[Actor Spotlight] Lee Jong-seok
This week our spotlight article features Lee Jong-seok, whose new drama Romance Is a Bonus Book just started its run on tvN. Born in 1989 in Suwon, South Korea, Lee Jong-seok started his career as a runway model. He debuted in 2005 and set a record as the youngest model to participate in Seoul Fashion Week (he was around 15 at the time!). Like many popular actors today, Lee Jong-seok transitioned from modeling to acting, and he is arguably one of the most successful examples of a model-actor from his generation of actors.
Lee Jong-seok’s acting debut came in 2010 with a supporting role in Prosecutor Princess. Each of his subsequent roles brought him more attention, with School 2013 generally being recognized as the drama that made him a household name. Whether it’s excellent management, a sixth sense for choosing scripts, or just because the camera loves him, Lee Jong-seok brings a little magic to each of his dramas. He will be missed while he’s serving in the military — but at least we have a lovely drama to enjoy before he’s off!
Here are some favorite dramaland moments from Lee Jong-seok, followed by his full filmography.
I Hear Your Voice (2013)
This drama is one of those Top Ten dramas that I think most everyone enjoyed, if not flat-out adored. Lee Jong-seok played the young hero who found himself able to hear other people’s thoughts after a tragic event in his past. As often occurs in dramaland, the past and the present collide, and when Lee Jong-seok re-met the girl (played by Lee Bo-young) who helped him in the past, she had become a jaded lawyer — nothing like the girl he remembered from his childhood. I Hear Your Voice was successful for a lot of reasons, but one was because it was able to bring so many elements from different genres together in a way that was compelling, fun, and fresh. It was part revenge melo, part courtroom drama, part thriller, part noona romance — and suffice it to say it holds a special place in drama history.
W – Two Worlds (2016)
I know everyone is a little burnt on Song Jae-jung penned dramas right now, but we can’t talk about Lee Jong-seok without featuring W. Erase the last 15 minutes and you have so much fantastic, inventive, and fourth-wall-breaking storytelling going on! Lee Jong-seok starred as the beloved manhwa character, and Han Hyo-joo starred opposite him as the daughter of the manhwa artist who created Lee Jong-seok’s character. When Han Hyo-joo’s character found herself suddenly transported to the fictional manhwa world, chaos ensued. Realities overlapped, rules of the space/time dimension were broken, and I’m not really sure how it all made sense, but the concept and the acting and the characters were so strong that it didn’t much matter. For me, this drama is a testament to the fact that vivid, relatable, and authentic characters have the power to pull the audience along for any crazy kind of ride.
Romance Is a Bonus Book (2019)
Lee Jong-seok is back right before his mandatory military service with a delightful little rom-com that also stars Lee Na-young in her return to dramaland after many years. With Lee Jong-seok in the lead, a noona down on her luck, and the backdrop of the copywriting, publishing, and editorial world, I was already sold on this drama before it even premiered. At the time of writing this I’ve just watched the premiere episode hot off the presses and: rejoice! Contrary to what I expected, the lead couple already knows each other from the first moment the drama starts. This means no secret childhood connections to uncover. It also means that the drama gets to do all sorts of fun things with their already existing relationship which is not only so much more interesting, but already happening, even in the first episode. Onward!
Lee Jong-seok’s full filmography:
- Prosecutor Princess (2010) [Drama]
I forgot Lee Jong-seok had a side role in this! Kim So-yeon plays the beyond spoiled and ditzy prosecutor opposite Park Shi-hoo. I didn’t get very far into this drama, but Kim So-yeon was great in a Legally Blonde kind of way.
- Secret Garden (2010) [Drama]
I forgot Lee Jong-seok had a side role in this, part two! Huge bodyswap rom-com hit for Ha Ji-won and Hyun Bin that’s quickly become a classic.
- Ghost (2010) [Film]
Lee Jong-seok made his film debut in this thriller/horror omnibus film.
- High Kick 3 (2011) [Drama]
Lee Jong-seok has a supporting role in this popular sitcom series. The subtitle for this season was Revenge of the Short Legged, which pretty much says it all.
- My Prettiest Moments (2012) [Drama]
One-episode drama special involving Lee Jong-seok falling in love with the terminally ill Jeon Ye-seo. I can’t. Too sad.
- As One (2012) [Film]
Ha Ji-won and Bae Doo-na star in this movie about Korea’s first unified sports team in a 1991 championship.
