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[Actor Spotlight] Nam Joo-hyuk

Nam Joo-hyuk, the star of JTBC’s drama The Light in Your Eyes, is the subject of this week’s spotlight. The fantasy/time travel drama also stars Han Ji-min, and has seen its ratings steadily climb since the drama premiered in February.

Born in 1994 in Busan, South Korea, Nam Joo-hyuk’s career has been on quite the fast track. He debuted as a runway model in 2013 with YG’s modeling agency YGKPlus (home to many models-turned-actors, like Lee Sung-kyung and Jang Ki-yong, to name a few). In 2014, he made his TV debut with a supporting role in the quirky tvN drama Surplus Princess. Fast forward less than four years later, and he had a major role in the historical action film The Great Battle, and won the Blue Dragon Award for Best New Actor.

Watching a model transition to acting is an interesting experience. Nam Joo-hyuk, and many other models that are finding success breaking into acting these days, are very comfortable in front of the camera. They have a wonderful presence on screen and a firm understanding of the nuances of body language, facial expressions, and the like — but sometimes the rest of their performance needs time to catch up. In Nam Joo-hyuk’s case, his best roles to date have been the ones that leveraged his youth and newbie status, and used it to better build his character (Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, I’m looking at you!)

Here are some drama highlights from Nam Joo-hyuk, followed by his full filmography.

 
Surplus Princess (2014)

I first met Nam Joo-hyuk in Surplus Princess, the cheeky tvN drama where he debuted. His side role in this drama was actually quite a sizable one, considering how many prominent actors today started by working on bit parts for years until they made it big. Nam Joo-hyuk had his modeling experience and fanbase working for him when he got into acting, and I have to say, he was a lot of fun in Surplus Princess. The drama was full of wacky characters seeking employment, from the mermaid-turned-human played by Jo Boa, to the mukbang webcaster played by the ever-awesome Kim Seul-gi. Nam Joo-hyuk’s role in this drama successfully played off of his rookie vibes and height (he’s 6’2”) to build a fun somewhat awkward character, and an adorable love line. A word to the wise: this drama was cut short by tvN, so the ending suffered. And speaking of suffering, this drama also featured a painful love triangle where, as usual, I erred on the Song Jae-rim side, which often seems to mean heartbreak.

 
Who Are You—School 2015 (2015)

I’m a huge fan of the School series, even though I’m probably a little too old to get as emotionally involved in high school loves triangles as I did with this one (sorry, not sorry!). The School series not only tend to have great storytelling, but great casting choices, and they’re now famous for giving breakout roles to young rookie actors. Although this drama wasn’t as critically acclaimed as previous School dramas, it was a fun tale of double identities and high school drama/trauma, with Kim So-hyun in the lead. Part mystery, part high school romance, my predominant memory of this show is Yook Sung-jae escaping through hospital windows, and being awesome. Nam Joo-hyuk, on the other side of the triangle, was sweet here, but, for me, missing the spark that Yook Sung-jae brought to the screen. Another show, another bout of second lead syndrome.

 
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo (2016)

Has anyone else noticed Nam Joo-hyuk seems to get cast as the young athlete rather often? In Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, he played opposite Lee Sung-kyung as competitive swimmer to her competitive weightlifter. This show did so many things right, and struck such a nice chord. It captured the atmosphere of college life, a group of friends coming of age and dealing with crushes (requited and not), the pressures of being student athletes, and some touching family dynamics as well. Nam Joo-hyuk and Lee Sung-kyung were so great here, in a warm and fuzzy mix of youthfulness, friendship, and first love. The supporting cast was equally enjoyable, but Lee Jae-yoon as Nam Joo-hyuk’s older brother, and the subject of Lee Sung-kyung’s giant crush, was especially great here. One question remains: “Do you like Messi?”

 
Nam Joo-hyuk’s full filmography:

  • Surplus Princess (2014) [Drama]
    Apple butts, mermaids, neck ropes, and the pursuit of happiness and full time employment. Fun, quirky, and cut short by tvN in a fit of evilness (see above).

