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[Actor Spotlight] So Ji-sub

 

It’s time for the spotlight to fall on So Ji-sub, whose latest drama My Secret Terrius just finished a successful run on MBC. Born in 1977 in Seoul, South Korea, So Ji-sub was a hip-hop loving teenager who got into modeling to make some easy money. Modeling led to acting, and though it took him a while to get his big break, the 2004 dramas Something Happened in Bali and I’m Sorry, I Love you put him on the map for keeps. Just like the path from K-pop idol to actor, the path from model to actor was not as common as it is today, and So Ji-sub was one of the pioneers who made this transition successfully.

So Ji-sub has been in the acting game for a long time, but dramaland never seems to tire of him. Likewise, his roles never feel worn out or overplayed. He’s been a bit typecast as a hero with baggage that’s gruff and cold at first glance, but actually “tofu hearted” and wonderful. I like to think that it’s not typecasting as much as it is just the So Ji-sub-ness coming out in each role. He’s a great actor, and he always brings the same quality to his roles. So Ji-sub doesn’t disappear into his characters so much as he plays them as if he’s trying them on — perhaps his early modeling career had more of an impact on his approach to acting and storytelling than we realize.

Here’s some great roles from So Ji-sub, followed by his full filmography.

 
I’m Sorry, I Love You (2004)

I’m Sorry, I Love You is a doozy of a classic K-drama. It put So Ji-sub and his co-star Im Soo-jung on the map as a leads, and has all the hallmarks and archetypes that we have come to love (or love-hate): birth secrets, terminal illness, unrequited love, stress fevers, piggybacks, returning ex-girlfriends, and more. So Ji-sub played an Korea-born, overseas adoptee who returned to Korea to find his birth mother. His anger and abandonment led him to exact revenge on her by basically trying to tear up the life of her other son (played by Jung Kyung-ho). As revenge plots often do, it fell prey to bigger things like love and forgiveness, but left a truckload of drama in its wake. So Ji-sub was great in this role — it’s easy to see why it garnered him a ton of attention. He showed his range as he portrayed the many sides to his character: the apathetic gum-chewing street thug who can’t handle his own emotions, the abandoned puppy who just wants to be acknowledged by his mother, and the head-over-heels lover who craves comfort but can’t bear to share his burdens with anyone. Please note that I’m Sorry, I Love you is best enjoyed over a box of tissues.

 
Only You (2011)

2011’s Only You (often promoted as Always) was about a blind woman (played by Han Hyo-joo) and the ex-fighter/security attendant (played by So Ji-sub) that she falls in love with. It sounds like the plot of a nice juicy K-drama, but it’s actually a film, and because it is, the story is told much differently than we’d expect from a drama. It’s no secret I prefer dramas to films — I find their execution and methods of storytelling much more fun, and the time commitment (while terrifying if you add up all of your Drama Time) is part of the fun of being engrossed in the fictional world. That being said, Only You is a well-executed romance film that’s a bit more realistic and stark than your typical K-drama, but still has some of those drama elements we love. The film moved swiftly telling the story of their romance, and So Ji-sub was in true form as the rough-around-the-edges hero who’s struggling through life, but put those he loved before his own well-being. The film also has a nice message about the blindness of love, both literal and figurative.

 
Master’s Sun (2013)

So Ji-sub starred with Gong Hyo-jin in this Hong Sisters smash hit. While I wasn’t crazy about the episodic nature of this drama, nor the whole ghost element overall, it had enough fun to keep me watching. The leads were also fabulous together, which is half of the reason the drama was such a success. Without their chemistry, the whole concept of a terrified ghost-seeing heroine who becomes safe only when she makes physical contact with So Ji-sub’s character wouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Master’s Sun used So Ji-sub’s screen presence to the max — not only was he a master (pun intended) at giving off these cold, regal chaebol vibes, but he had the warmth and presence to back the whole skinship concept. Because who wouldn’t want to have all their fears and troubles disappear in a nice So Ji-sub hug?

