Kim Hye-ja (Korean김혜자; born October 25, 1941)[1] is a South Korean actress and humanitarian. Best known to South Korean audiences as the archetypal mother figure in popular television series such as Country Diaries, What Is Love?, My Mother's Sea, and Roses and Beansprouts, Kim drew international critical acclaim in the 2009 noir thriller Mother.[2] In 2019, she gained critical acclaim for her acting in The Light in Your Eyes.

Kim Hye-ja
Kim Hye-ja in Feb 2019.png
Kim in 2019
Born (1941-10-25) October 25, 1941 (age 81)
Occupation(s)Actress, humanitarian
Years active1963–present
Im Jong-chan
(m. 1961; died 1998)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationGim Hye-ja
McCune–ReischauerKim Hyecha

Early lifeEdit

Kim was born in 1941 in Gyeongseong, Gyeonggi Province in Japanese-occupied Korea (known as present-day Seoul, South Korea).

Kim was studying Living Art at Ewha Womans University when she dropped out of college to pursue a career in acting.


Kim made her acting debut in 1963, and went on to star in more than 90 television dramas, including I Sell Happiness (1978), Sand Castle (1988), Winter Mist (1989), What Is Love? (1991), My Mother's Sea (1993), You and I (1997), and Roses and Beansprouts (1999).[3] Country Diaries, in which she appeared for 22 years, is particularly notable for making Kim into a household name and cementing her image among South Korean audiences as an iconic, unconditionally loving and self-sacrificing mother.[4] Because of this wholesome onscreen persona, CJ CheilJedang hired her to endorse their products and appear in their advertisements for nearly 30 years, from 1975 to 2002.

Though she won Best Actress at the Manila International Film Festival in 1983 for Late Autumn and occasionally acted in stage plays and musicals, Kim was most active in television for four decades. She holds the record of having won the Daesang ("Grand Prize," or highest award) at the MBC Drama Awards the most times (3): in 1988, 1992, and 1999. Kim is the first and only person to have won the Daesang four times at the Baeksang Arts Awards: in 1979, 1989, 2009, and 2019.[5]

As Kim grew older, she expressed her disappointment in being relegated to supporting roles.[6] Then in 2008, screenwriter Kim Soo-hyun cast Kim in the leading role of a woman who declares a one-year break from her family after spending decades as a housewife looking after her three children, a husband and a widowed father-in-law in Mom's Dead Upset. Kim's character broke free from stereotypical South Korean TV mothers in her desire for independence, and initial misgivings that viewers would find her unsympathetic turned out to be unfounded, with the series recording a peak viewership rating of 42.7%.[7][8]

But 2009 marked another turning point in Kim's career, when she was cast in her first film a decade after Mayonnaise (1999).[9] Acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho had long been an enthusiastic admirer of Kim's, and he said he'd wanted to make a film centered around the veteran actress, then it occurred to him that being the national symbol of motherhood might be as much a burden for Kim as it was an honor.[10] So he decided to craft a role that would showcase Kim's talents and depict the duality of motherhood, then spent four years convincing her to take the role.[11] In Mother, Kim surprised Korean audiences with her intense performance as a middle-aged single mother who obsessively loves her mentally handicapped son and sets out to prove his innocence when he's accused of murder. Bong said he would have given up the project if Kim had not accepted his offer, "Without Kim Hye-ja, Mother wouldn't exist."[10] Kim returned the compliment, saying Bong helped her "reactivate all the cells that have been dormant in (her) body."[12] The film received critical acclaim from domestic audiences and international film festivals, and Kim won numerous acting awards. She was the first ever Korean actress to be named Best Actress by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.[13][14] [15]

From 2011 to 2012, Kim headlined Living Among the Rich, one of the inaugural programs of newly launched cable channel jTBC. It was Kim's first sitcom in her 48-year career, and it followed her character as she and her family move into a rundown building in the wealthy area of southern Seoul and struggle to keep pace with their well-off neighbors.[16]

She returned to the theater in 2013 to 2014 with Oscar, Letters to God, a Korean stage adaptation of the French novel Oscar and the Lady in Pink. In the one-woman show, Kim played 11 roles, including Oscar, a 10-year-old boy dying of leukemia, and the nurse (named Jang-mi or Granny Rose) that he confides in.[17][18]

