[Actor Spotlight] So Ji-sub
It’s time for the spotlight to fall on So Ji-sub, whose latest drama My Secret Terrius just finished a successful run on MBC. Born in 1977 in Seoul, South Korea, So Ji-sub was a hip-hop loving teenager who got into modeling to make some easy money. Modeling led to acting, and though it took him a while to get his big break, the 2004 dramas Something Happened in Bali and I’m Sorry, I Love you put him on the map for keeps. Just like the path from K-pop idol to actor, the path from model to actor was not as common as it is today, and So Ji-sub was one of the pioneers who made this transition successfully.
So Ji-sub has been in the acting game for a long time, but dramaland never seems to tire of him. Likewise, his roles never feel worn out or overplayed. He’s been a bit typecast as a hero with baggage that’s gruff and cold at first glance, but actually “tofu hearted” and wonderful. I like to think that it’s not typecasting as much as it is just the So Ji-sub-ness coming out in each role. He’s a great actor, and he always brings the same quality to his roles. So Ji-sub doesn’t disappear into his characters so much as he plays them as if he’s trying them on — perhaps his early modeling career had more of an impact on his approach to acting and storytelling than we realize.
Here’s some great roles from So Ji-sub, followed by his full filmography.
I’m Sorry, I Love You (2004)
I’m Sorry, I Love You is a doozy of a classic K-drama. It put So Ji-sub and his co-star Im Soo-jung on the map as a leads, and has all the hallmarks and archetypes that we have come to love (or love-hate): birth secrets, terminal illness, unrequited love, stress fevers, piggybacks, returning ex-girlfriends, and more. So Ji-sub played an Korea-born, overseas adoptee who returned to Korea to find his birth mother. His anger and abandonment led him to exact revenge on her by basically trying to tear up the life of her other son (played by Jung Kyung-ho). As revenge plots often do, it fell prey to bigger things like love and forgiveness, but left a truckload of drama in its wake. So Ji-sub was great in this role — it’s easy to see why it garnered him a ton of attention. He showed his range as he portrayed the many sides to his character: the apathetic gum-chewing street thug who can’t handle his own emotions, the abandoned puppy who just wants to be acknowledged by his mother, and the head-over-heels lover who craves comfort but can’t bear to share his burdens with anyone. Please note that I’m Sorry, I Love you is best enjoyed over a box of tissues.
Only You (2011)
2011’s Only You (often promoted as Always) was about a blind woman (played by Han Hyo-joo) and the ex-fighter/security attendant (played by So Ji-sub) that she falls in love with. It sounds like the plot of a nice juicy K-drama, but it’s actually a film, and because it is, the story is told much differently than we’d expect from a drama. It’s no secret I prefer dramas to films — I find their execution and methods of storytelling much more fun, and the time commitment (while terrifying if you add up all of your Drama Time) is part of the fun of being engrossed in the fictional world. That being said, Only You is a well-executed romance film that’s a bit more realistic and stark than your typical K-drama, but still has some of those drama elements we love. The film moved swiftly telling the story of their romance, and So Ji-sub was in true form as the rough-around-the-edges hero who’s struggling through life, but put those he loved before his own well-being. The film also has a nice message about the blindness of love, both literal and figurative.
Master’s Sun (2013)
So Ji-sub starred with Gong Hyo-jin in this Hong Sisters smash hit. While I wasn’t crazy about the episodic nature of this drama, nor the whole ghost element overall, it had enough fun to keep me watching. The leads were also fabulous together, which is half of the reason the drama was such a success. Without their chemistry, the whole concept of a terrified ghost-seeing heroine who becomes safe only when she makes physical contact with So Ji-sub’s character wouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Master’s Sun used So Ji-sub’s screen presence to the max — not only was he a master (pun intended) at giving off these cold, regal chaebol vibes, but he had the warmth and presence to back the whole skinship concept. Because who wouldn’t want to have all their fears and troubles disappear in a nice So Ji-sub hug?