 
Oh My Venus (2015)

Oh My Venus might not have been the strongest drama plot-wise, but it was So Ji-sub playing the role that suits him best: gruff tofu-hearted hero bearing silent pain (a.k.a. “stoic marshmallow”). Typecast? Maybe, but I will never get tired of him playing these roles. In Oh My Venus he played the trainer and fighter to Shin Min-ah‘s chubby attorney. He had secrets and injuries in his past that threatened to drive them apart, but one of the things this drama did well was depicting two adults in a mature relationship. Go, show! However, Oh My Venus did raise some eyebrows as the premise was that Shin Min-ah’s character needed to lose weight to gain back the respect that her chubbiness had lost her in the eyes of society. That being said, the drama tried hard to be about health and healthiness, not about maintaining a certain number on the scale. (I appreciate when dramas try to address body image issues, but the message often gets a little muddy and self-contradictory — My ID is Gangnam Beauty also faced this problem.) Body image and social issues aside, you can’t talk about this drama without mentioning the humor and color that the supporting cast added. So Ji-sub’s character lived with the MMA fighter he was training (the ever-handsome Sung Hoon — this was my favorite role for him to date) and Henry, who played his manager. The three of them were an absolute blast together. They collectively took Shin Min-ah’s character under their wing, and the drama is worth watching just to see them all interacting, whether they’re circuit training or making sure to eat their veggies.
 

So Ji-sub’s full filmography:

  • Three Guys and Three Girls (1996-1999) [Drama]
  • Korea’s first youth sitcom that ran for almost three years. You’ll see the baby-faced versions of a lot of familiar faces.

  • Model (1997) [Drama]
  • Both So Ji-sub and Jang Hyuk started their careers with side roles in this drama about revenge and the fashion industry (why not!).

  • What You Cherish Can Never Be Forgotten (1998) [Drama]
  • One-episode MBC Best Theatre drama (Episode #316) with the amazing Jeon Do-yeon.

  • Love Story (2000) [Drama]
  • Eight episodes, eight different love stories. So Ji-sub is in Episode 6 “Miss Hip-Hop and Mr. Rock” with Bae Doo-na.

  • Have You Ever Said ‘I Love You’? (2000) [Drama]
  • Another one-episode drama from MBC Best Theatre (Episode 398, to be exact).

  • Wang Rung’s Land (2000) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub has a supporting role (with Jang Hyuk again, hah) in this weekend drama.

  • Joa, Joa (2000) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub stars with Kim Sun-ah, and I like the sound of that.

  • Cheers for the Women (2000) [Drama]
  • A drama about a woman who’s dumped and then finds herself. Chae Shi-ra, Chae Rim and more.

  • Long Way (2001) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub is the boyfriend that abandons Park Jin-hee who then starts a contract relationship with Lee Byung-hun to save face. Is that a fair trade?

  • Delicious Proposal (2001) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub gets a second lead role in this Sohn Ye-jin romcom about rival Chinese restaurants.

  • Law Firm (2001) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub stars with bestie Song Seung-heon in this early drama. I assume it’s about a law firm but in every single still So Ji-sub is wearing a bandana do-rag. Because he can.

  • We Are Dating Now (2002) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub stars with Chae Rim and Kwon Sang-woo in this drama about neighborhood romances.

  • Can’t Live Without Robbery (2002) [Film]
  • So Ji-sub stars in this klepto comedy, and makes his first movie. Eek!

  • Glass Slippers (2002) [Drama]
  • 40-episode early Hallyu saga about two orphaned sisters, played by Kim Hyun-joo and Kim Ji-ho.

  • Thousands Years of Love (2003) [Drama]
  • An early sageuk-fusion drama with parallel Shilla Dynasty and present-day Seoul storylines.

  • What Happened In Bali (2004) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub, Jo In-sung and Ha Ji-won star in this classic and career-making melodrama. My gut tells me there is some serious second lead syndrome involved here.

  • I’m Sorry, I Love You (2004) [Drama]
  • Classic melodrama with Im Soo-jung that put them both on the map (see above).

  • U-Turn (2008) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub returned from his military duties and then starred in this OCN 4-episode drama short with Lee Yeon-hee.