In late 2014, she played a rich and fussy widow in How to Steal a Dog, based on the same-titled novel by Barbara O'Connor.[4]

Other activitiesEdit

Kim has been a goodwill ambassador for the nonprofit Christian relief organization World Vision Korea since 1991.[19] She has visited refugee camps in war-torn and poverty-stricken regions in more than 20 countries around the globe, including Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone,[20][21] and sponsors 103 children from underdeveloped countries.[22] In 2004, she wrote and published a book based on her experiences titled Don't Beat Someone, Even with Flowers, and donated all proceeds from its sales to underprivileged children in North Korea.[3]

In March 2023, Kim donated 100 million won to help 2023 Turkey–Syria earthquake, by donating money through World Vision.[23]



Year Title Role
1982 Late Autumn Hye-rim
1999 Mayonnaise Mom
2009 Mother Mother
2014 How to Steal a Dog Old lady
2017 The Way Soon-ae

Television seriesEdit

Year Title Role Network
1969 Frog Husband MBC
1971 Chief Inspector MBC
1975 Bride Diary MBC
1977 I Regret It MBC
1978 I Sell Happiness MBC
Even If the Wind Blows MBC
1979 Mom, I Like Dad MBC
1980 Country Diaries (until 2002) Chairman Kim's wife MBC
Gan-yang-rok MBC
Terminal MBC
1981 Let Us Love MBC
1982 Yesterday and Tomorrow MBC
1983 Infant MBC
1984 Missing MBC
1985 500 Years of Joseon: The Wind Orchid Queen Munjeong MBC
1986 First Love MBC
1988 Sand Castle Jang Hyun-joo MBC
1989 The 2nd Republic Kim Ok-sook MBC
Winter Mist Seo Myung-ae MBC
Your Toast Jin Sang-shim MBC
A Happy Woman MBC
1990 What Do Women Want? Jung-hee MBC
Still Forty-nine MBC
1991 What Is Love? Yeo Soon-ja MBC
1992 Two Women Oh Hye-jung MBC
1993 My Mother's Sea Young-hee MBC
1994 A Human Land Kim Shil-dan KBS2
1995 Woman Song Min-sook MBC
1996 Salted Mackerel Kim Gong-shim MBC
1997 Your Mother's Story MBC
You and I Kim Eun-soon MBC
1999 Roses and Beansprouts Lee Pil-nyeo MBC
2002 Since We Met Jo Nam-deuk MBC
2004 The Autumn of Major General Hong Heo Young-sook SBS
2005 Smile of Spring Day Park Nae-soon MBC
2006 Princess Hours Queen Dowager Park MBC
2008 Mom's Dead Upset Kim Han-ja KBS2
2011 Living Among the Rich Kim Hye-ja jTBC
2015 Unkind Ladies Kang Soon-ok KBS2
2016 Dear My Friends Jo Hee-ja tvN
2019 The Light in Your Eyes[24] Kim Hye-ja JTBC
2021 Country Diaries 2021 Chairman Kim's wife[25] MBC
2022 Our Blues Kang Ok-dong[26] tvN


Year Title Role
1987 Before the Rooster Crows Over Judah
1991 19 and 80 Maude
1997 King David
The Marriage of Figaro
Our Broadway Mama
2001 Shirley Valentine Shirley Valentine
2007 Doubt[27] Sister Aloysius
2013–2014 Oscar, Letters to God Oscar/Jang-mi/Parents/Peggy Blue etc.


