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Saturday, 12 July 2014

Koihime Musou Girls and Famous Koreans, Part XVI: Zhang Jiao and Jang Nara

Jang Na-ra (Hangul: 장나라, born March 18, 1981) is a South Korean singer and actress active in the South Korean and Chinese entertainment industries. She is known for her roles in New Nonstop, Successful Story of a Bright Girl, Bratty Princess, Baby Faced Beauty and School 2013. She is the member of Danyang Jang Clan (단양 장씨/丹陽張氏), a clan which is originated from Danyang County, Northern Chungcheong Province.

Jang spent most of her childhood in her birthplace, Seoul, South Korea. She appeared with her father, Ju Heo-Seong a.k.a Jang Bong-kyo who is also an actor, in a play Les Misérables, in her primary school days, thus sparking her interest to become an actress. Jang also went on to become an advertisement model for some television advertisements in her high school days before entering into the Department of Theater, the Faculty of Fine Arts major in Acting at Chung-Ang University in March 2000. She then graduated 10 years after on February 19, 2010. The delay is due to her continuous work since her debut after she entered the University.

Jang made her debut in the entertainment world as a singer on May 2, 2001. She started her singing career by signing a contract with SM Entertainment, however SM Entertainment dropped her due to assumptions that she would have lesser or no popularity than the other competing artists. Despite SM management's opinion, Jang released her debut album First Story with the title track "Burying My Face In Tears". Initially, it was not well received as it only reached number 12 in Korean music charts. After starring in the popular sitcom New Nonstop, she became more well known and released the other tracks in the album such as her pop ballad style song, Confession and the April Story, which all ranked at the top in various music charts. The album sold 300,000 copies in the process. Thus, this resulted in Jang holding an MC job at MBC's music show, Music Camp. Jang was also the MC of talk show Love Story. By the end of 2001, she received several New Female Artist awards from year-end gayo awards ceremonies and New MC awards from Entertainment Awards ceremonies.

In October 2002, Jang released her second album Jjang Nara Vol.2 Sweet Dream. The song Sweet Dream became immensely popular and reached number 1 in Korean music charts instantly. The album also became one of the top selling albums of that year in South Korea. Sweet Dream also became part of the soundtrack for her 2002 drama My Love Patzzi. As a result of the album's popularity, she won several awards including two Daesang awards or the Grand Prix from MBC Music Festival and KBS Music Awards. She also received the Korean Singer of the Year from CCTV-MTV Awards in 2003.

In December 2003, Jang released her third album aptly titled 3rd Story. The album was also popular and produced hit songs that went to number 1 but it did not surpassed nor equaled the success of her 2nd album. Jang released a Best Hits Album in 2004 consisting of songs from her 3 previous albums. She followed it up with her 4th album titled My Story released in December 2004 consisting hits such as I Love School and Winter Diary.

With her popularity in China, she also made a career in music overseas by releasing Chinese-language albums. Her first Chinese album was a huge success and it featured her previously released Korean songs translated into Chinese. The Chinese versions of Sweet Dream, It's Probably Love and I'm A Woman Too have become very popular on radio throughout Asia. She also performed in many concerts across China, often singing both Korean and Chinese songs. In 2006, she released her second Chinese album called Kung Fu. The video for the song featured her in red qipao (Chinese women's traditional dress), fighting villains, and dancing with a cute panda. During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Jang was the only singer from a non-Chinese-speaking country to appear in the 2008 Olympic song "Beijing Welcomes You".

She returned to KPOP in 2007 and released her 5th album entitled She. The next year, she released a multi-lingual album called Dream of Asia.Jang also sang soundtracks for movies Sky and Ocean and TV shows such as Dong Yi and Baby Faced Beauty. She also voiced characters in Korean animated films. In 2012, four years after releasing Dream of Asia, Jang returned and released the digital single I Only Think Of You.

Jang also has a successful acting career. Her first acting appearance is in the popular MBC TV sitcom New Nonstop. The sitcom is known to produce eventual top stars in Korea and Jang received her big break in the sitcom with her cute image. She appeared with other young stars such as Park Kyung-lim, Jo In-sung, and Yang Dong-geun.

