[Actor Spotlight] Seo In-gook
Dramabeans is known for its deep dives and commentary on dramas, but we couldn’t have dramas without actors. As part of our new spotlight feature, we’ll be taking a look at some of our favorite actors! First in our actor spotlight series is Seo In-gook, the lead of the currently airing melo Hundred Million Stars From the Sky. His path to recognition officially started when he won the reality talent show Superstar K in 2009 — he’s a great singer and performer — but it’s his acting career that we’re interested in here, and for me, acting is where he really shines.
Seo was born in 1987 in Ulsan, South Korea. He grew up there before breaking out first as a singer and later as an actor. Seo In-gook transforms for each role, and doesn’t have to rely on costumes or co-stars or new hairdos to do it; he’s genuinely talented. He’s as believable and authentic as a hockey-playing high school student as he is a genius profiler, spoiled chaebol manchild, or Joseon prince. No matter the role, Seo is charismatic, earnest, and fun to watch.
Here are some of the highlights from his dramaland career, followed by his full filmography.
Answer Me 1997 (2012)
The first of the now-famous Answer Me series, Answer Me 1997 went from a sleeper with zero buzz to a phenomenon that grew by word of mouth. It grabbed huge ratings for tvN by its final episode and raised the bar for youth dramas. And dramas in general, really. Seo In-gook was joined by Jung Eun-ji, Hoya, Eun Ji-won, and Lee Shi-un, and they played a gang of high schoolers growing up in the ’90s. Answer Me 1997 (and the subsequent shows in the series) was known for solid, poignant storytelling, evocative teenage nostalgia, and well-constructed switches between the teenage timelines in the past and the adult timelines in the present day. We watched to see how their stories unfolded, who they became as adults, and yep, who the heroine wound up with. It’s a K-drama, after all.
Master’s Sun (2013)
After the success of Answer Me 1997, Master’s Sun almost felt like a step down for Seo In-gook — not to knock the drama, which was loads of fun. Seo played the new head of security, Kang-woo, at the company headed by our lead, played by So Ji-sub. So Ji-sub was a chaebol with a mysterious past (of course) and Gong Hyo-jin was the wacky and sweet ghost-seeing heroine. Because the storyline between So Ji-sub and Gong Hyo-jin was so good, the second lead syndrome situation was not as painful (or pronounced) as it might have been in another drama. This might not have been Seo In-gook’s flashiest role, but the drama performed ridiculously well. And after all, it’s not such a bad thing to have a successful Hong Sisters drama under your belt.
High School King of Savvy (2014)
This is probably my favorite of all of Seo In-gook’s dramas thus far. Not only did he do an amazing job playing both the teenage lead and his almost-identical hyung, but he proved himself as a leading man. Not everyone can play a reckless high schooler in a zany show and still have the credibility to pull off the part of a romantic leading man — but Seo did it. He was strong enough as an actor to be the center of a madcap drama that was going to sink or swim based on the strength of his performance. In High School King of Savvy, Seo In-gook played a student who masquerades as his brother, who’s a director in a large corporation. As they say, hijinks ensued. Some people found it a little off-putting by the end (the level of wackiness, the oddball noona romance), but it worked for me in a fun, circusy kind of way. Lee Hana was also great as the bizarre but endearing moss-loving secretary.
The King’s Face (2014)
In The King’s Face, Seo In-gook took on his first sageuk role. The show faced some legal trouble of the plagiarism variety, but performed respectably once it aired. Seo In-gook played Prince Gwanghae, the son of King Seonjo (played by Lee Sung-jae) and a concubine. The drama also starred Shin Sung-rok as the face reader and power behind the throne, and Jo Yoon-hee was the heroine and object of affection of way too many men. It sounds like there’s a lot of room in The King’s Face for complicated and conniving characters, and an interesting exploration of court politics, rivalry (all sorts), and the power of face reading (and readers) to control the fate of many — in this case, particularly Prince Gwanghae’s. Why haven’t I watched this yet?!
I Remember You (2015)
Shows of a crime-y and serial killer nature are not my cup of tea, but did I watch this regardless because of Seo In-gook and the promise of emotional and psychological depth? Yes. Yes, I did. Seo played a genius profiler with a complicated childhood and a whole lot of repressed memories. As an adult, he returns to South Korea from abroad and starts working with a special police unit. The unit’s investigations reveal hidden identities, secrets, inner demons, and more. Shows like this love to ask the question of whether killers are made or born, and I Remember You was a layered psychological story that dug into that question. Seo In-gook did a great job with this complex role, with Park Bo-gum and Choi Won-young putting in impressive performances. I would have preferred to see someone besides Jang Na-ra play the heroine and fellow investigator, as I like her in softer roles more, but it didn’t detract from the story — or the pillow I had to hide behind during certain scenes.