Year Title Publisher ISBN
1994 Kim Hye-ja's Small Voice People ISBN 8985947028
2004 Don't Beat Someone, Even with Flowers Ancient Futures ISBN 8995501405
2011 Small World (Watching the World Unfold
Before Becoming an Adult)
Darim ISBN 9788961770514

Awards and nominationsEdit

Year presented, name of the award ceremony, award category, nominated work and the result of the nomination
Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1966 2nd Baeksang Arts Awards Best New Actress (TV) Won
1976 12th Baeksang Arts Awards Best Actress (TV) Bride Diary Won
1978 14th Baeksang Arts Awards You Won
1979 15th Baeksang Arts Awards Grand Prize (Daesang) for TV I Sell Happiness Won
Best Actress (TV) Won
1982 21st Grand Bell Awards Best Actress Late Autumn Nominated
1983 2nd Manila International Film Festival Won
1988 24th Dong-A Theatre Awards 19 and 80 Won
MBC Drama Awards Grand Prize (Daesang) Sand Castle Won
1989 16th Korea Broadcasting Awards Best Actress Winter Mist Won
25th Baeksang Arts Awards Grand Prize (Daesang) for TV Winter Mist,
Sand Castle
Best Actress (TV) Won
1992 MBC Drama Awards Grand Prize (Daesang) What Is Love? Won
1996 4th Korea Advertisers Association Consumer's Choice Good Model Award Won
1999 36th Grand Bell Awards Best Actress Mayonnaise Nominated
1st Social Welfare Day Presidential Commendation Won
MBC Drama Awards Grand Prize (Daesang) Roses and Beansprouts Won
1st Elizabeth Arden Visible Difference Awards Recipient Won
2002 MBC Hall of Fame Won
2003 14th Wiam Jang Ji-yeon Prize Won
2nd Star 선행 대상 Won
1st Feminist Award in Pop Culture and Arts Won
2008 KBS Drama Awards Grand Prize (Daesang) Mom's Dead Upset Won
Top Excellence Award, Actress Nominated
2009 45th Baeksang Arts Awards Grand Prize (Daesang) for TV Won
Best Actress (TV) Nominated
2nd Style Icon Awards Beautiful Sharing Award Won
18th Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival[28][29][30] Best Actress in a Foreign Film Mother Won
3rd Asia Pacific Screen Awards[31][32] Best Actress Won
30th Blue Dragon Film Awards Best Leading Actress Nominated
10th Busan Film Critics Awards[33] Best Actress Won
29th Korean Association of Film Critics Awards Won
18th Buil Film Awards Won
46th Grand Bell Awards Nominated
12th Director's Cut Awards[34] Won
10th Women in Film Korea Awards[35] Won
Cine 21 Awards Won
2010 Asian Film Critics Association Awards Won
1st KOFRA Film Awards[36] Won
7th Max Movie Awards[37][38] Won
IndieWire Critics Poll 5th place
Village Voice Film Poll 3rd place
Dublin Film Critics' Circle 5th place
4th Asian Film Awards[39] Best Actress Won
46th Baeksang Arts Awards Best Actress (Film) Nominated
36th Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[40][41][42][43] Best Actress Won
14th Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Nominated
World Vision International Special Award Won
2011 17th Chlotrudis Awards Best Actress Mother Won
1st Beautiful Artists Awards Recipient Won
30th Sejong Culture Award[44] Recipient, Social Volunteering category Won
2014 9th Golden Ticket Awards Best Actress in a Play Oscar, Letters to God Won
2015 24th Buil Film Awards Best Supporting Actress How to Steal a Dog Nominated
52nd Grand Bell Awards Nominated
KBS Drama Awards Top Excellence Award, Actress Unkind Ladies Nominated
Excellence Award, Actress in a Mid-length Drama Nominated
PD Award (chosen by PDs from KBS, SBS & MBC) Won
4th CARI K Drama Awards Best Supporting Actress Won
2016 tvN10 Awards Best Actress Dear My Friends Nominated
2019 55th Baeksang Arts Awards[45][46] Grand Prize (Daesang) for TV Dazzling Won
Best Actress (TV) Nominated
24th Asian Television Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Nominated