  • Who Are You—School 2015 (2015) [Drama]
    Sigh, I love a good (or even mediocre) high school drama (see above).

  • Dazzling Temptation (2015) [Drama]
    Nam Joo-hyuk played the younger version of this drama’s hero (played by Joo Sang-wook) opposite Kim Sae-ron and got some more notice. Can you hear that? It’s the sound of a revenge melo calling my name.

  • Cheese in the Trap (2016) [Drama]
    Unlike most, I really enjoyed this manhwa adaptation starring Park Hae-jin and Kim Go-eun. Nam Joo-hyuk had a secondary role here, and lent a nice young energy to the cast, much like his role in Surplus Princess.

  • Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016) [Drama]
    This Goryeo era drama starred Lee Jun-ki, IU, and quite the supporting cast of handsome princes (if I name them all here I’ll get a nosebleed). Despite high hopes, the drama met with criticism, and mostly mediocre ratings.

  • Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo (2016) [Drama]
    Leads Nam Joo-hyuk and Lee Sung-kyung shined in this little gem of a drama about two college athletes. Also possibly both their best roles to date (see above).

  • Bride of the Water God 2017 (2017) [Drama]
    Nam Joo-hyuk played the water god in this manhwa adaptation, and his “wolf cut” hairdo scared me away from the very start. Wish I was kidding.

  • The Great Battle (2018) [Film]
    Goryeo-era action film with Jo In-sung, Park Sung-woong, and Sung Dong-il. Nam Joo-hyuk definitely knows how to keep good company!

  • The Light in Your Eyes (2019) [Drama]
    Nam Joo-hyuk and Han Ji-min are currently starring in this JTBC drama about time travel — or time control, shall we say? As a fun fact, Sohn Ho-joon also stars here, and the two actors have also appeared on the tvN/Na PD variety show Coffee Friends.

  • School Nurse Ahn Eun-young (2020) [Drama]
    Nam Joo-hyuk will join Jung Yumi in this newly-announced exorcism comedy offering from Netflix.

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He is so good in Dazzling! I watched him in Weightlifting fairy, and he was good in that but it was not as challenging as his character in Dazzling. Saw him in Cheese but he was not really prominent imo, I forgot he was part of the cast.

I personally think he has grown and improved so much as an actor. Dazzling showcased how good he can be. To more great scripts and continuous growth, NJH!

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Tbh, Nam Joo-hyuk scared me away from watching The Light in Your Eyes. I've seen before how awkward he could be in certain roles. And honestly, I can't imagine him having believable chemistry with Kim Hye-ja. But then I read every praise about him in fanwall (and I realized that the drama is actually something very different from what the blurb they gave us, which makes me more curious), so I finally put this drama onto my watch-list. Now, it's only a matter of finding extra free time.

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... I tend to scratch Nam Joo-hyuk's performance in School 2015 put off my brain, and in Dazzling Temptation he just played an insufferable character. But Weightlifting Fairy (and to an extent, Cheese in the Trap) turned the tides. I'm looking forward to him getting better and better!

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Whoa. I never knew he was from Busan. Did he ever act using satoori before? Coz I'd watch that.

Totally forgot about him being in Surplus Princess. Now it reminded me of how much I shipped him with Kim Seulgi.

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Since you forgot about him being in Surplus Princess, you must have forgotten he uses satoori in Surplus Princess. His character was from Busan.

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"he uses satoori in Surplus Princess"

*screaming*

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*need to watch Surplus Princess*

I'm such a sucker for saturi. I love it, it almost sounds tonal

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*putting it on my to-watch list*

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I loved him in Surplus Princess! He was funny, and really cute with the 4-foot-something Seulgi.

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For real? Hahahhaha my memory is indeed failing me. I need a rewatch. Thanks!!

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WFKBJ made me a fan, Bride of the Water God disappointed me, but I'm glad he's on the rise again with Radiant. After WFKBJ, I had watched all his past works up to that point. I still think he can only play a limited range; but honestly, he's not bad at what he can do so far and that's a good thing. His career will probably mirror itself with ups and downs in the acting department and successful works, but I'm excited that he has shown growth as well as the potential to continue growing.

