[Actor Spotlight] Lee Min-ki
Next in our profile series is Lee Min-ki, star of the currently airing romance drama Beauty Inside. Born in 1985 in Gimhae, South Korea, he made his debut in 2005. Like many, he got his start on daily and weekend dramas, but soon after disappeared from dramaland and focused on films. He spent a good ten years of his career working steadily in the film industry (not counting occasional wonderful guest and cameo appearances in dramas). There were some high-grossing and popular films like Haeundae, Very Ordinary Couple, and Chilling Romance, along with some darker, more avant-garde films.
Lee Min-ki is interesting as a leading man — he’s neither a flower boy nor the boy next door, nor a typical action star. He doesn’t have the warm, boyish onscreen presence we are so used to expecting from of our drama stars. He’s a bit rough, edgy, and unpredictable, and he brings an interesting energy to the screen. After serving his mandatory military service, Lee Min-ki made his long-awaited return to dramas in 2017. He has had a prolific career in both Korean dramas and films, but — and I might be a little biased — I always prefer dramaland, so I’ve been excited to see the scripts that have caught his eye.
Here are some highlights and favorites from his drama career, followed by his full filmography.
Dal-ja’s Spring (2007)
Dal-ja’s Spring was an early noona romance, a trend that remains popular to this day. The story followed Oh Dal-ja (played by Chae Rim, who’s hard not to love in anything), a single 33-year-old woman with a great apartment, independence, and a successful career, but lacking romance. Through a mix of happenstance and drunken contract writing, a younger guy she barely knew (played by Lee Min-ki) agreed to pose as her boyfriend; the set-up is familiar, but the energy of this drama was great. Lee Min-ki’s character was straightforward, bold, and honest with Dal-ja throughout their relationship as it evolved from fake dating to real attraction to love. Dal-ja’s world was a little sparkly and shallow, and I love the down-to-earth perspective and experience that Lee Min-ki’s character brought to the show — and to Dal-ja herself.
Shut Up Flower Boy Band (2012)
So much eyeliner, so much angst! I don’t usually like to use words like “crushed,” but there’s no better word here: Lee Min-ki crushed his role as the leader and vocalist of a high school rock band. Technically, this was a guest appearance in the drama, but his character (and overall screen presence) was larger-than-life and charismatic to the point of overshadowing the other actors. Half of this is because Lee Min-ki was brilliant, and the other half was an intentional choice of the show. When his character exited (not a spoiler — this happens in Episode 2), you caught yourself wondering how the story could continue without him, but it was that absence that drove the rest of the plot. The drama then followed the rest of his band mates (played by Sung Joon, L, Lee Hyun-jae, Yoo Min-gyu, and Kim Min-seok) as they came to terms with his loss and navigated high school, rivalries, love, and of course, music. This show was a 10/10 for me. Just writing about it makes me want to rewatch it again!
Because This Life Is Our First (2017)
Man, Lee Min-ki plays a great weirdo. His character in Because This Life Is Our First was awkward, anti-social, and just plain odd. He would refuse social events using feeding his cat or taking out the recycling as excuses. His ultra-serious face and deadpan delivery was brilliant, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t waiting for the perfect moment to use those reasons myself. Lee acted opposite Jung So-min, a down-on-her-luck writer desperately in need of a place to live, and together they devised a cohabitation plan by way of a contract marriage. With two great actors, a strong script, and a much beloved plot contrivance made new and fresh, it’s no wonder that this show was so popular.
What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? (2018)
Lee Min-ki’s role in What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim was only a cameo, but it was the best kind, because there are cameos, and then there are magical meta cameos — and this was the latter. In a lovely and extended flashback sequence, the audience caught a glimpse of the heroine’s parents and got some backstory. Lee Min-ki played the heroine’s father, Jung So-min played her mother, and drama fans everywhere squealed with delight. It wasn’t exactly is if they were playing their characters from Because This Life Is Our First — but they very well could have been. The flashback sequence followed the family on an impromptu trip to the seashore, and we saw an ordinary but precious day in our heroine’s life. Perhaps because we knew her family would meet with some tragedy later down the road, it packed a more punch, but I also think the beautiful execution and great performances (thanks to their history) made this a wonderful moment in the show.
