Actor You Need to Know: Ji Chang-wook
With a string of hits under his belt, the 34-year-old keeps stealing the show, and hearts, with his screen intensity and powerful performances
South Korean heartthrob Ji Chang-wook is an incredibly fine actor and singer in the Korean entertainment industry, known to swoon fans across the globe. I mean, I could watch Healer (2014-2015) or The K2 (2016) several times, and possibly all his other works as well – good or bad – just for him. Ji is insanely hot, manly, stylish, daring and comical, but his personality is tempered with a genuine sensitivity that shines through when he romances on screen, and whether you like him or not, he rightfully remains one of the most swashbuckling Korean heroes of our time.
The first leg of Ji’s career comprised stints in the film Days (2006) and the television drama You Stole My Heart (2008) before officially debuting in the movie Sleeping Beauty (2008). His portrayal of a young man of 20 parenting his best friend’s daughter in My Too Perfect Sons (2009), the weekend family drama, was highly appreciated. Ji followed that up by securing a supporting role in Hero (2009), an action-comedy television series. Much before his illustrious TV and film careers began, he made it clear that he possessed the ability to impact audiences in ways that few others could.
Ji’s acting skills can be attributed to his career that practically began in musical theater. Acts like Fire and Ice, Thrill Me, The Days, Jack the Reaper and others honed his acting prowess in the process. His meteoric rise commenced in 2010 when he landed his first lead role in Smile Again. The plot revolves around Dong Hae (Ji), who goes to Korea with his mentally impaired mother after qualifying for a speed skating competition in the hopes of proposing to Sae Hwa (Park Jung-ah). But things go wrong when he finds himself torn between his love for his mother and his love for Park’s character. Ji’s remarkable performance as Dong Hae garnered him the Excellence Award for Actor in a Daily Drama.
Although the Hallyu superstar is lauded and loved as a romantic hero, he has a spectacular and diverse filmography to his name. Ji’s star soared even higher in the years that followed Smile Again. He got a New Star Award at the SBS Drama Awards for his rendition of the Joseon-era swordsman Baek Dong-soo in Warrior Baek Dong-soo (2011). That same year, Ji enacted the true account of Lee Young-seok, a young man who transforms a small vegetable business into a countrywide franchise with multiple outlets in Bachelor’s Vegetable Store. His versatility was further demonstrated in his first antagonistic appearance as a pianist resentful of his elder brother’s musicianship in the melodrama Five Fingers. By the end of 2012, the actor had established himself as a South Korean star following a spate of superhits spanning his acting range.
I believe Ji exploded into international prominence with his breakout act as Toghon Temur aka Ta Hwan, the 16th ruler of the Yuan Dynasty, in the epic saga Empress Ki (2013), with his starring role in the megahit Healer, an action thriller, further catalyzing his success. Next up, The K2 star appeared in Mandarin-language dramas such as The Whirlwind Girl 2 and Mr. Right.
The K2 marks one of Ji’s many outstanding action roles. Its narrative is about Kim Je-ha (Ji), a former mercenary soldier for a PMC (private military corporation) called Blackstone, who becomes a fugitive after being falsely accused of murdering his girlfriend in Iraq. According to sources, Ji undertook special training and executed the action stunts in the drama without the use of a body double. Besides being warmly received, the drama frequently led cable channel viewership ratings during its broadcast.
A top gun in Korean media by now, Ji continued spreading his wings through myriad other roles in First Seven Kisses (2016), Fabricated City, and Suspicious Partner (2017) before taking a break due to his mandatory military service. His comeback came two years later with the fantasy romantic comedy Melting Me Softly (2019), in which he played a television producer who wakes up 20 years into the future after an unsuccessful human-freezing experiment.
Ji appeared in another rom-com series, Backstreet Rookie (2020), alongside Kim Yoo-jung, and also in the romantic comedy web series Lovestruck in the City, opposite Kim Ji-won. He continues to rule hearts with his most famous smile and matinee-idol looks, and even with his sharp and seasoned villainy in the film Hard Hit (2021), Ji kept us glued to the screens.
In Netflix’s latest offering, The Sound of Magic or Annarasumanara, Ji starred as wizard Lee Eul – a character diametrically opposite to those essayed by the actor thus far. The Sound of Magic is a compelling musical fantasy and coming-of-age series that follows Yoon Ah-yi (Choi Sung-eun), a poor student who has lost her faith in magic. Impoverished Yoon wants to grow fast to end her miseries, while Lee, the magician, wants to remain a child. When Yoon meets Lee, her life progressively alters as she becomes his disciple, and he reinstates her belief in dreams.
To make his character more convincing, Ji learned magic for months. In an interview with Korea JoongAng Daily, he revealed, “Because I learned how to perform magic, it’s half and half for me on whether or not I believe in magic.” Additionally, Ji theorized, “I think the power of magic, in essence, is about how much you can purely enjoy and have fun watching it in the moment rather than believing in the phenomenon itself. From a performer’s point of view, I do sometimes think about what device the magician used to deceive the audience, but sometimes I’m also amazed by it too. That’s why it’s half and half.” In the drama, every time Lee is poised to perform magic, we witness him make a statement. He asks his audience with his trademark flair, “Do you believe in magic?” Well, I’m not sure about magic, but I do believe in the magic Ji creates whenever he is on screen.
The icon doesn’t need an introduction. People know him from his movies, dramas, and indelible stage performances. His career has cut across different genres without the star losing his charm in any of his endeavors, including his singing career. He has delivered singles for various drama OSTs like “Meet Again Meet Again” (Warrior Baek Dong-soo), “Fill-Up” (Five Fingers), “To the Butterfly” (Empress Ki), “I Will Protect You” (Healer), “101 Reasons Why I Like You” (Suspicious Partner), “When Love Passes By” (Melting Me Softly) and a string of beautiful songs from The Sound of Magic like “Magic in You” and “Don’t Make Me Dream” only to name a few.
Ji has also appeared in a host of notable music videos like “Are You Ready” by Lena Park feat. Dynamic Duo (2007), “We Broke Up Today” by Younha (2009), “I Have to Let You Go” by Young Gun (2010), “Cry Cry” (2011), “Lovey-Dovey” (2012) by T-ara, “I Need You” by K.Will, “That’s My Fault”, “It’s Over” by Speed and “Runaway” by Kara (2013). To know more about Ji Chang-wook’s upcoming projects, click here.