K-rush of the Week: Lee Se-young
Lee Se-young has arguably the most unique showbiz origin story: her mother wanted her daughter’s face to be known by the public to minimize her chances of getting kidnapped!
After making her debut on the popular children's show Popopo at the age of five, Lee Se-young would go on to play many younger version roles– most famously, in the international hit drama Jewel in the Palace (2003), and earn her very first Baeksang Arts Awards nomination for the film Lovely Rivals (2004) when she was only 13.
She put her career on hold to attend regular school but was bullied precisely because of her fame and beauty. She then learned to use humor as a coping mechanism and developed the bright, hilarious personality her colleagues and fans love her for.
Here we take a look at some of her more memorable roles and dramas.
The Gentlemen of Wolgyesu Tailor Shop (2016)
Lee Se-young earned her first Baeksang acting award through this 2016 KBS weekend family drama. The 54-episode series centers on the five men who strive to keep the Laurel Tree Tailor Shop, a family-owned neighborhood institution, in business. Lee Se-young plays Min Hyo-won, a rich, bubbly girl who takes an interest in Kang Tae-yang (Hyun Woo, Law School), the youngest of the gentlemen.
The Crowned Clown (2019)
This Joseon-era sageuk (historical) drama features Yeo Jin-goo (Beyond Evil) in dual roles: a king driven to madness by paranoia and opioids, and his doppelganger—a poor traveling circus performer brought in to shield him from assassination. In her first leading role in a historical drama, Lee Se-young radiates dignity, strength, and grace as Yoo Sowoon, the young queen who finds herself falling for the clown despite the dangers of their situation.
Doctor John (2019)
Lee Se-young plays Kang Shi-young, a resident under the wing of Doctor Cha Yo-han/John (Ji Sung, The Devil Judge), a brilliant anesthesiologist who has served a prison sentence for illegally euthanizing a terminally ill patient. At Seoul Hanse Medical Center’s Pain Management Clinic, where young doctors have been trained to focus on symptoms and to keep their patients at arm’s length, Doctor John teaches his students empathy and imparts valuable wisdom: “To understand a person’s pain is to understand that person.”
Lee Se-young transforms into Han Su-mi, a no-nonsense detective in this crime thriller centered on Dong Baek (Yoo Seung-ho, I'm Not a Robot), a man with a supernatural ability to read the memory of any person he touches. Based on a webcomic, the series follows Dong Baek and Han Su-mi as they investigate a mysterious series of deaths. While the various cases might be difficult to keep track of, they all come together in a surprising revelation in the end.
The Red Sleeve (2021)
Eighteenth-century Joseon was not a good place to be a woman, especially not one bound to a life of servitude within the palace walls. In this hit historical drama, Lee Se-young plays court lady Sung Deok-im, an actual historical figure known for her intelligence and revolutionary thinking.
Sung Deok-im’s independent-mindedness and stubborn determination to protect her choices—including saying no to a very tempting Crown Prince Yi San (Lee Jun-ho, Good Manager)—drive the main conflict in The Red Sleeve. While her loyalty to him is unquestionable, whether it is born out of romantic love or a strong sense of duty (or both?) is a theme that threads throughout this multiple award-winning drama.
The Law Cafe (2022)
Lee Se-young switches out her court lady uniforms for animal prints and loud colors in this currently-airing legal rom-com from KBS. Reuniting with her Hwayugi co-star Lee Seung-gi, she flexes her comedic chops as Kim Yu-ri, a brilliant lawyer who decides to open a shop where she can dispense free legal advice… and coffee!