It’s a fact of life that all able-bodied South Korean men have to fulfill their mandatory military duties for their country. Top stars aren’t exempt from this, either. Due to a severe injury he suffered during his teenage years, Lee will be enlisting as a public service worker — rather than active duty — according to his A-MAN Project. As actor Lee Jong-Suk gets ready to begin his 22-month enrollment on Friday, March 8, let’s take a look at his life … and some of his most iconic work.
Life before acting: He was a top runway model. At the age of just 16, the 6-foot 1-inch Lee became the youngest male model to strut down the catwalk of 2005’s Seoul Fashion Week.
Idol: Not surprisingly, he was scouted by entertainment agencies and was a trainee with SM for a few months. But, singing and dancing weren’t his thing.
Boyfriend: A very young and curly-haired Lee appeared as an inattentive boyfriend in the music video for one of my favorite 2NE1 songs, “I Don’t Care.”
Lee is so charismatic that viewers willingly watched him in “7 First Kisses,” which was a ridiculously cheesy ad for Lotte Duty Free Shop that was disguised as a K-Drama. I hope he got paid a lot, because this web series was awful. (And yet, I watched the entire thing, because … Lee Jong-Suk.) This was an easy role for him: playing a charming star whose job it is to make women fall in love with him.
Lee made his acting debut with a small role in the 2005 film, “Sympathy.” But it wasn’t until 2010 that he began to really pursue acting. He landed roles in the film “Ghost,” as well as the K-Dramas “Prosecutor Princess” and “Secret Garden.” (In the latter, Lee played a pivotal role — that of a musical prodigy, who was also later revealed to be gay.) One of his most popular K-Dramas is “Doctor Stranger,” where he played a brilliant North Korean surgeon who flees to South Korea after the death of his father.
One of my all-time favorite Lee Jong-Suk dramas is “While You Were Sleeping.” I’m a sucker for dramas where the protagonists knew each other as children. I really enjoyed watching how this was revealed in this series. The concept of the drama was clever, too, with various characters dreaming about each other seemingly at random.
Director Jung Dae-Yoon described “W” as “story of a man and a woman who discover their reason for existence, while living in different dimensions in Seoul.” This is one of the most unique K-Dramas I’ve ever watched and Lee did an admirable job of portraying a man trapped inside another world, which was all too real for him and his loved ones. Supported by a stellar cast, including leading lady Han Hyo-Joo, Lee had viewers worried about how his character would survive. SPOILER ALERT: We learn that he was the creation of the female lead, who during her high school years dreamed up her ideal man and he turned out to be Lee Jong-Suk. Erm, I mean he turned out to be the character that Lee played.
In “Romance is a Bonus Book” — Lee’s final K-Drama prior to entering the military — he portrays an author/book editor, who finds himself falling in love with his noona crush (Lee Na-Young). The two have a long history together — she literally saved his life when they were children. The most poignant moment for me (thus far) was when she reveals her fears about changing the dynamics of their relationship. He is her person. If they date and then break up, they can’t go back to being just friends again … and she will lose her person. The series is set to air through March 17 on Korea’s cable network tvN.
Do you all remember Lee’s character in “Pinocchio”? Dal-Po had quite the head of unfortunate hair. Try to keep that image in mind when photos of Lee with his newly-shorn hair start appearing on your timeline. And don’t forget to re-watch “Pinocchio” right here on KOCOWA.
We wish Lee Jong-Suk a healthy 22 months of service. And for those who’re counting down the days until he is discharged, the magic date is January 2, 2021. Fighting!
Be sure to follow @GoAwayWithJae, where I tweet about all things Korean.