[Actor Spotlight] Lee Dong-wook
It’s Lee Dong-wook’s turn in the spotlight, just in time for his leading role in tvN’s new rom-com, Reach of Sincerity, which is just a few weeks into its run.
Born in 1981 in Seoul, South Korea, Lee Dong-wook debuted in an MBC drama special. That appearance started a chain reaction, and he was subsequently cast in School 2, and then School 3 (the early run of the series that would later continue as School 2013, 2015, and 2017). With some solid credits under his belt, Lee Dong-wook worked heavily in primetime and weekend dramas, finally winning his way into much-deserved leading man status.
Lee’s been steadily acting for the past twenty years and his career has been punctuated with some really big hits, like the now-classic Hong sisters rom-com My Girl, Scent of a Woman, and the 2016 smash hit The Lonely Shining Goblin. Here’s looking forward to many more great dramas in the future!
And now it’s time for some Lee Dong-wook drama highlights, followed by his full filmography.
My Girl (2005)
My Girl was one of the first K-dramas that I watched, so it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s also a huge early Hallyu hit that, in my opinion, struck all the right notes in what is now a pretty perfected (though some might say cookie cutter) genre. Lee Da-hae played the scrappy down-on-her-luck heroine, and Lee Dong-wook was the chaebol she got entangled with. But it wouldn’t be a quintessential K-drama without the second leads to exemplify the token smitten bad boy (played by Lee Jun-ki, with an epic wardrobe) and the ex-girlfriend (played by Park Shi-yeon) who’ll do anything to get back the man she “loves.” It might feel a little cliche to watch it now, but back in 2005 this was a fresh and genre-making drama. I still can’t forget the scene where Lee Da-hae falls headlong in the bathroom as she’s about to take a bath, and Lee Dong-wook rushes in to save her, armed with a huge fluffy quilt to make sure her modesty is maintained. Hilarious! These two were great together— it’s no wonder fan interest was so high when they reunited in Hotel King almost ten years later (disclaimer: it couldn’t touch My Girl).
Scent of a Woman (2011)
Don’t let this photo (or the awful title) fool you — this drama isn’t a walk in the rom-com park. Kim Sun-ah starred as the “spinster” heroine who rediscovers herself when she’s diagnosed with a terminal illness. It’s not the happiest of plots, but the story is actually quite a good one, balancing the sweet and the bittersweet. There’s something cathartic about seeing a heroine quit her crappy job, come into her own, live out her bucket list, oh, and fall in love with the swoony Lee Dong-wook somewhere in the process. Their chemistry, and especially the famous tango scenes from this drama, is strong enough to burn through your TV and/or computer screen. While a terminal illness plot line is usually enough to make me tune out, this is one of the few dramas that held me and told a story worth watching.
Reach of Sincerity (2019)
This photo says it all. Reach of Sincerity has received loads of attention as it reunites Lee Dong-wook with Yoo Inna, his previous costar and love interest from the phenomenally successful Goblin. Lee Dong-wook portrays a competent lawyer who seems a bit buttoned-up and aloof (and clearly, has no patience for his new “Hallyu goddess” secretary) — but we know better. It’s fun to watch a drama and predict how the personalities of the two completely opposing leads will affect the other, and all the chaos, hijinks, and swooning (I hope!) that will ensue. I will say, at the point of writing this, there haven’t been any clues as to why Lee Dong-wook’s character keeps calling Yoo Inna’s heroine by her real name rather than her professional name Yoon-seo. Maybe it’s a hint that he sees under the real person under the glam celeb trappings?
Lee Dong-wook’s full filmography:
- There’s a World Off the Beaten Path (1999) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook made his acting debut in this one-episode MBC drama special.
- School 2 (1999) [Drama]
Next, Lee Dong-wook landed a role in the second “season” of the School series, thanks to the strength of his debut performance. He appears in about ten episodes — enough to win him a role in the next rendition.
- School 3 (2000) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook reprised his role in the next season of the School series, before it took a long break prior to returning as School 2013. Fun fact, the show didn’t have a wardrobe coordinator so Lee Dong-wook wore his own clothes and purchased outfits at Dongdaemun for the show. For this wonderful series’ next incarnation, can I request of the drama gods that Lee Dong-wook has a nice leading role? Pretty please?
- Secret (2000) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook has a side role in this drama starring Kim Haneul and Ha Ji-won.
- The Family with Dreams (2001) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook has a lead role as the rebellious younger son in this one-episode KBS drama special about a family and their dreams for the future.
- Four Sisters (2001) [Drama]
Small role in the first episode of this drama about four sisters starring Chae Rim, Hwang Soo-jung, and more.
- Snail (2001) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook played a college student in this SBS sitcom alongside Kim Hyo-jin and several well-known Korean comedians.
- The Fish at the End of the Sea (2001) [Drama]
Another one-episode drama special! Lee Dong-wook had a leading role as a thug and barfly who nursed an unrequited love. This drama special was one of writer Kim Sun-ok’s (An Empress’s Dignity) earliest works.
- Pure Heart (2001) [Drama]
Lee had a supporting role in this early Lee Yo-won and Ryu Jin drama as a gangster named Jang Ho-gu. During filming, he adopted a puppy and named it Ho-gu after his character.
- Tag (2001) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook played a detective who set out to capture his partner’s conman little brother in this KBS one-episode drama special.
- The Unstoppables (2001) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook appeared in a later episode in this long-running sitcom about a fireman and his family.
