Picture this: The year is 2009, Boys Over Flowers just came out and you find yourself swooning over Gu Jun-pyo’s curly locks and bad boy attitude. You, and the rest of the country, become immensely invested in the Hallyu Wave and the craze hasn’t stopped ever since.
You might now know it, but a lot of the actors starring in your current fave K-Dramas have actually been in the industry for more than a decade now. Curious to see who they are? We’re taking you back to the good old days with some of South Korea’s OG leading men!
1. Lee Min Ho
Starting off strong with arguably one of the most famous leading men in the K-Drama industry—Lee Min Ho! This heartthrob has become a household name for K-Drama fans everywhere after landing the role of misunderstood chaebol Gu Jun-pyo in Boys Over Flowers (2009). Since then, he has starred in several films and dramas, including City Hunter (2011), The Heirs (2013), The Legend of the Blue Sea (2016), and most recently, The King: Eternal Monarch (2020). If you just can’t get enough of him, it looks like we’re seeing more of Min Ho soon as he was reported to have been spotted in Vancouver, Canada last March while filming for his upcoming Apple TV+ drama, Pachinko.
2. Gong Yoo
Though he may have become an international household name this decade, Gong Yoo has actually been stealing hearts even before his well-received drama Goblin (2016). Most OG fans know him from his breakout role as Han Gyeol in the 2007 romantic drama Coffee Prince, where he starred alongside Yoon Eun Hye. Apart from his undeniably successful K-Drama career, he’s also appeared in South Korean blockbusters such as Train to Busan (2016) and the award-winning feminist film Kim Ji-Young: Born 1982 (2019). As for 2021, his most recent movie Seo Bok, co-starring Park Bo Gum, was launched in certain countries just last April.
3. Lee Dong Wook
Next up on our list is another heartthrob who starred in Goblin (2016)–Lee Dong Wook. Aside from acting though, he is also a celebrated host and model. Did you know he was the first global ambassador for Chanel’s flagship male make-up line, Boy de Chanel, back in 2018? Now, fifteen years since his career skyrocketed thanks to My Girl (2005), he’s turned into a beloved leading man who’s starred in popular K-dramas such as Touch Your Heart (2019), Hell Is Other People (2019), and Tale of the Nine-Tailed (2020).
It’s a well-known fact that Rain is one of the pioneers of the Hallyu Wave after becoming a household name in the Philippines and abroad with his stellar performance in the iconic romance drama Full House (2004). Most recently though, he starred in the fantasy rom com Welcome to Life (2019) as a skilled but selfish lawyer. Aside from that, he was also featured in Hollywood films such as Speed Racer (2008) and Ninja Assassin (2009). But did you know that apart from being a celebrated actor, Rain’s also an accomplished singer/songwriter? He even established two entertainment agencies: J. Tune Entertainment in 2007 and R.A.I.N. Company in 2015. As for his personal life, he is currently married to actress Kim Tae Hee and they have two children together.
5. Hyun Bin
Before he stole our hearts as Captain Ri Jung-hyuk in Crash Landing on You (2019), you might have first seen Hyun Bin in the internet novel-based drama My Name is Kim Sam Soon (2005), co-starring Kim Sun A, Jung Ryeo Won and Daniel Henney. Hyun Bin prides himself in his diverse roles and in an interview with Forbes, he shares: “I like playing characters that fit my age and represent that time and the situations we face.” We can definitely see what he’s going for considering his varied roles in dramas like Secret Garden (2010) , Hyde, Jekyll, and Me (2015) and Memories of the Alhambra (2018). Also, in case you didn’t already know, he’s currently dating his CLOY leading lady, Son Ye Jin! You can relive their whirlwind romance on Netflix.
6. Song Seung Heon
Song Seung Heon’s claim to fame was his leading role in the romantic drama Autumn in My Heart (2000). At a time when K-Dramas weren’t the talk of the town, Seung Heon was shocked when, upon ending his drama, he gained international recognition as evidenced by foreigners actually coming up to his house and his office. Since then, he continued to star in films and television series. Most recently, he played the role of food psychologist who provided food therapy in Dinner Mate (2020) co-starring Seo Ji Hye, who played Seo Dan on Crash Landing on You.
7. Kwon Sang Woo
When thinking of iconic Koreanovelas that aired in the 2000’s, Kwon Sang Woo’s Stairway to Heaven (2003) will definitely be at the top of anyone’s list (it even spawned a Filipino adpatation of the same name, starring Rhian Ramos and Dingdong Dantes). Since then, Sang Woo has starred in several other dramas, and even Chinese films where he acted with the likes of Jackie Chan! Currently, he’s married to former Miss Korea Son Tae Young, whom he has two children with. He also starred in the 2020 drama, Delayed Justice! You can stream it on Viu now.