  1. ^ Profile on Daum 영화
  2. ^ "Kim Hye-ja". Korean Film Biz Zone. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
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  5. ^ She tied with Kim Young-ok in 1979.
  6. ^ Kim, Hyo-eun (18 April 2012). "In with the old, out with the new". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  7. ^ Chun, Su-jin (6 August 2008). "TV Review: Runaway moms swap drudgery for liberty". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  8. ^ "Mom's Dead Upset Ends with 40.6% Viewer Rating". KBS Global. 30 September 2008. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  9. ^ Chung, Ah-young (7 April 2008). "Actress Kim to Star in Bong's Film". The Korea Times. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  10. ^ a b Ki, Sun-min; Park, Sun-young (29 May 2009). "Director drew inspiration from a maternal muse". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  11. ^ Adams, Sam (9 March 2010). "Interview: Bong Joon-Ho". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  12. ^ Yang, Sung-jin (29 April 2009). "Director Bong back with mother-son tale". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
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  14. ^ Kang, Seok-ho (16 January 2011). "Korean Actress Kim Hye-ja Wins Best Actress from LAFCA". Arirang News. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  15. ^ "[단독인터뷰] 국민엄마 김혜자의 눈물 "미투라니?… 세상이 사람들이 괴물같다"". 2019-06-05.
  16. ^ Sung, So-young (1 December 2011). "TV enters new era with launch of four networks". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  17. ^ Kim, Min-hye (31 October 2013). "Kim Hye-ja: I Want to Share Preciousness of Life". Yonhap. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  18. ^ Lee, Ji-young (25 April 2014). "No answers for Kim Hye-ja". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  19. ^ Yim, Seung-hye (29 October 2011). "Actress Kim Hye-ja honored for charity work". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  20. ^ "Kim Hye-ja: Harnessing Fame to Help Children in Poor Countries". The Chosun Ilbo. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  21. ^ "Ethiopian Child Welfare Center Named for Kim Hye-ja". The Chosun Ilbo. 2 March 2010. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  22. ^ "Kim Hye-ja's Bangladeshi son enters graduate school in Korea". The Korea Herald. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  23. ^ Lee, Se-bin (March 9, 2023). "김혜자, 튀르키예·시리아 구호 성금 1억 원 기부" [Kim Hye-ja donates 100 million won to Turkey and Syria relief fund] (in Korean). Ilgan Sports. Retrieved March 13, 2023 – via Naver.
  24. ^ "[공식] 김혜자X한지민X남주혁X손호준 '눈이부시게' 확정..내년 상반기 방송". Sports Chosun (in Korean). November 7, 2018.
  25. ^ Yeon Hwi-seon (June 10, 2021). "전원일기'가 돌아온다...최불암→김혜자까지 '전원일기 2021' 출연 [공식]" [Country Diary is back... Choi Bul-am → Kim Hye-ja to appear in 'Rural Diary 2021' [Official]] (in Korean). OSEN. Retrieved June 10, 2021 – via Never.
  26. ^ Park Soo-in (November 19, 2021). "김혜자 고두심 '우리들의 블루스' 합류, 노희경 작가와 재회" [Kim Hye-ja and Ko Doo-shim join 'Our Blues' and reunite with writer Noh Hee-kyung] (in Korean). Newsen. Retrieved November 19, 2021 – via Naver.
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  34. ^ "Park Chan-wook Named Director of the Year". The Chosun Ilbo. 22 December 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  35. ^ Garcia, Cathy Rose A. (15 December 2009). "Park Chan-ok Named Female Director of Year". The Korea Times. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
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  38. ^ "Kim Hye-ja wins Max Movie best actress award". 10Asia. 10 February 2010. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  39. ^ Moon, Dan-bee (25 March 2010). "Mother named best movie at the Asian Film Awards". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  40. ^ Sperling, Nicole (13 December 2010). "The Social Network is anointed by L.A. Film Critics Assn". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
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  42. ^ Hong, Lucia (15 December 2010). "Kim Hye-ja named best actress by Los Angeles Film Critics Association". 10Asia. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  43. ^ "Kim Hye-ja Wins Best Actress Award from L.A. Film Critics". The Chosun Ilbo. 14 December 2010. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  44. ^ Kim, Yoon-mi (13 October 2011). "Geum receives Sejong Culture Award". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  45. ^ Yoo, Chung-hee (April 4, 2019). "김서형·염정아·김혜자 등 '백상예술대상' TV부문 최종 후보 공개". Ten Asia (in Korean). Naver. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  46. ^ "Veteran actress Kim Hye-ja wins grand prize at Baeksang Awards". The Korea Herald. May 2, 2019.

External linksEdit