Updated: Sep 13
Before he became one of k-drama’s highest-paid stars, Ji Chang-wook was an actor in musical theater. That’s right—the action star who performs his stunts and never uses a body double was a singer first.
He made his onscreen debut in a 2006 film called Days and then had a small role in the k-drama You Stole My Heart. He then starred in a popular weekend family drama, My Too Perfect Sons, which set him on the path to becoming the star he is now.
He played the titular character in the high-rating historical Warrior Baek Dong-soo in 2011, then played the antagonist opposite Ju Ji-hoon in 2012’s Five Fingers. His growing popularity eventually reached a frenzy when he starred as Ta Hwan in the 50-episode historical juggernaut Empress Ki.
After playing a romantic lead in 2017’s Suspicious Partner, 2019’s Melting Me Softly, 2020’s Backstreet Rookie, and then in the recent Lovestruck in the City, Ji went back to his musical theater roots on Netflix’s The Sound of Magic.
Here, we’ll look at this amazing actor's more popular drama hits.
Warrior Baek Dong-soo (2011)
Based on the 2010 comic by Lee Jae-heon, the coming-of-age tale follows the destiny of an ordinary boy as he grows from a top swordsman to a revered historical figure. The historical hit about Joseon folk hero Baek Dong-soo dominated TV ratings in 2011 and made Ji Chang-wook a bona fide drama star. It also made stars of the young Yoo Seung-ho (who played his skilled equal and future nemesis), Shin Hyun-been, and Yeo Jin-goo. So popular was this action-packed historical that SBS decided to extend the show from 24 to 30 episodes.
Empress Ki (2013)
Fresh from the wild success of Warrior Baek Dong-soo, Ji Chang-wook traded his ragged folk wardrobe for extravagant royal garb in 2013’s Empress Ki. As Ta Hwan/Toghon Temur, Ji portrayed his growth from weakly royal to the emperor of the Yuan dynasty.
Ji’s lucky ratings streak continued, with Empress Ki hitting an incredible average of 35% for each episode. Thanks to his passionate performance as a besotted—and later lovelorn—emperor, he would win awards for acting and make his mark in the industry as a reliable and hard-working actor.
In 2014, Ji Chang-wook joined Hallyu legend Yoo Ji-tae and rising star Park Min-young in an action-packed story of truth and journalism. As a “night courier” who goes by the moniker “Healer,” Ji used his martial arts training and stunt skills to carry out the dangerous tasks he’s been assigned. While on a mission, he crosses paths with a veteran journalist and a spunky young reporter with whom he eventually falls in love. Although the show’s ratings didn’t hit the highs his old dramas used to, it did make Ji a big star overseas, especially in China.
The K2 (2016)
Ji Chang-wook stars as Kim Je-ha, the lead in tvN’s action-thriller extravaganza “The K2.” As a former mercenary soldier forced to work as a chaebol's bodyguard, Kim finds himself being drawn to the chaebol’s daughter An-na (Yoona) and entangled with the family’s politics and affairs. While Kim Je-ha enjoyed a good romance with An-na, fans of the series could also argue that he shared a much more flammable connection with the chaebol’s wife (Song Yoon-ah).
In The K2, Ji flexed his taekwondo, aikido, and jiujitsu skills. He reportedly performed all the stunts and fight scenes himself, without a body double. As a result of all his hard work and the show’s steady ratings, Ji was the highest-paid actor in a tvN drama that year.
Lovestruck in the City (2021)
Ji Chang-wook is Park Jae-won, an architect and one of six people talking about their love lives in this multi-story k-drama. He hasn’t gotten over his ex (played by Kim Ji-won), and it looks like fate doesn’t want him to. You'll probably swing between rooting for the couple and thinking they shouldn't be together (and even be tempted to drop it). But if you stick with it to the end, you'll (hopefully) understand their whys, and what it really means to love another person.
Read our full review here.
If You Wish upon Me (2022)
Ji Chang-wook returns to melodramatic territory this year with a rather heavy role. Inspired by a real foundation in the Netherlands that fulfills the dying wish of cancer patients, If You Wish upon Me casts Ji Chang-wook as an ex-convict working at a hospice who tries to fulfill the last wishes of their dying patients.
The ongoing “healing” drama is available in Viu and Viki.