearing about their meeting in 2007. Facing difficulties in Vietnamese intonation, Lee practiced many times under Huong’s guidance.

The first scene they talk in Vietnamese was later completed after just one shot.

Lee cared a lot for her colleagues, Huong recalled. Seeing Huong on set, the actress always waved her hands and said hello, calling Huong "teacher Trang."

Playing a supporting role, Huong was prioritized to film first so she could leave earlier. Lee also reminded the team to pay attention to lighting effects, so her "teacher" could look more beautiful on screen.

"She is a famous star but she is plain, friendly, and cares for others. Although I only gave her a few pronunciation lessons, she called me teacher. Meeting her can improve your mood," Huong said.

But years ago, when she decided to leave Vietnam for South Korea, she never thought about becoming an actress.

Nguyen Thi Huong plays a maid in One the Woman.

Nguyen Thi Huong plays a maid in "One the Woman." Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi Huong

A fan of five-member boyband H.O.T during high school, Huong started learning Korean to have a better understanding of the country of her idols. After university graduation, she pursued her master’s degree at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul.

She joined the Vietnamese traditional dance group, often performing at cultural exchange programs between the two countries. Thanks to that, she improved her confidence and started looking for auditions for TV series.

She first appeared in a TV series as a foreign woman in KBS's "Hometown Over the Hill" season two. To secure the role, she had to pass three casting rounds, competing with more than 100 people from Thailand, China, and Laos, many of whom had learned acting at school.

Everything was new to her, from reading scripts, acting in front of cameras, and working with a team of many people. Mistakes were inevitable. But later, she started to adapt to her new environment.

"Hometown Over the Hill" features 125 episodes and was screened from 2012 to 2015. To play the role, Huong took a train to film sets every night, after finishing her studies and part-time job, and returned to Seoul early the next morning to start class.

Once, her scene was shot on the day she had an exam, so Huong asked to film another day. While her colleagues agreed, an angry crew member said she had disrupted the plan.

"There were a lot of fatigue and loneliness in that journey. Low salaries could only help me afford train tickets, daily meals and monthly rental, so I could not pay for acting classes, but I loved the job, so I kept pursuing it."

Her greatest joy was seeing her own improvement after each episode. One of the most unforgettable colleagues she has worked with is actress Woo Hee Jin, appearing with Huong in "Feelings". Jin bought her food, drove her from film sets to Seoul, and helped her save money. In an interview, Jin also complimented Huong, saying she was kind, friendly, and spoke Korean fluently.

Later, Huong played roles in many series like "Challenge! Golden Bell," "Yoyumanman," along with documentaries and short movies of broadcasters including EBS, SBS, KBS.

In 2019, she played a Vietnamese wife whose husband suffered from cancer in "Chocolate", in which the scene in which the couple talked about their memories before he died made many audiences cry.

In late 2020, director Choi Young Hoon wanted to find a Vietnamese woman with acting experience to play Trang in "One the Woman." Huong was the best candidate.

Trang is a supporting character, so Huong’s schedule on set was not fixed. Most of her scenes were filmed within the Hanju family’s villa, which was in fact divided between different locations, so Huong had to move back and forth.

Nguyen Thi Huong (R) and Ha Ji Won. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi Huong

Nguyen Thi Huong (R) and Ha Ji Won. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi Huong

Filming amid the pandemic was also a challenge. She was required to take a Covid test before entering each set, and when someone in the crew was infected, the whole crew had to take some days off.

"It was more stressful, we worked and worried at the same time because there were too many people on set."

In return, she earned $2,000 per episode, which helped her stay afloat amid the pandemic. If the series is re-screened on other channels, she will earn more.

"One the Woman" is currently attracting a lot of audiences, so many of her friends, colleagues, and famous stars, have texted to congratulate her.

Apart from acting, Huong has also worked as an interpreter and Vietnamese language teacher. But due to the pandemic, cultural exchange programs between Vietnam and South Korea have been quiet, so her income has been negatively affected.

Huong mostly works with embassies, courts, procurators, and the Vietnamese community in South Korea. She is one of seven Vietnamese who have a certificate in interpreting for courts in the country. Getting married to a South Korean man in 2012, Huong now has two children and South Korean citizenship.

"When I met H.O.T, they said they did not expect their music would change people’s life. I also did not think think my admiration for them could change my life and nurture my love for South Korea."

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