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Kim Seon-ho (김선호)

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

In art, there are two familiar roads to creating a modern-day classic: Either one does a virtuoso version of a standard, such as playing the second lead in an unforgettable way, or one does a brilliant reinvention, such as taking a beloved film role and making it distinctively your own.

So what do we make of Kim Seon-ho, an actor who has done both, and more?

Before most of us met him as the memorable Han Ji-pyeong of Start-up, Kim Seon-ho had long enjoyed a decent fan following as a theater actor and a resident cast member of the k-variety show 2 Days, 1 Night. He paid his dues in supporting roles in 2017’s Good Manager and Strongest Deliveryman, as well as in 2018’s 100 Days My Prince and Welcome to Waikiki 2.

But it wasn’t until his turn as the sardonic and brutally frank Han Ji-pyeong that the k-drama-loving public experienced some of the worst second-lead syndrome they didn't expect to have.

After breaking our hearts in Start-up, he was eager to heal them in the romcom juggernaut Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. As Chief Hong, fans got some of the Ji-pyeong snark but Seon-ho now carefully laced his interpretation of the role with much more gentleness, romanticism, and inflammable chemistry. His performance as the beloved Gongjin handyman is one of the many reasons why “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” is one of the highest globally watched K-dramas after “Squid Game,” clocking at an impressive 300 million views (and rewatches).

Kim Seon-ho remains proof that a great acting career is built on a few simple factors: hard work, unpretentiousness, striking good looks, and incredible talent. Despite his growing popularity, he is always quick to point out that he is the farthest thing from an overnight success. Ever the true thespian, he once told Esquire that his biggest goal was to simply become an actor “that people would want to work with again.” No one validated this desire more than the cast and crew of both Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha and the movie The Childe, who bravely showed their support and affection for the actor despite certain circumstances.

Kim’s celebrity status is especially remarkable, given how his legions of fans have grown despite his self-imposed hiatus. To see that he has chosen to come back to the limelight and take the rather thorny route of working his way back -- first through a theater comeback and then slowly through fan meets and selected appearances -- has endeared him more to his own fans and made new ones as well. It seems the feeling has always been mutual, as he has often expressed how dumbfounded and grateful he has been for the wild and warm reception that has greeted him wherever he goes. So it is with great relief that Seon-ho has become one of the rare K-celebrities that has transcended his industry's notorious "cancel culture" and is poised to come out even stronger than before.

He made good on his promise of a comeback, making his film debut as a maverick villain in the noir "The Childe" and lining up a couple more K-dramas for 2024. Apparently, he did get his wish. People do want to work with him again. And see him again. And again.

Now armed with new projects and a new smattering of product endorsements, it seems that he and his loyal army of "Seonhohadas" are set to tread on the "flowery path" that has once eluded them. And if he keeps playing his cards right, he may find out that he has forged a totally unique -- and a more infinitely interesting path -- to becoming a modern-day classic.

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