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I first saw him in School, but I was already a huge Yook Sung-jae fan and second lead syndrome made me reject Nam Joo-hyuk at first. Then his role in Cheese in the Trap wasn't memorable, and I was one of the few who didn't really appreciate Weightlifting Fairy (although I acknowledge that it was objectively very good, I couldn't bring myself to like Lee Sung-kyung's character at all). Despite all that, I love Nam Joo-hyuk modeling. He is an amazing model. And his acting in LIYE was superb. Hopefully, I'll fully warm up to him soon, because I want to love him.

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I have been in love with Nam Joo-hyuk since 200% and Give Love. Lee Suhyun in the M/V makings is me. He is so pretty it hurts.

I was one of the only people on Yi-an's ship in School 2015. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo is hands down his breakout role. I am so happy for the high ratings for The Light in Your Eyes. Nam Joo-hyuk is a delight on variety shows.

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I’m so proud of him! I first saw him in Weightlifting Fairy, and his charming and sweet portrayal of Joon-hyung made my heart melt. Because that was my introduction to him, I had no idea that his acting was known to be subpar!

I sought him and Lee Sung Kyung out and looked for their other dramas, and consequently ended up watching School 2015, where I understood that he was a bit green, but I still highly attached.

Then Bride Of The Water God came, my very first live-watch. Sigh. (I still think he wasn’t bad in it..)

And now, The Light In Your Eyes. The potential I saw in him in Weightlifting Fairy has blossomed, and he’s become better than I could’ve hoped. His nuanced portrayal of Joonha was just phenomenal, making me dread every time the director lingered upon his face, because I knew I was going to sob..

Thank you, Nam Joo Hyuk, for your hard work, and stories you’ve helped convey. I’m very grateful.

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I didn't think he was bad in any of his early dramas School 2015 included and the problem with Bride was not the acting but the insufferable plot and lackluster direction. He always had the potential but in the beginning he lacked confidence and especially in School 2015 he even mentioned he wasn't sure about being the lead in a drama since it was a huge burden. He moved to smaller roles in Cheese and Moon Lovers to figure out how to improve his acting before moving back to lead roles with Weightlifting. He finally started to see himself as an actor during Battle and it shows the marked improvement in his acting. Its been a journey for him and I am happy to see his growth.

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I mean, my name says it all.

Love how @missvictrix pointed out his modeling background--his greatest strength definitely is his effortless charm on screen. Like many I fell in love with him in WFKBJ, where that was undeniable. Then questioned everything with god of the somethingsomething, I can't remember, this drama never happened.

He turned a major corner in Dazzling. He said everything with his eyes. His subtle expressions were on point. And he acted not just the scenes but the overall character arc. He did so, so well. Made me fall for him all over again.

He seems to be working hard, trying to stretch himself. Which he doesn't have to do, because I'm sure he'd keep getting roles on his looks and charisma alone. I'll definitely be tuning in for exorcism hijinks next year! (But, my child, squeeze in another drama before then, please)

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Awwww this sweetheart 🥰🥰🥰

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I became a fan of Joohyuk because of WFKBJ. He was a natural there. I became excited for his next projects but BOTWG came next and I was disappointed (although largely by how it was written). I went in Dazzling/Light in Your Eyes/Radiant with caution and came out absolutely blown away by his performance. If one were to be introduced to NJH with just this drama, one would not think that he had acting issues in the past. He's that amazing in this one. Also, I am starting to think that aloof and cool character isn't for him which I totally do not mind not seeing him play. I prefer he explores other acting roles than this usual in kdrama lead role.

I finished Light in Your Eyes yesterday and it had a huge impact on me. I bawled and finished an entire roll of tissue. Everyone did so well. Every single one of the characters shined. I am happy for the high ratings and the praises. They are well-deserved.

