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Ju Ji-hoon (주지훈)

Ju ji-hoon, ju ji hoon, kingdom, bloodfree

In 2014, k-pop star Ga-in released a song controversially titled "Fxxk U." In the music video, a messed-up and helpless Ga-In played a woman trapped in a possessive relationship. The (real-life) boyfriend in the video? None other than a very troubling—but very attractive—Ju Ji-hoon. The video was meant to warn women everywhere, but we couldn't stop watching it. With nearly 20 million views, Fxxk U"is a certified banger, but it is also a testament to the palpable danger that Ju Ji-hoon had in him that made it so hard to look away.

This intoxicating combination of unusually aquiline features and a carelessly insolent personal life makes Joo Ji-hoon so damn fascinating. From being a Calvin Klein model, he got his break when he was instantly cast as the lead of Princess Hours (2006). But as an untrained actor, he was off to a rough start and struggled so severely with the role that fans even asked that he be replaced. Unable and unprepared to cope with the sudden rise in profile, he fell into a severe drug scandal in 2009, which banned him from appearing on TV for five years. Nevertheless, he persisted, and Princess Hours catapulted him and co-star Yoon Eun-hye to international fame.

For his comeback, one would think he would now take the "safe" route and expect him to turn into the "Nation's Boyfriend" or whatnot. It would not be the case. In fact, Ji-hoon seemed even more hell-bent on being the "Nation's Dangerous Ex" instead. He would take on darker roles and allowed himself to be cast in movies that the general public didn't find endearing.

In 2007, he opted to be in the revenge drama Lucifer with fellow model Shin Min-ah. He then made his film debut in the dark comedy Antique Bakery in 2008. Adapted from the manga, this film featured Ji-hoon as one of the eccentric main leads, portraying a patissier with a mysterious past.

After his military discharge, he took on the gritty prince-and-pauper role in I Am the King (2012) and later joined the orgiastic The Treacherous (2015), the drug melodrama Asura: City of Madness (2016). He then went full-on psychotic for Dark Figure of Crime (2018).

In 2017, Ji-hoon appeared in one of the most commercially successful blockbusters in Korean history, Along with the Gods. This fantasy blockbuster saw Ji-hoon in a supporting role as a supernatural guardian who is tasked to bring souls through the underworld. Despite not being the central focus, his performance left a lasting impression, even becoming a central plotline in the second movie. Its sequel enjoyed similar success as well.

In 2019, Ju earned the lead role in Netflix's first original K-drama, the zombiefest Kingdom. Based on the webcomic The Kingdom of the Gods, Kingdom is a South Korean historical horror-sageuk set during the Joseon Dynasty and follows the story of Crown Prince Lee Chang, played by Ju Ji-hoon who is embroiled in a deadly conspiracy to uncover the truth behind an outbreak. He discovers a forbidden secret that involves a powerful clan and a sinister plot to usurp the throne. As the zombie plague continues to spread, the Crown Prince, along with his loyal bodyguard Moo-young (Kim Sang-ho) and Seo-bi (Bae Doona), a skilled physician and herbalist, must embark on a perilous journey to save the kingdom and its people from the deadly epidemic and its politics.

In 2020's legal drama Hyena, Ji Hoon showcased his versatility by portraying a charismatic and ambitious lawyer opposite a bombastic Kim Hye-soo. His portrayal of the morally ambiguous yet extremely slick character, as well as the chemistry he shared with his co-star, earned him praise.

In 2021, he joined Jun Ji-hyun (Kingdom: Ashin of the North, Legend of the Blue Sea) as a rookie ranger in Jiri Mountain National Park. The big-budget series showed the lives of rescue climbers, with an overarching fantastical mystery in between.

This year, Ju returns with K-drama veteran Han Hyo-joo in Disney's Blood Free, a dystopian drama about the end of meat eating and the company that profits greatly from it.

It's interesting to note that Ju Ji-hoon began his career as the Crown Prince Shin in Princess Hours and cemented his A-list status as the Crown Prince Lee Chang in the Netflix zombie series Kingdom. It is the supreme irony that a career marked by princely roles has been nothing but. Yet his fearlessness has clearly paid off, and nowadays, it's safe to assume that he is happily back in the good graces of the viewing public.

Many Hallyu actors opt to remain in the safe and the unremarkable, trapped by the fear of losing face and the condemnation of an unforgiving public. But something must be said about those who have freed themselves from that fear. Having already lost so much, Ju Ji-hoon seems to have chosen to fearlessly lean into his own darkness, crawl his way back, and come out winning. Some say there is nothing more dangerous than one with nothing left to lose. If so, then Ju Ji-hoon is a truly dangerous creature indeed, and one that makes it so hard to look away.

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