  • Kitaro and the Millennium Curse (2008) [Film]
  • This one is a big change of pace for So Ji-sub — it’s a Japanese live-action anime film and it looks… kind of like you might imagine, but don’t try, please.

  • Rough Cut (2008) [Film]
  • Action movie filled with self-reference and meta that starred Kang Ji-hwan and So Ji-sub. The film was huge for So Ji-sub and won him a lot of critical acclaim.

  • Cain and Abel (2009) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub and Shin Hyun-joon star in this drama about a sibling rivalry of Biblical proportions.

  • Sophie’s Revenge (2009) [Film]
  • So stars opposite Chinese star Zhang Ziyi in this Chinese/Korean production. So Ji-sub said he wanted to do something light after all his heavy roles. All that crying and suffering wears one out.

  • I am GHOST (2009) [Mobile Drama]
  • So Ji-sub plays a ghost in this Japanese mobile drama with Mitsuki Tanimura and Rina Aizawa.

  • Road No. 1 (2010) [Drama]
  • Korean war + love triangle in this drama starring So Ji-sub, Kim Ha-neul and Yoon Kye-sang. Love the sound of that cast.

  • Only You (2011) [Film]
  • Ex-boxer with a dangerous past, and the blind woman he falls in love with (see above).

  • A Company Man (2012) [Film]
  • So Ji-sub is a hitman who finds himself the target of a hit in this action film with Lee Mi-young.

  • Phantom (2012) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub teams up with Lee Yeon-hee again in this police procedural about cyber crime, identity switches, and more.

  • Master’s Sun (2013) [Drama]
  • Smash hit about a haunted heroine and the chaebol heir that makes her safe — viz., skinship with a purpose (see above).

  • A Good Day (2015) [Web Drama]
  • Web drama produced by Line TV starring So Ji-sub and Kim Ji-won that apparently was not available outside of Thailand (and perhaps still isn’t?). The idea of them as a couple doesn’t fit in my head; I’d have to see it to believe it.

  • Warm and Cozy (2015) [Drama/Cameo]
  • So Ji-sub cameos in Episode 1 of this Hong Sisters drama, after starring in their previous hit Master’s Sun.

  • The Throne (2015) [Film/Cameo]
  • So Ji-sub cameos in this Yoo Ah-in period film about Crown Prince Sado.

  • Oh My Venus (2015) [Drama]
  • A trainer with a secret past tries to help Shin Min-ah shed some extra pounds (see above).

  • The Battleship Island (2017) [Film]
  • So Ji-sub and Song Joong-ki star in this blockbuster about an attempted escape from a forced labor camp during the Japanese occupation of Korea.

  • Be With You (2018) [Film]
  • So Ji-sub stars in this Japanese romance/melodrama film opposite Sohn Ye-jin, which reunited them on the screen 16 years after their 2001 drama. Cheers for career longevity!

  • My Secret Terrius (2018) [Drama]
  • So Ji-sub’s latest project just finished airing — he plays a spy, but the drama is more sweet/silly than spy/thriller.

 
Special Bonus: So Ji-sub’s love of hip-hop has remained strong and throughout his career he’s released some singles himself. Yes, the world needs So Ji-sub rapping about his life and how being an actor has clouded his perception of who he truly is versus who he has pretended to be.

 
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YAYS! Finally it's my ultimate k-bias' turn for the Actor Spotlight!

My gut tells me there is some serious second lead syndrome involved here.

I swear, my eyes were glued on him when I watched What Happened In Bali. Jo Insung who? Nah! It's all about Jisub for me. That's my first time seeing him & I never looked back.

I really appreciate that full list of filmography, I'm gonna check out some of those that I missed! Thanks for the write-up! ^^

SO JISUB IS LOVE. ❤️

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Oh yes, & we can't forget about his variety debut on Little House in the Forest. It really showcased his down to earth personality so well, & the most appropriate nickname of Meat-eating Monk So. *goes back to reminisce my fan posts of the variety-documentary*

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THIS. Monk So only prefers meat and doesn't care for carbohydrates.

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Also bananas!

🍌🍗🍖

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Loved him and the character he played in WHIB!