- R2B: Return to Base (2012) [Film]
Aviation + action film loosely based off Top Gun starring Rain, Shin Se-kyung, Lee Hana, and Lee Jong-seok in a supporting role.
- School 2013 (2012) [Drama]
The drama that put both Lee Jong-seok and Kim Woo-bin on the acting map. I love the School series but as painful as it is to admit, haven’t seen this one yet. But I can appreciate it from afar, right?
- The Face Reader (2013) [Film]
Tale of a famous Joseon-era face reader and his son, rife with court rivalries, politics, and power struggles.
- No Breathing (2013) [Film]
A sports film about two young swimming prodigies — one Seo In-gook, the other Lee Jong-seok. The clashing, the competing, the bonding! If only I liked swimming.
- I Hear Your Voice (2013) [Drama]
Lee Jong-seok can hear your voice, and Lee Bo-young will prosecute you (see above).
- Potato Star 2013QR3 (2013) [Drama/Cameo]
Lee Jong-seok cameos in this quirky pseudo-apocalyptic drama starring Ha Yeon-soo and Yeo Jin-goo about a mysterious asteroid crashing on Earth. Like many K-dramas, it’s much better than it sounds.
- Doctor Stranger (2014) [Drama]
Lee Jong-seok, Kang So-ra, Jin Se-yeon, and Park Hae-jin star in this medical drama with complicated backstory that was a bit of a disaster. Just a bit.
- Hot Young Bloods (2014) [Film]
Tale of high school love and rivalry starring an iljin Park Bo-young as the girl with a secret crush on Lee Jong-seok, the school Casanova.
- Pinocchio (2014) [Drama]
Lee Jong-seok brings his magic wherever he goes, and just lights up dramas. It doesn’t matter who else stars in it, it will always be a Lee Jong-seok drama. In Pinocchio, Lee Jong-seok stars with Park Shin-hye as pseudo-family and rookie reporters chasing down the truth behind their convoluted (and connected) pasts.
- W — Two Worlds (2016) [Drama]
Lee Jong-seok lends his best charisma to the larger-than-life role of a manhwa hero, and it works (see above).
- Gogh, The Starry Night (2016) [Web Drama/Cameo]
Short Chinese/Korean web drama starring Kwon Yuri as the heroine working for a boss with a temper, played by Kim Young-gwang. This one totally escaped my radar. And now it just slid into my weekend plans. Four episodes chock full of amazing cameos!
- Seven First Kisses (2016) [Web Drama]
We don’t usually add web dramas here but I can’t not mention this walking Lotte ad because it was through-and-through ridiculous (as in fun). Each mini segment features the heroine in a vignette with a famous actor — Ji Chang-wook in the action/spy vignette, EXO’s Kai as the singer with crush on his noona tutor, and Lee Jong-seok as the blindingly charming celebrity who will melt you into a puddle. All these heroes (and more) almost kiss the heroine. And then she wakes up. The end. Now, go shop at Lotte!
- Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo (2016) [Drama]
Fantastic meta-filled cameo in a total sweetheart of a drama starring Lee Sung-kyung and Nam Joo-hyuk.
- While You Were Sleeping (2017) [Drama]
Lee Jong-seok and Suzy star in this drama about a heroine who has premonitions, and a prosecutor who tries to help. I enjoyed this drama through and through. Probably more than I should have.
- VIP (2017) [Film]
Jang Dong-gun and others chase after North Korean serial murder suspect Lee Jong-seok.
- The Hymn of Death (2018) [Drama]
Lee Jong-seok and Shin Hye-sun star in this tragic romance mini-drama that flew under the radar late last year.
- Romance Is a Bonus Book (2019) [Drama]
Lee Jong-seok + noona romance + books = sign me up to live watch this (see above).
- Romance Is a Bonus Book: Episode 1
- More stills for Lee Jong-seok, Lee Na-young tvN rom-com Romance Is a Bonus Book
- Lee Jong-seok and Shin Hye-sun to star in SBS drama special In Praise of Death
- Lee Jong-seok, Lee Na-young up for tvN noona romance
- While You Were Sleeping: Episodes 1-2
- Lee Jong-seok moves in next door in While You Were Sleeping
- The international manhunt is on to catch VIP Lee Jong-seok
- Lee Jong-seok courted to become biological murder weapon for film Witch