- Love Is Like This (2001) [Drama]
A KBS inter-generational daily drama about a middle-aged couple who fall in love. Lee Dong-wook had a supporting role as a college student and pro gamer who dreamt of becoming a film director.
- I Like It! (2002) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook was a tough guy from the wrong side of the tracks in this SBS sitcom.
- Happier Than Heaven (2002) [Drama]
A one-episode drama special for KBS, Lee Dong-wook played a man who was so in love with his girlfriend that he decides to remain on earth as her guardian angel. Written by Lee Kyung-hee (Uncontrollably Fond).
- Let’s Go (2002) [Drama]
Yet another tough guy role for Lee Dong-wook in this SBS sitcom.
- Loving You (2002) [Drama]
Jeju Island-based love story starring Eugene and Park Yong-ha (my heart), with Lee Dong-wook supporting.
- Honest Living (2002) [Drama + Cameo]
Lee Dong-wook appeared in a good chunk of episodes of this long-running sitcom, and then later had a guest appearance.
- Land of Wine (2003) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook has a supporting role in this drama starring Kim Jae-won and Kim Min-jung. Lee Dong-wook won the New Star Award for his role.
- Merry Go Round (2003) [Drama]
Also known as Wooden Horse Carousel, this family drama stars Soo-ae and Jang Seo-hee as sisters growing from children into adults (possibly in a “stop the ride I want to get off” kind of way). Lee Dong-wook and Kim Nam-jin also star.
- Island Village Teacher (2004) [Drama]
Han Ji-hye, Kim Min-jong, and Lee Dong-wook star in this love triangle story about a murder witness who hides out (or tries to) on an island.
- Letters to my Parents (2004) [Drama]
Successful weekend family drama with Kim Hee-ae, Jeo Joon-ho, Lee Dong-wook, Yoo Seung-ho, and more.
- Hanoi Bride (2005) [Drama]
Two-episode drama special with Lee Dong-wook as a doctor working in Hanoi, and Kim Ok-bin as the Vietnamese girl he loves.
- My Girl (2005) [Drama]
Nothing says chaebol drama hero like getting conned into buying the tangerines that the wacky heroine just stole from your personal orchard (see above).
- Arang (2006) [Film]
Song Yoon-ah and Lee Dong-wook play detectives in this horror film. Such a great cast but… shudder!
- The Best Romance (2007) [Film]
Lee Dong-wook and Hyun Young star as bickering detective and journalist. Lee’s hairdo is such a crime here. Maybe the duo is chasing after his barber, to bring him to justice?
- Heartbreak Library (2008) [Film]
Eugene plays a librarian, and Lee Dong-wook is a defiler of books in this romance drama adapted from a short story.
- Bittersweet Life (2008) [Drama]
Noir melodrama starring Lee Dong-wook, Oh Yeon-soo, Park Shi-yeon, and the expected amount of love, murder, revenge, lies, mystery, and other entanglements. Also known as La Dolce Vita.
- Partner (2009) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook and Kim Hyun-joo butt heads as attorneys in this legal drama.
- The Recipe (2010) [Film]
Also called Doenjang, this movie starring Ryu Seung-ryong, Lee Yo-won, and Lee Dong-wook is about a killer doenjang jjigae recipe. Not literally, of course. I think.
- Scent of a Woman (2011) [Drama]
If you need a drama to make you fall in love with Lee Dong-wook, look no further (see above).
- Wild Romance (2012) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook and Lee Shi-young (love this pairing, but missed this drama) star in this rom-com as baseball player and bodyguard.
- The Fugitive of Joseon (2013) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook and Song Ji-hyo star as Joseon physician and nurse, respectively, and get entangled in an assassination attempt.
- The Story of Kang-gu (2014) [Drama]
Lovely, somewhat somber two-episode drama that was beautifully shot and with a lovely twist. I would watch this again.
- Hotel King (2014) [Drama]
This drama famously reunited Lee Dong-wook with his My Girl co-star, Lee Da-hae. I only made it half through, and all I remember is wing tattoos and Bear Bricks, but I guess that’s okay?
- The Beauty Inside (2015) [Film/Cameo]
Lee Dong-wook (among many others) plays one of the many incarnations of this movie’s hero.
- Blade Man (2015) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook and Shin Se-kyung star in this drama about a hero whose pain and anguish manifest as knife blades shooting out of him. Like Wolverine, only way worse — and less believable.
- Bubble Gum (2015) [Drama]
Another Lee Dong-wook drama I wanted to watch since I loved the thought of him with Jung Ryeo-won, but his mother’s illness was just too much for my heart to take. “Bubblegum” makes you think cute and quirky, but this drama (at least the first several episodes) was the opposite.
- The Lonely Shining Goblin (2016) [Drama]
So, there’s this great drama called Goblin starring Gong Yoo as the Goblin and Lee Dong-wook as the Grim Reaper — have you heard of it?
- Life (2018) [Drama]
Lee Dong-wook stars in this medical drama that I totally missed, since I usually look over medical dramas. But lo and behold, Won Jin-ah from Just Between Lovers is here, too — I just might have to change my mind.
- Reach of Sincerity (2019) [Drama]
Apparently, Lee Dong-wook doesn’t much like drunk women who fall into/onto garbage cans (see above).
- Reach of Sincerity: Episode 1
- Lee Dong-wook and Yoo Inna take the bickering to court in tvN’s Reach of Sincerity
- Life: Episodes 1-2
- A battle of principles in JTBC’s medical drama Life
- The Lonely Shining Goblin: Episode 1
- Bubblegum: Episode 1
- Iron Man: Episode 1
- Highlights and promos from MBC’s Hotel King