[Actor Spotlight] Jung Il-woo
Jung Il-woo is back from military duty, and he’s the subject of our latest spotlight article. Jung Il-woo wasted no time finding a project to mark his return to acting, and is currently starring in the SBS sageuk drama Haechi, where he plays Prince Yeoning, who would later go on to be crowned the 21st king of the Joseon Dynasty.
Born in 1987 in Seoul, South Korea, Jung Il-woo made his TV debut in the popular Unstoppable High Kick sitcom, which originally aired in 2006. It didn’t take long for audiences to appreciate Jung Il-woo on the small screen. After winning the lead role in 2009’s The Return of Iljimae, Jung Il-woo was quickly cast in career-making dramas like 49 Days and The Moon That Embraces the Sun.
While Jung Il-woo does a lot of historical dramas, I find him strongest (and most enjoyable) in comedic roles. It’s not that he can’t do serious, but his comedy is just so good. There’s nothing like watching an actor pour himself into a role, and having a blast while doing it.
Here are some dramaland moments from Jung Il-woo, followed by his full filmography.
Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (2011)
Flower Boy Ramyun Shop was my introduction to Jung Il-woo, and I think it was a rather fitting one. While Jung Il-woo has seen a lot of his professional success in serious historical dramas throughout his career, he’s a fantastic comedic actor as well. In this wacky 2011 drama, Jung Il-woo plays the spoiled chaebol high schooler who falls hard for the character and ramyun shop owner played by Lee Chung-ah. With love triangles, nickname puns, noodle making, kimchi tasting, and a great restaurant setting, this drama was a lot of fun — with or without the second lead syndrome (thanks, Lee Ki-woo).
High-End Crush (2015)
I guess I really do enjoy zany Jung Il-woo. In this web drama of twenty 15-minute episodes, he starred as the completely self-centered and ridiculous CEO of an entertainment company. A little madcap and a lot slapstick, High-End Crush was heavy on hyperbolic comedy. Everything was turned up to eleven with sped-up scenes, humorous sound effects, and on-screen text. Lee Shi-un also starred as Jung Il-woo’s secretary, and their strange love/hate relationship stole the show, even though the drama was about Jung Il-woo’s character wildly pursuing the country girl (played by Jin Se-yeon) who’s his polar opposite.
Cinderella and the Four Knights (2016)
Every now and then there are dramas that start off with a strong concept and a great cast, but they wind up lacking the spark that’s needed to give them life. With Cinderella and the Four Knights, no one was expecting a deep, social satire, or a statement on the human condition. We were expecting a nice juicy drama so bad it was good — kind of like the addictive craziness that was Boys Over Flowers. After all, these stories had a few things in common like the wealthy, pompous leading male characters, the spunky Candy heroine, and the clash of personalities and worlds that ensued. However, Cinderella and the Four Knights never quite got there. The drama took tropes and cliches that it could and should have made into a hilarious mess — and instead made it boring and predictable. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Jung Il-woo and Park So-dam here, but it hurts to see good, vibrant actors in a lifeless production. Everyone’s allowed a flop, I guess.
Jung Il-woo’s full filmography:
- The World of Silence (2006) [Film]
Jung Il-woo made his film debut with a small role in this thriller.
- Unstoppable High Kick (2006) [Drama]
So many actors got off to a really strong start with their appearances on this long-running sitcom, and Jung Il-woo is the perfect example. This just might have been the start of Jung Il-woo’s noona crush proficiency as well.
- My Love (2007) [Film]
A story of three couples and a single man and the love stories they each experience during the holiday season.
- The Secret of Coocoo Island (2008) [Drama]
An ensemble cast that includes Yoon Sang-hyun, Shim Hyung-tak, Kim Kwang-kyu and more, in this Lost/Survivor-sounding plot where a group of employees are stranded on a deserted island. Jung Il-woo appears in the first of 40 episodes.
- The Return of Iljimae (2009) [Drama]
When Lee Seung-gi dropped out of this drama, Jung Il-woo was tapped to fill his place and took the lead as Iljimae, making quite the name/mane for himself.
- My Fair Lady (2009) [Drama]
Yoon Eun-hye and Yoon Sang-hyun lead this rom-com, with Jung Il-woo and Moon Chae-won in second land territory.
- High Kick Through the Roof (2009) [Drama/Cameo]
Jung Il-woo cameos in the second season of the sitcom where he debuted.
- 49 Days (2011) [Drama]
Though he had leading parts before 49 Days, this is considered by many to be Jung Il-woo’s breakout role. As a fun bit of trivia, this SBS drama was followed by City Hunter, which starred his real life bestie Lee Min-ho.
- Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (2011) [Drama]
Kimchi, kisses, ramen, and quite the comedic love triangle with Jung Il-woo, Lee Chung-ah, and Lee Ki-woo (see above).
- High Kick: Revenge of the Short Legged (2011) [Drama/Cameo]
Another season, another High Kick cameo for Jung Il-woo.
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun (2012) [Drama]
Massive and well-loved sageuk hit starring Kim Soo-hyun and Ha Ga-in, with Jung Il-woo as the second lead + rival.
- God of the Workplace (2013) [Drama/Cameo]
Jung Il-woo cameos in Episode 3 of this Kim Hye-soo drama as his character from Flower Boy Ramyun Shop. I’d almost watch the drama just for this!
- Golden Rainbow (2013) [Drama]
Weekend drama about 7 orphans/siblings with UEE, Jung Il-woo, Lee Jae-yoon (oppa!), and more. I always wanted to watch this one because sibling stories can be so great, but the 40+ episode count scared me off.
- Diary of a Night Watchman (2014) [Drama]
Jung Il-woo took on another sageuk role as the rebellious heir to the throne, and the eponymous night watchman, and won an MBC Top Excellence Award for it.
- High-End Crush (2015) [Drama]
If the thought of Jung Il-woo having hissy fits, breakdowns, and running around in brightly-colored short suits appeals to you, give it a watch (see above).
- Cinderella and the Four Knights (2016) [Drama]
So much promise, but so much boredom (see above).
- The Rise of a Tomboy (2016) [Film]
Chinese rom-com with Zhao Liying, Hans Zhang, and Jung Il-woo.
- Love and Lies (2017) [Drama]
Next, Jung Il-woo tries his hand at a Thai drama, and it looks juicy and delicious, with actress scandals and a PR firm that covers them up. David McInnis of Descended From the Sun “fame” is also in this, whether that makes you want to watch more, or run far away.
- The Discloser (2018) [Film/Cameo]
Jung Il-woo has a guest appearance in this political thriller.
- Haechi (2019) [Drama]
Jung Il-woo’s comeback drama. I understand the lure of sweeping sageuk dramas, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can’t wait to see some comedy from him again.
- Haechi: Episodes 1-2
- Haechi stars Jung Il-woo as a problematic Prince Yeongjo on quest for justice
- Jung Il-woo shines in web drama High-End Crush
- Jung Il-woo returns to civilian life
- Cinderella and the Four Knights: Episode 1
- Records of a Night Watchman: Episode 1
- Gold Rainbow: An Introduction
- Thing vs. Thing: Cradle-robbing Teachers