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Incredible Veteran Series: "National Grandma" Kim Young-ok

in K-Drama Insights

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, Jirisan (Cliffhanger) and Mouse — what do these super-hot 2021 Korean dramas have in common?

A grandmother! And not just any grandma, but the "National Grandma" — Kim Young-ok!

Born on 5 December, 1937, Kim Young-ok (김영옥 ) is one of the oldest actress in South Korea today (at 83 years of age in 2021).

Kim Young-ok recounting the story of her 14-year-old self during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.
60+ Years of Acting

She debuted as an movie actress at the age of 19 in the 1957 film "Farewell Sorrow!" (Gageola seulpeumiyeo/가거라 슬픔이여), where a young girl (Young-ok) got to know who her father was only after he accidentally struck her with his car in a twist of fate. Her first appearance in the Korean drama TV scene was in 1978 for the series I Sell Happiness.

Kim Young-ok would go on to kick off an illustrious, award-winning acting career which has spanned 63 years, across close to 130 TV dramas, 35 movies and numerous media awards.

In 1979, Kim Young-ok won the Daesang Award (Grand Prize for Television) at the 15th Baeksang Arts Awards for her role in the 1978 television drama "I Sell Happiness". In 2018, she won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 11th Korea Drama Awards. Other illustrious awards include the Top Excellence Award (Actress) at the KBS Drama Awards in 1993 and the Golden Acting Award for Actress in a Serial Drama at the MBC Drama Awards in 2009.

The "National Grandma"

Across her prolific acting career, the veteran actress is best known and remembered for her portrayals of grandmothers in TV dramas and movies, to the extent that she is regarded as South Korea's "National Grandma".

In one of the recent popular Korean drama Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, Kim Young-ok acted the role of Kim Gam-ri, a grandmother who lives by herself in the fictional fishing village of Gongjin.

Together with fellow grandmothers Lee Mat-yi (by Lee Yong-yi) and Park Sook-ja (Shin Shin-ae), they are a three-granny support group in the village, providing comforting presence, friendly banter and timely good food to fellow villagers throughout the series. Young-ok's character takes particular care of Chief Hong (acted by Kim Seon-ho), a young man who grew up in Gongjin as an orphan, and the portrayal of their close relationship adds a strong emotional dimension to the story.

Aside from Hometown Cha-cha-cha, you will also catch Kim Young-ok in other Korean drama shows released in 2021 — Squid Game (as mother of Seong Gi-hun), Young Lady and Gentleman (as mother of Cha Yeon-sil and Cha-gun), Jirisan/Cliffhanger (as grandmother of Yi-kang) and Mouse (as grandmother of Oh Bong-yi).


Despite her age, Kim Young-ok has been a very active actress, with roles in an average of 4-5 drama shows every year. Her incredible achievements and commitment to the arts have and will undoubtedly leave an indelible impression on Korean drama fans in the years to come.

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Kim Hae-sook — While Kim Young-ok is the "National Grandmother", you may also be interested in the "National Mother" as well! That would be another incredible veteran in the Korean film industry whom you may also want to check out Kim Hae-sook.Like Kim Young-ok, you would surely have seen Kim Hae-sook's appearance in at least a Korean drama show each year!

How many drama shows did Kim Hae-sook act together with Kim Young-ok in?
By our count, there are at least five drama shows, namely — Forget Tomorrow (1988), To Live (1993), Pearl Necklace (2003), Saving Mrs. Go Bong-Shil (2011) and Marriage Not Dating in 2014. In the K-drama Marriage Not Dating, Kim Young-ok played the role of Kim Hae-sook's mother — both the national mother and the national grandmother in the same show!