In 2002, She landed her first leading role in a drama through SBS Successful Story of a Bright Girl 명랑소녀 성공기 pairing her with Jang Hyuk. The drama is well received and recorded high audience rating. She also won the Best New TV Actress Award for the drama at the 2003 Baeksang Arts Awards. The success of the drama and her hit song Sweet Dream launched her to stardom in South Korea that year. She immediately had another drama that same year playing Yang Song Yi in MBC My Love Patzzi 내 사랑 팥쥐.

In 2003, she had her first lead role in a movie with Oh! Happy Day 오! 해피데이. The movie fared below expectations at the box office. In 2004, she came back to the small screen and starred in the MBC weekend drama Love Is All Around 사랑을 할꺼야. And by the next year, she starred opposite Ryu Shi Won in the KBS romance drama called Wedding 웨딩.

In 2005, with the success of Successful Story of a Bright Girl in China, she made a bold move by moving to China to start her singing and acting career. Her first Chinese drama is Bratty Princess 刁蛮公主. Being the lead actress, she has attracted much affection from Chinese-speaking fans and has become popular in Chinese-speaking countries in Asia. The success of Bratty Princess catapulted her as a hallyu or Korean Wave star in China. She made several other dramas in China which includes Good Morning Shanghai-纯白之恋 / Chun Bai Zhi Lian, Iron Masked Singer-铁面歌女 / Tie Mian Ge Nu, and 刁蛮俏御医 / Diao Man Qiao Yu Yi.

In 2009, she came back to South Korea and filmed a movie called Sky and Ocean 하늘과 바다. She played Haneul, a gifted violinist with a mental age of 6 years old. The movie flopped in the Korean box office mainly because of controversies surrounding the movie even before it was released in theaters. However, she won the Best Actress for a Foreign Film Award at the 19th China Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Awards for the movie. The film festival is organized by China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and the China Film Association. The film also became the 1st Asian film to be invited and won the Media Award at the 8th Tirana International Film Festival in Albania.

In May 2011, Jang decided to end her 6-year-hiatus from starring in Korean dramas by taking the lead role as Lee Seo-young who is a 34 year old aspiring designer mistaken for being 25 in the KBS romantic-comedy Baby Faced Beauty 동안미녀. This drama marked her comeback in Korean drama and coincided with her 10th year anniversary since her debut. She later won the Excellence Award for an Actress in a mini-series at the 2011 KBS Drama Awards.

The following year, she went back to China and filmed her first Chinese movie Flying With You 一起飞 starring opposite Taiwanese singer and actor Jimmy Lin. She also starred in another Chinese movie that year with Jaycee Chan called Whoever 愛誰誰. That same year, she appeared together with her father in a Chinese drama entitled Race Course.

In December 2012, Jang reunited with her Baby Faced Beauty co-star Choi Daniel for KBS School 2013 학교 2013. She played Jung In-Jae, the passionate homeroom teacher of Class 2-2 at Seung Ri High School. While still filming for School 2013, she received her second consecutive Excellence Award for an Actress in a mini-series at the 2012 KBS Drama Awards.

After finishing School 2013 (학교 2013), Jang returned to China to film another drama called Red Palaquin. In July 2014, Jang is playing the lead role of Kim Mi Young in MBC Fated to Love You, the Korean adaptation of the 2008 hit Taiwanese drama of the same title. This project reunites her with Jang Hyuk 12 years after both starred in the highly rated drama Successful Story of a Bright Girl.

Jang does many charity work such as sending free powdered milk to the hungry North Korean children. She also works with the FHI Charity organization.

Recently, Jang held a fund-raising concert for child patients of leukemia in China. The Jang Foundation was established from the money raised during Jang's fan club meeting at her June 9 concert in Beijing, which was held to mark the 15th year of Korean-Chinese diplomatic relations. Twelve hundred seats at the concert venue sold out early. After the concert on stage, a leading Chinese charity organization appointed Jang as a goodwill ambassador, making her the first foreigner to receive such an honor.

In the aftermath of 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Jang donated 150,000 dollars to a charity organization in China and 8 billion won of clothing for the victims. In June 2010, Jang was appointed as an associate professor at the Beijing Huajia University (北京华嘉学院). A year later, Jang was appointed as Seoul’s Gangnam-gu’s ambassador to promote tourism in the area.