[Actor Spotlight] Joo Ji-hoon
This week it’s Joo Ji-hoon’s turn in the spotlight. Though more often a film actor than a drama regular, Joo Ji-hoon has been omnipresent in dramaland of late, thanks to his starring roles in Netflix’s Kingdom earlier this year, and the currently airing MBC drama Item.
Joo Ji-hoon was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1982, and originally debuted as a model back in 2003. After getting cast as an extra in a couple of dramas, Joo Ji-hoon made a splash as Goong’s male lead in 2006. Also known as Princess Hours, this drama sensation was a bit hit for Joo Ji-hoon and his co-star Yoon Eun-hye.
After Goong, Joo Ji-hoon’s career was on the rise, and he stuck mostly to films, until a very public drug scandal in 2009 nearly sunk his career. After a period of reflection, and his mandatory military service, Joo Ji-hoon returned to the big screen in 2012. Since then, he’s been very active, and has seen success with films like Along with the Gods. Likewise, his recent return to dramaland has also been surrounded by positive buzz.
Here are some dramaland moments from Joo Ji-hoon, followed by his full filmography.
I love to catch up on my drama classics whenever I can, so I’m adding this one to the list. A big hit when it aired (with over 28% ratings) and a cult favorite afterwards, Goong featured a Korea set in a fictional monarchy. Of course, mention an imperial family and all I can think about right now is Shin Sung-rok flipping tables in An Empress’s Dignity, but I think Goong is more on the My Princess spectrum of the fictional monarchy setting. In the drama, Joo Ji-hoon played the crown prince, and Yoon Eun-hye played the everyday girl he was betrothed to. Like many big Hallyu hits from years ago, this one was career-making for both the leads and the second leads John Hoon (a.k.a. Kim Jeong-hoon) and Song Ji-hyo. It sounds like the drama had the love square that was pretty standard at the time: a hero that dislikes the heroine and yearns for his ex-girlfriend/first love who is vying for the attention of the second male lead who is in love with the heroine, at odds with the hero, and for some reason always seems to finish dead last in love. And with that, I have convinced myself to watch it.
It’s no secret that I love a good melodrama, and Mask was a lot of fun. Good news for Su-ae fans (like me) — there’s not one, but two of her! In Mask, Su-ae played the struggling sales clerk heroine and her doppelgänger, a powerful congressman’s daughter. Double identities and doppelgänger intrigue always make for a good story, whether it’s rom-com or melo, but I liked it particularly in Mask. The story was basically a web of playing pretend, switching identities, psychological mind games, and trying to uncover the truth. I enjoyed how Mask featured a heroine that was often more heroic than the hero — and really, Joo Ji-hoon plays psychologically damaged quite well. This drama also did a nice job with its theme of masks, and how living a false life leads to unhappiness.
While I have mixed feelings on Netflix producing Korean dramas (which I won’t launch into here), I can’t argue that they did an amazing job with their production of Kingdom. Written by Kim Eun-hee of Signal, and adapted from a popular webtoon, the drama is the six-episode story of a zombie outbreak during the Joseon Dynasty. Something about the historical setting and zombies gives me the heebie jeebies already. While I’m not really one for zombie stories, this drama has some serious lure — not just the great cast and production team, but the rich world the story creates. Sure, I might have been a tiny bit more inclined to watch it with Song Joong-ki in the lead (he was offered the role before Joo), but hey, Joo Ji-hoon is a darn good backup plan.
Joo Ji-hoon’s full filmography:
- Goong (2006) [Drama]
Hallyu hit where Joo Ji-hoon’s only confidant is a small white teddy bear. If that didn’t make you want to watch it I don’t know what will (see above).
- The Devil (2007) [Drama]
Delicious-sounding revenge drama starring Joo Ji-hoon, Uhm Tae-woong, and Shin Mina. It’s the second in director Park Chan-hong’s revenge trilogy that started with Resurrection in 2005 and ended with Shark in 2013. I love trilogies and quartets of all kinds, so the temptation to devour all three of these is no joke.
- Antique (2008) [Film]
Groundbreaking in its depiction of gay men, a comedy film based on a Japanese manga that featured a cake shop and starred Joo Ji-hoon, Kim Jae-wook, Yoo Ah-in and Choi Ji-ho. In other words, nice casting.
- Kitchen (2009) [Film]
Joo Ji-hoon teamed up with Shin Mina again (and Kim Tae-woo) in this rom-com film about households trysts, and not a ton of marital fidelity, sounds like.
- I Am the King (2012) [Film]
A sageuk comedy film set during the Joseon Dynasty that starred Joo Ji-hoon in an adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper.
- Five Fingers (2012) [Drama]
Pianists, revenge, and what sounds like a complete melo-fest with Joo Ji-hoon, Ji Chang-wook (oppa!), Chae Shi-ra, and Jin Se-yeon.
- Medical Top Team (2013) [Drama]
I don’t know about you, but all the medical dramas tend to blur together in my memory. This one starred Kwon Sang-woo, Jung Ryeo-won, and Joo Ji-hoon. As usual, they are an elite and misunderstood bunch of characters.
- Marriage Blue (2013) [Film]
Quite the ensemble cast in this story of four couples and their impending nuptials. Kim Kang-woo, Ma Dong-seok, and Go Jun-hee are some of the bigger names that joined Joo Ji-hoon.
- Love Suspicion (2014) [Film]
Chinese romantic thriller wherein two sisters fell in love with Joo Ji-hoon (can you blame them?) and things got ugly.
- Good Friends (2014) [Film]
Ji Sung, Joo Ji-hoon, and Lee Kwang-soo played childhood friends who went through turbulent times in this noir film.
- Mask (2015) [Drama]
Joo Ji-hoon and Su-ae in a psychological, melo mess — in the best sense (see above)..
- The Treacherous (2015) [Film]
Treachery, intrigue, and much carnal pleasure in this Joseon-era story starring Kim Kang-woo, Joo Ji-hoon, and Lim Ji-yeon.
- Asura (2016) [Film]
Crime action film that starred Jung Woo-sung, Joo Ji-hoon, and Hwang Jung-min, and received a lot of critical success.
- Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017) [Film]
First part of the epic film based on the webtoon of the same name. The film tells the story of a firefighter, three grim reapers, and trials in the afterlife.
- Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (2018) [Film]
The second half of the successful Along with the Gods saga.
- The Spy Gone North (2018) [Film]
Another dark drama — based on a true story, this one was a spy film about infiltrating North Korea’s nuclear facilities.
- Dark Figure of Crime (2018) [Film]
And for a change of pace, another dark crime story. This one starred Kim Yoon-seok and Joo Ji-hoon and was based on real-life crimes in Busan.
- Kingdom – Season 1 (2019) [Drama]
Joo Ji-hoon played the crown prince investigating a mysterious “outbreak” (see above).
- Item (2019) [Drama]
Joo Ji-hoon reunites with previous co-stars Kim Kang-woo and Jin Se-yeon in this mystery/fantasy drama adapted from a webtoon.
- Kingdom – Season 2 (2020) [Drama]
The story from season one continues! And suddenly K-dramas stop being complete stories that stand on their own and start mimicking the structure of American TV. I’m going to go cry now.