Police Unit 38 (2016)
More police units for Seo In-gook — kinda. In OCN’s Police Unit 38, the eponymous unit was tasked with investigating tax evasion and bringing people to justice… but they weren’t so great at it. Enter Seo In-gook, playing a charismatic swindler and shaker up of plots (literally and figuratively). Heavy on twists, capers, and mixed morals around money, Police Unit 38 seemed to strike a nice balance of fast-moving heists with the appropriate amount of depth and shadiness to make it an OCN show. Ma Dong-seok and SNSD’s Sooyoung also starred. It’s on my marathon watch list, for sure.
Shopping King Louis (2016)
Back to the zany! Seo In-gook played a shopaholic heir living in a French castle with no sense of real life. He didn’t even have “first world problems” — he had “chaebol problems,” like ordering limited-edition tracksuits that were worth more than a car. He was spoiled and had never lifted a finger his whole life, but he was also sweet, loyal, doofy, and wonderful. The plot followed our manchild through family secrets, falling in love with Nam Ji-hyun’s character, and learning about life the hard way — by being scammed, taken advantage of, learning to wash the dishes, getting his heart broken, and more. The show got a little too much for me in some moments, with the bumbling bad guys and over-the-top comedic elements. But the show also gave me one of the hardest laughs in K-drama history, courtesy of Seo In-gook running through Seoul shirtless, every inch of him covered in pain patches. The comedy and hyperbole were strong throughout the drama, but it also had heart, and kept me watching till the end.
Hundred Million Stars From the Sky (2018)
Seo In-gook is back from his mandatory military duty (and ensuing controversies), and Hundred Million Stars From the Sky is his latest starring role. This drama is fresh out of the gates (only a few weeks in) and I’m dying to tune in. Seo In-gook plays the mysterious, charismatic Moo-young, and Jung So-min (yay!) plays a warm-hearted designer. The show is being promoted as a shocking and fateful mystery melo with depth, layers, and much character complexity — the fact that it’s adapted from a Japanese drama only makes me more interested. Basically: Say no more, Show. You have my attention, and I have a rainy weekend to give you.
Seo In-gook’s full filmography:
- Love Rain (2012) [Drama]
- Answer Me 1997 (2012) [Drama]
- Rascal Sons (2012) [Drama]
- Answer Me 1994 (2013) [Drama/Cameo]
- Master’s Sun (2013) [Drama]
- No Breathing (2013) [Film]
- High School King of Savvy (2014) [Drama]
- The King’s Face (2014) [Drama]
- Another Parting (2014) [Web drama]
- I Remember You (2015) [Drama]
- Oh My Ghostess (2015) [Drama/Cameo]
- She Was Pretty (2015) [Cameo]
- Police Unit 38 (2016) [Drama]
- Shopping King Louis (2016) [Drama]
- Hundred Million Stars From the Sky (2018) [Drama]
Smaller role in the 1970 and 2012 storylines. Admittedly, I haven’t watched this one yet since Yoon-ah keeps me at bay.
The first in the now-famous series (see above).
A 50-episode weekend drama about a family and their three, yes, rascally, sons. Seo In-gook played the amorous/married youngest son. (Oh boy!)
Cameo as his character from Answer Me 1997. Answer Me + Answer Me = Answer Me squared! (That’s a good thing.)
Neighbor + security officer = good to have around as a second lead (see above).
A sports film about two young swimming prodigies — one Seo In-Gook, the other Lee Jong-seok. With leads like that, I’m sure the clashing personalities, competing, and eventual bonding are worth a watch.
Seo In-gook at his zaniest (see above).
Seo In-gook’s first (and currently only) sageuk role (see above).
Intriguing and futuristic web drama of five 10-minute episodes.
Are monsters made or born? (see above).
Cameo as Edward, a hotshot chef, purportedly for kicks (as cameos should be), since the same PD did High School King of Savvy.
Cameo as himself. Not my favorite kind of cameo, but I’ll take it!
Stealing from the rich to feed the poor – kinda (see above).
Adventures of a shopaholic manchild (see above).
Currently airing mystery-melo (see above).
- Hundred Million Stars From the Sky: Episode 1
- Shopping King Louis: Episode 1
- Police Unit 38: Episode 1
- Seo In-gook puts in a cameo appearance for Oh My Ghostess
- I Remember You: Episode 1
- King’s Face: Episode 1
- High School King of Savvy: Episode 1
- Answer Me 1997′s cast drops by 1994 for cameos
- Lee Jong-seok and Seo In-gook swim for gold
- Master’s Sun: Episode 1
- Teasers and stills for weekend drama Rascal Sons
- Answer Me 1997: Episodes 1-2