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I love these miss V!! (i can call you that, right?) I like your little interjects in your writing! Keep it up!

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Thank you! And yes ^_^

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Oh my Venus was my first So Ji-Sub drama and it keeps a special place in my heart as Ji-sub played the gruff marshmallow SO well.

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From the band aid to the scarf sooo many sweet moments in that show.

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Wait! *screams internally SO JI SUB".
I don't think I need to say more.
Goes back to screaming!

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um, reading! ;)

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Wait, what did I just see?? So ji Sub rapping!! Heol!! Thank you for sharing it with us. The world absolutely needs it.

A good day was very beautiful, it was my first time watching So Ji Sub.
And my fav role of him is in Be With You!

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I saw a lot of negative comments about So Ji-Sub when I first started watching kdrama and it put me off from watching his stuff. But then I saw him in The Master's Sun and couldn't understand what the problem was. Now, after seeing him in a few more things, I'm totally hooked. He's one of those actors who could make me watch paint dry so long as he was in the frame somewhere.

And I'm totally with you btw - I used to be more for movies but now I prefer dramas. After watching dramas regularly, I've realised that movies usually try to cram too much in such a short amount of time and they often fail to make me care about characters within that amount of time.

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Thanks for your great profile of So Ji-sub, @missvictrix. TERIUS BEHIND ME was my introduction to him and his work, and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Special thanks for the link to Kim Bon rapping, which was a sight to behold. Was he wearing some kind of mutant kilt? ;-)

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You are so right about Master’s Sun and how on paper, this should have been a mess, but So Ji-sub sold it. I should really watch something else he’s in, maybe I’m sorry, I love you?

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he's beautiful and wonderfully sad in that role...

watch Only You/Always if you haven't already... he's such a gentle soul with a huge heart and such very sad eyes.
*swoons*

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I second Always! It was my first intro to So Ji sub, ..swooooon....he was an memorable hero, romantic yet rough around the edges.

And, if I close my eyes, I still have a permanent imprint of his barechested workout presses burnt into my corneas.

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oh yeah, thanks for the reminder!
*rawrrrrr*

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Oh yes that movie! That's where I discovered him as well. He was 💕
*Swoon swoon* 🙈

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Go for I’m Sorry, I Love You if only you have enough boxes of tissues! 🤧

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I really should go back and finish My Secret Terrius. Thanks for this spotlight!

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he makes anything he wears look like runway haute couture, the way he walks (modelesque) and his V torso and long long legs....

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And sexy eyes. And sexy arms. And he looks damn sexy with long hair 😘😍😝😁

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I can confirm since I saw him in real life. I was at the Hong Kong airport a few years ago and heard screaming. Followed the frenzy to see what was going on. Lo and behold, it was So Ji Sub! He was walking through the airport, mobbed by fans and paparazzi, but I caught a glimpse. He is handsome!

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wow... sooo lucky!! his beautiful face burned into your memory....
; )

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Another lovable teddy bear and wonderful human being <3.
I'll never forget how he took care of his friend's family after he committed suicide.

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Always is a beautiful movie - it's a must-see for people who like well-written romance melodramas past, such as Just Between Lovers.

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My Username! I love this man honestly. He was the sole reason why I stayed in K-Dramas. I mean some of his dramas are just to depressing for my taste (Bali and Sorry I love you), but you can't deny that he is a damn good actor. Especially as time has gone by. There are times when I feel that he can be monotoned in his delivery, but he makes it work to his advantage. Don't even get me started on his comedic delivery. Now, rapper wise I think he should just leave it as a hobby. Yep. Just a hobby.

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OMGGGG Be with you definitely bring me to TEAAARRRSSSSSSS. Probably a lot because of the plot and a little about them being so pretty together omg

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I was just about to say you missed out on mentioning his illustrious rap career til I scrolled to the end. Bless you, @missvictrix 🤣

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I loved Can't live without robbery!

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He is awesome.💪👏

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So Ji-sub just oozes sex appeal to the max 😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍

Thank you for this special ode to So Ji sub. I thought I was familiarized with his work, but I haven't watched so many of his early dramas. 😕

However, I did watch A Good Day (which was available via DF in the US) and it was okay, but the leads chemistry kept me watching.