8. Bae Yong Joon
Who could forget about Bae Yong Joon’s captivating performance in Endless Love: Winter Sonata (2002)? Though the actor hasn’t appeared in any dramas since his role in The Legend (2007), hundreds of fans still visited his wedding venue in 2015 to show their undying love and support. It was reported that some of his Japanese fans even flew all the way to South Korea to witness his nuptials to actress Park Soo Jin! We’re guessing that their love for this actor is definitely endless. Yong Joon is now a businessman who runs the management agency KeyEast. Known talents under his company include Hwang In Yeop, Moon Ga Young, and Woo Do Hwan.
9. Kim Rae Won
Did you know Kim Rae Won’s childhood dream was actually to become a professional basketball player? After a serious injury, however, he decided to study film and acting instead. This led him to eventually play the role of law student Lee Kyung-min in Attic Cat (2003), a romantic comedy drama that aired in the Philippines during the same year. You might also know this veteran actor from his lead role in Doctors (2016), which also starred Park Shin Hye! This role significantly contributed to his popularity at the time, and even landed him a number of commercial offers. Recently, he top-billed the sci-fi mystery series L.U.C.A: The Beginning (2021), alongside actress and model Lee Da Hee.
10. So Ji Sub
Like many actors on this list, So Ji Sub initially debuted as a model before pursuing an acting career when he landed a role in the drama Three Guys And Three Girls (1996). That said, he only became a renowned celebrity after starring in the hit series I’m Sorry, I Love You in 2004. Since then, he has starred in several other TV shows such as Ghost (2012), Master’s Sun (2013) and Oh My Venus (2015). The past year had been especially eventful for Ji Sub as he got married last April 2020 to former TV presenter Jo Eung Jung.
11. Ju Ji Hoon
Before meeting him as Crown Prince Lee Chang in Kingdom (2019), Ju Ji Hoon first debuted as Crown Prince Shin for his first-ever K-drama role in the hit 2006 series Princess Hours. Despite his handsome royal looks and undeniable talent, however, Ji Hoon revealed in a previous interview that he actually received a lot of hate for his debut role. He didn’t let these comments get to him though, and continued to star in several dramas throughout the years, including his most recent one: Hyena (2020), a drama centered on two lawyers who only serve the richest one percent of society.
12. Jo In Sung
You’ve probably seen this veteran actor in Memories of Bali (2004), where he starred alongside Ha Ji Won, So Ji Sub and Park Ye Jin. Aside from being a passionate actor (he’s known for getting too much into character, leading him to injuring his hand and almost breaking his teeth!), In Sung is actually very meticulous when it comes to choosing his roles. We can definitely say we trust his judgment as most of the projects he’s been a part of found great success during their run! Some of these include It’s Okay, That’s Love (2014), That Winter, The Wind Blows (2013), The Great Battle (2018) and more! Currently, he stars alongside Cha Tae Hyun in their variety show Unexpected Business (2021).
13. Park Shin Yang
Back in 2004, before there was Emily in Paris, everybody swooned over the City of Lights in Lovers in Paris—one of the highest-rating K-dramas of all time on public TV—which starred Park Shin Yang. However, things didn’t always turn out as expected for this young actor. Can you believe that he used to work as a part-time bodyguard in Russia? Little did he know that he would be in for an award-winning acting career, allowing him to eventually garner awards for his roles in shows like Money Warfare (2007) and Painter of the Wind (2008). He most recently starred in both seasons of My Lawyer, Mr. Jo (2016-2019).
14. Lee Dong Gun
Next up is another familiar face as he also starred in Lovers in Paris (2004), playing the role of Park Shin Yang’s nephew (yes, the one he had a love triangle with.) Following the success of this drama, Lee Dong Gun continued on his acting career and landed leading roles in shows like Marry Him If You Dare (2013), Super Daddy 10 (2015) and Queen for Seven Days (2017). He most recently played the lead on Leverage (2019) where he took on the role of a former insurance claims investigator turned scam strategist.
15. Lee Seung Gi
Last, but definitely not the least, is the multi-talented Lee Seung Gi. Not only did he star in some of our favorite fantasy and romance dramas such as My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (2010), The King 2 Hearts (2012), and A Korean Odyssey (2017), but he’s also a talented singer and host–this set him out to be dubbed as a "Triple Threat" entertainer. Recently, he took on the lead role in Mouse (2021), a thriller drama series where he plays a police officer named Jeong Ba-reum.
See any familiar faces? We’d love to know who your favorite OG actors are in the comments below!
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