Oh My Venus (2015)
Oh My Venus might not have been the strongest drama plot-wise, but it was So Ji-sub playing the role that suits him best: gruff tofu-hearted hero bearing silent pain (a.k.a. “stoic marshmallow”). Typecast? Maybe, but I will never get tired of him playing these roles. In Oh My Venus he played the trainer and fighter to Shin Min-ah‘s chubby attorney. He had secrets and injuries in his past that threatened to drive them apart, but one of the things this drama did well was depicting two adults in a mature relationship. Go, show! However, Oh My Venus did raise some eyebrows as the premise was that Shin Min-ah’s character needed to lose weight to gain back the respect that her chubbiness had lost her in the eyes of society. That being said, the drama tried hard to be about health and healthiness, not about maintaining a certain number on the scale. (I appreciate when dramas try to address body image issues, but the message often gets a little muddy and self-contradictory — My ID is Gangnam Beauty also faced this problem.) Body image and social issues aside, you can’t talk about this drama without mentioning the humor and color that the supporting cast added. So Ji-sub’s character lived with the MMA fighter he was training (the ever-handsome Sung Hoon — this was my favorite role for him to date) and Henry, who played his manager. The three of them were an absolute blast together. They collectively took Shin Min-ah’s character under their wing, and the drama is worth watching just to see them all interacting, whether they’re circuit training or making sure to eat their veggies.
So Ji-sub’s full filmography:
- Three Guys and Three Girls (1996-1999) [Drama]
- Model (1997) [Drama]
- What You Cherish Can Never Be Forgotten (1998) [Drama]
- Love Story (2000) [Drama]
- Have You Ever Said ‘I Love You’? (2000) [Drama]
- Wang Rung’s Land (2000) [Drama]
- Joa, Joa (2000) [Drama]
- Cheers for the Women (2000) [Drama]
- Long Way (2001) [Drama]
- Delicious Proposal (2001) [Drama]
- Law Firm (2001) [Drama]
- We Are Dating Now (2002) [Drama]
- Can’t Live Without Robbery (2002) [Film]
- Glass Slippers (2002) [Drama]
- Thousands Years of Love (2003) [Drama]
- What Happened In Bali (2004) [Drama]
- I’m Sorry, I Love You (2004) [Drama]
- U-Turn (2008) [Drama]
- Kitaro and the Millennium Curse (2008) [Film]
- Rough Cut (2008) [Film]
- Cain and Abel (2009) [Drama]
- Sophie’s Revenge (2009) [Film]
- I am GHOST (2009) [Mobile Drama]
- Road No. 1 (2010) [Drama]
- Only You (2011) [Film]
- A Company Man (2012) [Film]
- Phantom (2012) [Drama]
- Master’s Sun (2013) [Drama]
- A Good Day (2015) [Web Drama]
- Warm and Cozy (2015) [Drama/Cameo]
- The Throne (2015) [Film/Cameo]
- Oh My Venus (2015) [Drama]
- The Battleship Island (2017) [Film]
- Be With You (2018) [Film]
- My Secret Terrius (2018) [Drama]
Korea’s first youth sitcom that ran for almost three years. You’ll see the baby-faced versions of a lot of familiar faces.
Both So Ji-sub and Jang Hyuk started their careers with side roles in this drama about revenge and the fashion industry (why not!).
One-episode MBC Best Theatre drama (Episode #316) with the amazing Jeon Do-yeon.
Eight episodes, eight different love stories. So Ji-sub is in Episode 6 “Miss Hip-Hop and Mr. Rock” with Bae Doo-na.
Another one-episode drama from MBC Best Theatre (Episode 398, to be exact).
So Ji-sub has a supporting role (with Jang Hyuk again, hah) in this weekend drama.
So Ji-sub stars with Kim Sun-ah, and I like the sound of that.
A drama about a woman who’s dumped and then finds herself. Chae Shi-ra, Chae Rim and more.
So Ji-sub is the boyfriend that abandons Park Jin-hee who then starts a contract relationship with Lee Byung-hun to save face. Is that a fair trade?