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I quite like Nam Joo Hyuk! The first thing I ever watched him in was CITT and I was smitten. (Superficially, he's veeerrry good looking.) He played the playful goof friend to a perfection. This character was perfected even more in WFKBJ. It's one of my favorite romcoms up to date. He portrayed one my favorite characters.

Because I had only seen him in those two i didnt understand the wariness of others in the comments when Bride of the Water God (?) came on. Boy was I in for a shocker. *it's okay -- it never existed* I wouldn't say he was bad only... it was no chemistry, the plot was bad, everything. So it's not his fault. But I mean, every actor has had their flops. Should I mention About Time ? (oh gosh. I think it'll always be my go-to example)

I loved him in Dazzling. Im happy he tried a different character than the lovable goof (which seemed to be the only character he nailed till now -- from what comments told me--).

To sum it all up: Im looking forward to more of his projets and to his evolution as an actor!

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The only thing I have seen Nam Joo-hyuk in is COFFEE FRIENDS and like the rest of the helpers he was such a sweet guy and hard worker.
I am so pleased for him that THE LIGHT IN YOUR EYES was a success.

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I liked him in Surplus Princess and Weightlifting Fairy, but the one-two punch of Light in Your Eyes and Coffee Friends has pushed me over into fangirl. I also saw him recently on Radio Star for that movie (Great Battle) and he seemed like a good kid. He apparently had a hard life before he started modeling, so he definitely appreciates everything that's going well for him.

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I forgot to add that I adore him in reality/variety shows as well. I watched 3 Meals a Day because of him. Him in Coffee Friends is another lovely showcase of his squishy self. He just seems down to earth probably because of his hardships growing up. I wish him the best.

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I really like him in WFKBJ.
But couldn't really see that he was ready as a major romance lead like Habaek.
Glad that he redeemed himself with Dazzling.
Hope to see more good works from him!

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This 6’2 giant squish!!!! 🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰

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I kept replaying a video cut in tvN Youtube Channel where the Gochang's "3 Meals A Day" had their family photo's taken in a studio. He's indeed super tall!!!!

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I think he shines where he gets cast in roles that aren't all about looks! Some of these shows seem to have cast him for the good looks and height [alone] and it showed, but I think he works well when he has things to do. I can tell he's been reading the criticism and he seems to be picking roles very carefully now. Can't wait to watch The Light in Your Eyes/Radiant and looking forward to more growth from him.

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WFKBJ introduced me to Nam Joo Hyuk and I was totally won over. Then I started to notice comments that he wasn't great. I couldn't relate to that because I thought he was very natural in WFKBJ and also, I liked the way he delivered some of the more emotional scenes.

I didn't finish BOTWG but it was more of the drama. He also wasn't as comfortable in there and I thought perhaps he can only excel in roles closer to his age and nature. Thus, I was more skeptical about The Light In Your Eyes. It didn't helped that initially Joon Ha was not a very expressive character. I did find some of his acting quite nuanced though. But as the drama progressed and more of the character revealed, I could really see that Nam Joo Hyuk improved.

My number peeve is overacting(I'll take under than overacting). NJH never had this problem. In the past, he may not have delivered some of the more demanding scenes as well as I'd like(for example in Moon Lovers) but he has shown that he is more capable of it now. In fact, I was very impressed with his performance towards the end of the drama. Not only can he emote, his delivery is nuanced and matured.

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He broke my heart (in a good way) in Light in Your Eyes. I think he should keep acting with sunbaes for now and learn from them. He seems to do well with their guidance.

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That is what I thought too! I think he also did well in the movie The Great Battle.

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Well, I've had a soft spot for him for awhile, but more than just his looks now, he's actually turned into an actor I really enjoy. Of course, he's had some misses even recently, but he's grown so much. And I love that he has recently taken female focused dramas and doesn't have an ego about being the main focus of any drama. He was just amazing in The Light in Your Eyes. He played three difference characters well. I'm really looking forward to his Netflix drama coming up.

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I can't wait for him to grow more as an actor. Explore NJH, explore the world of dramaland.

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Weightlifting Fairy remains one of my favorite dramas of 2016. Nam Joo-hyuk was fantastic in it.

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