Beauty Inside (2018)
In the currently airing drama Beauty Inside starring Lee Min-ki and Seo Hyun-jin, dramaland tries its hand at a sort-of remake of the 2015 film of the same name. In the film, the lead male character woke up every day in a different body; in the drama version, it’s the female lead who changes bodies. And, because it’s a drama, and dramas are generally safe and happy places with rules that govern the story, she only changes bodies for a short time, soon returning to her Seo Hyun-jin self. That means Lee Min-ki — as the male lead who loves her and recognizes her in all her forms — has a much easier time in the drama than his counterpart in the film. Despite the changes in plot, and the lighter take on a rather complex story, the thought of Lee Min-ki and Seo Hyun-Jin starring together is an exciting one.
Lee Min-ki’s full filmography:
- Be Strong, Geum-Soon! (2005) [Drama]
- Taereung National Village (2005) [Drama]
- I Really, Really Like You (2006) [Drama]
- Dal-ja’s Spring (2007) [Drama]
- A Good Day to Have an Affair (2007) [Film]
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency (2007) [Drama]
- Humming (2008) [Film/Cameo]
- Romantic Island (2008) [Film]
- Oishii Man (2009) [Film]
- Haeundae (2009) [Film]
- A Million (2009) [Film]
- Quick (2011) [Film]
- Chilling Romance (2011) [Film]
- Very Ordinary Couple (2011) [Film]
- Shut Up Flower Boy Band (2012) [Drama/Guest Appearance]
- Monster (2013) [Film]
- For the Emperor (2014) [Film]
- Shoot Me in the Heart (2015) [Film]
- Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead (2018) [Film]
- Because This Is Our First Life (2018) [Drama]
- What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? (2018) [Drama/Cameo]
- Beauty Inside (2018) [Drama]
Supporting role in a daily family drama that starred Kang Ji-hwan and Han Hye-jin.
A meditative Olympic-themed sports/romance drama where Lee Min-ki played a judo athlete.
Early weekend drama co-starring Eugene about the drama behind the scenes at the Blue House.
Early noona romance that you can’t not enjoy (see above).
Bored housewives (namely, Kim Hye-soo) and affairs with younger men, one of whom is Lee Min-ki.
Misfits, a bumbling investigation agency, a treasure map, and a quirky adventure.
Cameo as Lee Chun-hee’s friend in this popular romance movie.
Couples old and new cross paths in the Philippines in this rom-com.
Quiet movie about a musician in a crisis who travels to Hokkaido, Japan.
Tsunami disaster movie starring Ha Ji-won that earned Lee Min-ki a Best New Actor Baeksang award.
A thriller about a Survivor-like TV show that becomes all too real.
Action film starring Lee Min-ki that’s full of motorcycles, bombs, and a race against the clock.
Horror rom-com starring Lee Min-ki and Son Ye-jin as the leads. She sees ghosts, he’s a magician who conjures them, and we can guess where the story goes from there.
A thoughtful relationship drama featuring the breakup saga of Lee Min-ki and Kim Min-hee.
Pure magic (see above).
A thriller filled with madness, murder, revenge, and Lee Min-ki trying to kill Kim Go-eun (nooo!).
Moody noir film starring Lee Min-ki and set in the Busan underbelly.
Lee Min-ki and Yeo Jin-gu run amok in a psychiatric hospital. I can’t even imagine how good these two are together!
The third Detective K film about Joseon vampires and other occult mysteries.
Delightful and fresh contract marriage drama (see above).
Awesome meta-rich cameo (see above).
Currently airing drama version of the film from 2015 (see above).
- [Actor Spotlight] Seo In-gook
- Beauty Inside: Episode 1
- Lee Min-ki and Seo Hyun-jin find each other in The Beauty Inside
- Because This Life Is Our First: Episode 1
- Lee Min-ki and Yeo Jin-gu escape the asylum in Shoot My Heart
- Lee Min-ki as underworld upstart in For the Emperor
- Lee Min-ki turns into a cold-blooded killer for Monster
- Lee Min-ki and Kim Min-hee’s Temperature of Love
- Shut Up: Flower Boy Band: Episode 1