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Actor You Need to Know: Lee Dong-wook

His consistent achievements over two decades rank him among the finest Korean actors

Debashree Dutta May 24, 2022

Photo: Courtesy of tvN

With over 20 years of experience, Lee Dong-wook is a classic South Korean actor. He was last seen in Bad and Crazy as Su Yeol, a top police officer with questionable morals. He has also entertained us with some of his more recognizable roles, such as Kang Ji-woo in Scent of a Woman (2011), Wang Yeo in Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2016-2017), and Lee Yeon in Tale of the Nine-Tailed (2020). The debonaire actor, model, and entertainer has several non-fiction shows and sitcoms to his credit as well. Wook-Talk, aka Because I Want to Talk (2019) – his American-style talk show – along with the previous Strong Heart (2012-2013) and Produce X 101 (2019), are some of the popular Korean variety shows he has presented as an anchor.

Lee’s big win at a modeling contest changed his life forever. His performance at the show landed him roles in MBC‘s high-school dramas School 2 (1999) and School 3, propelling him into the spotlight. This overnight recognition graduated to stardom with the romantic comedy My Girl (2005). While his role as Seol Gong-chan (a wealthy hotel heir) established him as a celebrity in his home country, the television series’ global success solidified his image as a top Hallyu star. After this, his career took off, and he’s been in the business ever since, delivering hit after hit.

In 2008, Lee starred as Joon Soo in Bitter Sweet Life, a serious melodrama concerning the characters’ mental states. The themes of romance, adultery, mystery and noir in the story received rave reviews, as did the actor’s performance. Lee’s seamless on-screen rapport with his co-stars may be one of the most important factors that make him the star he is. He has acquitted himself admirably in his roles, whether in the courtroom drama Partner with Kim Hyun-joo or the melodramatic Scent of a Woman with Kim Sun-ah. His versatile acting leaves a lasting impression on people, and his roles in Wild Romance (2012), Hotel King (2012), and The Fugitive of Joseon (2013) are examples of this.

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Between 2014 and 2015, the Blade Man hero appeared in a number of projects, including dramas such as Bubble Gum (2015) and Korean reality initiatives such as Roommate, alongside a number of notable singers, actors, comedians, models, DJs, and martial artists. Lee’s exemplary performance as Wang Yeo, the Grim Reaper, signaled a rebirth in his acting career after the release of Guardian: The Lonely and Great God. The drama became a roaring success and was also the fifth highest-rated drama in Korean cable television history. Apart from acquiring significant traction, the drama with an inventive plot, amazing performances, and a superhit OST also spawned a plethora of fashion trends. The cast’s costumes and items, such as Gong Yoo’s Lanvin coat, Kim Go-eun’s Lancôme lipstick, and Lee’s fedora, saw a significant surge in sales. The Korea Times reviewed that, despite being a fantasy rom-com, “the twist and complexity of life and death make the story more interesting.”

Lee went on to star in Life (2018), a medical drama depicting a conflict of values and interests between an emergency medicine doctor (Lee) and the CEO of one of South Korea’s best hospitals. Thereafter, the actor shared screen space with Yoo In-na in Touch Your Heart (2019), and in the same year, he appeared in the psychological thriller Hell Is Other People, portraying Seo Moon-jo, a dentist at Eden Dormitory. Ironically, the doctor in the morning turned into a devil at night. Lee’s genial, gentle on-screen image with a trace of darkness was further explored in the fantasy drama Tale of the Nine-Tailed, in which he played a Gumiho (the fabled nine-tailed fox) who was once the guardian mountain spirit of Baekdudaegan.

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As mentioned earlier, the actor’s sustained achievements over a period of two decades qualify him as one among the elite Korean actors, and his accomplishments continue with shows such as A Year-End Medley and Bad and Crazy (2021). He is also confirmed to act in the rom-com film Single in Seoul, with Im Soo-jung. The plot revolves around Park Yeong-ho (Lee), a single instructor and influencer, and Joo Hyeon-jin (Im), the editor-in-chief of a publishing house. In addition, the 40-year-old will reprise his role as Lee Yeon in Tale of the Nine-Tailed 1938, the sequel to Tale of the Nine-Tailed. As per sources, the drama will premiere next year.

The multitalented Lee Dong-wook as an actor is marvelous. His dapper looks and suave personality also contribute to the picture-perfect model that he is. But the thing that I love about him the most is his ability to sing. You really should check out his incredible vocals as he sings like a pro in Sea of Hope, the Korean variety show. Lee is a phenomenal entertainer and will forever remain one of my favorites.