I must add--His chemistry while modeling with Shin Mina was intense, so I was disappointed that it didn't translate into Oh My Venus.

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I loved him in Master's Sun and Oh My Venus! And his friendship with baby Ji Sub, aka Yoo Seung Ho is too cute...

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I first saw him in Phantom and i was like he was okay. I found him handsome, but that was all i saw him in that. Then i saw him in Master's Sun. I swear that was the drama that made me fall in love with him.
After that , i try to watch every drama and movie he is in.
After watching in his many dramas , i found him very charming and he brings his own flavour to the characters. He is just a different actor.
PS: Love his height. <3

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PS: we all do dear❤️😂

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I love sjs so much! He is my favourite k actor. Bookmarking this to catch up on the shows I missed.

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Wow , has no idea SJS has done so much work. Discovered him in Master Sun.

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I just discover this actor 2017, And i was amazed about his talent. Not to mention, he's devastatingly gorgeous!. I am so in love with him. ❤

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I don't know how to explain but he's amazing actor... 💕💖. 언제나 내 마음 속에 살아요... 😀😁💋

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I've been lucky enough to watch So Ji-sub in a couple of dramas now, but apparently I've only scratched the surface! There are certainly a lot more dramas (and films) of his out there that I need to get to!

I don't remember when I first saw him, but he's always been a treat to watch. No one does the slow-burn thing like So Ji-sub.

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I've known So JiSub since "What Happened in Bali" although up to now, i havent watched that drama yet. Having watch some of its clips makes me feel that it was a bit dragging for me.. Lol! I've seen quite a few of his drama through various drama clips but never got to watch them thoroughly. (I didnt know he did this much work in his career). His recent work, Terius Behind Me, was the breaker. I watched the show not because of him but bec of the the refreshing and interesting plot it offers. I was surprised that i loved him to bits in his role. It was a good comeback project and i'm glad he took it. Battleship Island is next on my list.

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THANK YOU! As a long time SJS admirer ... I loved your spot-on write up.

Recent from viewing Terrius ... the "stoic marshmallow" was spot on.

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Been on the SJS bandwagon since:

Models, Glass Slippers, Delicious Proposal, Law Firm etc - beggars couldn't be choosers in those early 2000s days of DVDs-only viewing.

Before WH in Bali - which was when I sat up and really took notice

And the dude just gets better and better ... aging and honing his delivery like very fine wine.

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Never like him before I watch OMG because of lead actress Shin Minah but after watching OMG I fell in love with So jisub. Their explosive chemistry in OMG looks so real hope they were date for real.

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One of the actors that I like yay!
I like So Ji Sub for his trademark So Ji Sub-nees. 💕 He's really good at it ^^

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i love So Ji Sub!!! In Oh my Venus shock me, really.
<3

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I've had a crush in him for a decade but not because I think he's a good actor. I don't. I think he's a one note actor but he's just so darned handsome you can't look away. If you go back and look at his early dramas you'll get a real slice of how much drama has changed in recent years. I told you guys it's watered down. So Ji sub was in some dramas with some really over the top plots and lots of "adult" themes.

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Thanks for writing this!! So Ji Sub always be one of hottest ajushi you can depend on when you tired with young faces in the industry xD

I agree with all your picks, but I will add Cain & Abel on my favorite role of him~
So Ji Sub as a doctor was amazing!!
He is a lovely & naughty guy in the beginning of eps, but after his amnesia & he know who stabbed him from behind, his role changed 180 degree, and So Ji Sub portray it fabulously!!

OMG he show us so much emotions just in 1 drama only, IT'S SUPERB!! I laughed, depressed, cried and delighted because of his role ><
And his chemistry with Han Ji Min was great, I even remember when media suspect something happen with them that time LOL

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He has been my favorite Korean actor since I started watching K drama.
Love him so much!!!!

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Im so inlove with this pretty amazing man

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So JiSub is just superb...love everything about him..

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I have nothing but love and respect for this man.

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He is such a pleasure to watch, thoroughly enjoy his dramas!

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