Edited by Seo Hayne
Translated Cho EK
456 is the number we all remember in 2021. It’s the number that Sung Gi Hun wore in Netflix original series Squid Game. Gi Hun, played by Lee Jung Jae, is a talentless man, but at the same time, he is a man of integrity. He desperately licked the honeycomb (Dalgona) to survive in the deadly survival game, deceived Il Nam (No. 001) while struggling with guilt, and tried to choose Sang Woo (No. 218) over the prize money in the final game.
Lee Jung Jae made his debut in SBS’ Dinosaur Teacher in 1993 and has maintained his position as a top star ever since despite his ups and downs. In case Squid Game made you want to watch more of his works, we prepared five masterpieces in his filmography.
SBS’ Sandglass is a masterpiece that captures the modern and contemporary history of Korea in the 1980s. It recorded an average nationwide rating of 50.8 percent with a peak of 64.5 percent. Lee Jung Jae played Baek Jae Hee, the bodyguard who protects Yoon Hye Rin (Go Hyun Jung). Although he didn’t have many lines, he showed his strong presence with his beautiful slicked-back hairstyle and a gorgeously tailored suit. Lee showed a character who kept his heart hidden until the end while protecting his lover silently under any circumstances. He rose to prominence as a rising star by winning the Best New Actor Award at the 1995 SBS Drama Awards and at the 31st Baeksang Arts Awards.
City of the Rising Sun (1998)
Lee Jung Jae left a lasting impression on the public with his former mobster turned a bodyguard role in Sandglass, and he later solidified his position as a young star in the movie City of the Rising Sun as a reckless gangster. City of the Rising Sun‘s Hong Ki builds friendships with struggling boxer Do Cheol (Jung Woo Sung) as they plot scamming schemes for money and success. Lee Jung Jae was recognized for his brilliant acting at the age of 27, and he won the Best Actor Award at the Blue Dragon Film Festival for City of the Rising Sun in 1999. Meanwhile, Lee Jung Jae and Jung Woo Sung, who became best friends in the industry through this work, are about to showcase another bromance film later on. Lee Jung Jae is currently working on his directorial film debut, Hunt, with Jung Woo Sung.
The Housemaid (2010)
Lee Jung Jae made another turning point as an actor by playing Hoon, the man who lives in a luxurious mansion in the erotic and suspenseful movie, The Housemaid. Hoon is a character who seduces a maid named Eun Yi (Jeon Do Yeon), and Lee nailed playing the snobbish character with his subtle facial expression and a handful of lines. He showed the hypocritic state of mind of the rich people with several scenes in the movie, such as in the scene where he gently shakes the wine glass then savors the wine or in the scene where he plays the piano. In an interview, Lee Jung Jae shared some behind-the-scenes stories, saying, “When I first read the script, I felt uncomfortable playing Hoon. But as I kept reading it over and over again, I felt the stronger urge to do that role.” Although the work focuses on the narrative of the maid, Hoon remains an unforgettable character to many.
The Face Reader (2013)
Lee Jung Jae was cast in The Face Reader thanks to the positive reviews on his elegant and charismatic role in The Housemaid. The Face Reader combines physiognomy with period movie and tells the story of a genius face reader who sees through a person’s fate by looking at his or her face and therefore gets caught up in a power struggle of the Joseon Dynasty, where the throne is in jeopardy. Lee took on the role of Prince Soo Yang and he appears in the movie an hour after the film begins. However, when he appears on the screen, he instantly reverses the flow of the play and creates this legendary appearance scene that will last in film history. His line, “Do I have the face of a king?” has become a buzzword. Also, his face is said to be ‘the wolf’s face’ in the play, and to play this role realistically, he said that he watched many episodes of National Geographic and Animal Kingdom.
Assassination depicts the footsteps of independence activists in the 1930s during the Japanese colonial period. Lee takes on the role of Captain Yeom Seok Jin, who recruits three pro-Japanese assassins to carry out his mission. He played different ages in the same film, ranging from a man in his 20s to 60s. Moreover, it is said that he has dropped some weight to impersonate the character’s aging body. In the latter half of the film, Yeom Seok Jin, in his 60s, shows his tortured body to the audience in the court; he says, “I was shot when Governor Terauchi was assassinated in Gyeongseong in 1911. These are the two holes.” Assassination is his second work with director Choi Dong Hoon and it became his second film that attracted 10 million moviegoers after The Thieves (2012).
Editor Seo Hayne: I like actors as they faithfully lead through their long running-time. I also like idols who accomplish everything on stage within 3 minutes.
Translator Cho EK: I’m a big fan of Korean dramas and movies.