So Ji-sub gets a second lead role in this Sohn Ye-jin romcom about rival Chinese restaurants.
So Ji-sub stars with bestie Song Seung-heon in this early drama. I assume it’s about a law firm but in every single still So Ji-sub is wearing a bandana do-rag. Because he can.
So Ji-sub stars with Chae Rim and Kwon Sang-woo in this drama about neighborhood romances.
So Ji-sub stars in this klepto comedy, and makes his first movie. Eek!
40-episode early Hallyu saga about two orphaned sisters, played by Kim Hyun-joo and Kim Ji-ho.
An early sageuk-fusion drama with parallel Shilla Dynasty and present-day Seoul storylines.
So Ji-sub, Jo In-sung and Ha Ji-won star in this classic and career-making melodrama. My gut tells me there is some serious second lead syndrome involved here.
Classic melodrama with Im Soo-jung that put them both on the map (see above).
So Ji-sub returned from his military duties and then starred in this OCN 4-episode drama short with Lee Yeon-hee.
This one is a big change of pace for So Ji-sub — it’s a Japanese live-action anime film and it looks… kind of like you might imagine, but don’t try, please.
Action movie filled with self-reference and meta that starred Kang Ji-hwan and So Ji-sub. The film was huge for So Ji-sub and won him a lot of critical acclaim.
So Ji-sub and Shin Hyun-joon star in this drama about a sibling rivalry of Biblical proportions.
So stars opposite Chinese star Zhang Ziyi in this Chinese/Korean production. So Ji-sub said he wanted to do something light after all his heavy roles. All that crying and suffering wears one out.
So Ji-sub plays a ghost in this Japanese mobile drama with Mitsuki Tanimura and Rina Aizawa.
Korean war + love triangle in this drama starring So Ji-sub, Kim Ha-neul and Yoon Kye-sang. Love the sound of that cast.
Ex-boxer with a dangerous past, and the blind woman he falls in love with (see above).
So Ji-sub is a hitman who finds himself the target of a hit in this action film with Lee Mi-young.
So Ji-sub teams up with Lee Yeon-hee again in this police procedural about cyber crime, identity switches, and more.
Smash hit about a haunted heroine and the chaebol heir that makes her safe — viz., skinship with a purpose (see above).
Web drama produced by Line TV starring So Ji-sub and Kim Ji-won that apparently was not available outside of Thailand (and perhaps still isn’t?). The idea of them as a couple doesn’t fit in my head; I’d have to see it to believe it.
So Ji-sub cameos in Episode 1 of this Hong Sisters drama, after starring in their previous hit Master’s Sun.
So Ji-sub cameos in this Yoo Ah-in period film about Crown Prince Sado.
A trainer with a secret past tries to help Shin Min-ah shed some extra pounds (see above).
So Ji-sub and Song Joong-ki star in this blockbuster about an attempted escape from a forced labor camp during the Japanese occupation of Korea.
So Ji-sub stars in this Japanese romance/melodrama film opposite Sohn Ye-jin, which reunited them on the screen 16 years after their 2001 drama. Cheers for career longevity!
So Ji-sub’s latest project just finished airing — he plays a spy, but the drama is more sweet/silly than spy/thriller.
Special Bonus: So Ji-sub’s love of hip-hop has remained strong and throughout his career he’s released some singles himself. Yes, the world needs So Ji-sub rapping about his life and how being an actor has clouded his perception of who he truly is versus who he has pretended to be.
- [Actor Spotlight] Park Shin-hye
- Suffering and sacrifice with So Ji-sub in I’m Sorry, I Love You
- My Secret Terrius: Episodes 1-2
- Song Joong-ki, Hwang Jung-min, So Ji-sub escape Battleship Island
- Hwang Jung-min, So Ji-sub, Song Joong-ki team up for prison break
- Oh Snap! Why, So Ji-sub, whyyyyy?
- Oh My Venus: Episode 1
- Master’s Sun: Episode 1