Updated: Mar 1
As our Valentine's gift to all our followers, each day in February, an actor who is either the next big thing, or an established heartthrob whom we all love, is featured.
February 1: Choi Woo-shik (최우식), Our Beloved Boy Next Door
If you’ve only just started on your k-drama/movie journey, you might know him primarily from his role in the Academy Award-winning movie “Parasite.” It was as this enterprising (albeit morally suspect) son that the Seoul-born, Canada-raised actor bagged a Screen Actors Guild award in 2020. But Choi Woo-shik was flexing his acting chops well before the 2019 sleeper hit that changed the face of the international moviemaking world.
In 2011, after a decade of living abroad, Choi Woo-shik took a shot at acting by auditioning for the Korean entertainment industry. He debuted that same year in “Duo,” a period drama. This was followed by supporting roles for the next few years, as he slowly but steadily built his reputation as an actor with a wide range and strong work ethic. The 2014 coming-of-age film “Set Me Free” saw him take on a lead role for the first time. It was, in a way, a coming-of-age for the actor too, as critics began to sit up and take notice of his talent.
The role would eventually land him the “Actor of the Year” award at the Busan Film Festival, as well as several other nominations (and wins). Ironically, it was during filming this movie that the actor was starting to feel that maybe he should quit acting and move back to Canada.
It is a gift to the industry that he decided to stay the course. He has worked steadily since that major big-screen debut, both on the big screen as well as on television. Most notable are his roles in 2016’s “Train to Busan” and a smaller but quite memorable role in “Okja” the next year. Fans are quick to mention his appearances in k-pop band Day 6’s music videos “Congratulations” and “You Were Beautiful,” the 2017 series “Fight For My Way,” and his most recent role, playing his lovable self on the reality series “Youn’s Stay.”
He recently starred opposite Kim Da-mi in the charming romantic comedy drama from Studio N “Our Beloved Summer” which aired on Netflix. He was also in the film “The Policeman’s Lineage” which dropped in Korean theaters in early January, and is set to star in a South Korean sci-fi fantasy movie “Wonderland.”
Immediately likable, amiable, and hardworking, Choi Woo-shik's s star can only glow brighter. We wish him all the success in the world.
February 2: Gong Yoo (공유), The Silent Stunner
When a mysterious, six-foot-tall salesman accosts a loveable loser in the first episode of "Squid Game" and starts slapping him—yes, slapping him hard—for losing out on the "ddakji" game, one could hear a collective gasp from the awestruck populace. Was it the amused eyes? The sultry baritone? The faintly sadistic expression? Or was it the cracking sound of the numerous slaps he landed on poor Seong Gi-hun's face that made millions of women (and men!) arch their eyebrows, bite their lower lips, and admit that they, too, wanted to know who this ridiculously attractive man in an immaculate suit was? Whatever it was, it only took three minutes of screen time in the biggest Netflix show on the planet to turn unsuspecting viewers into legions of new (and quite thirsty) Gong Yoo fans.
Despite the uneventful food posts on his brand-new IG account and his rather low profile for a Korean superstar, one has to wonder if Gong Yoo is truly unaware of his charisma and incredible sex appeal. He may be soft-spoken and wise in interviews—self-deprecating, even—but nothing can distract from the sheer masculinity and raw intensity that seems to ooze out of every tanned pore. Yet to his credit, the man refuses to simply be an object of desire: Gong Yoo also has the acting talent to match, and a keen eye for projects that go beyond winning at the box office. His "Coffee Prince" (2007) broke barriers in LGBTQ and gender stigmas way before it was considered popular to do so. His "Silenced" (2011) literally changed Korean laws. His "Goblin" ushered in the great k-drama renaissance of 2016, his "Train to Busan" put Korea solidly on the genre cinema map, and even his turns in "Seo Bok" and in "The Silent Sea" were his conscious contributions to pushing Korean sci-fi. He is no mere actor; Gong Yoo is every bit a political force as he is a celebrity, and a refreshingly responsible one at that.
As we have insisted before, Gong Yoo is very fine wine on the tongue: inhaled in order to appreciate the details of his perpetually tousled hair, the kind eyes, and the buttery voice… and then exhaled so we can step back to study the merits of his talent and body of work. It is a tricky thing to pull off—striking a balance between the commercial and the artistic—but Gong Yoo is the rare actor that has done this substantially and successfully for over a decade. And like fine wine, he will just gloriously better with age.
February 3: Jung Hae-in (정해인), The Noona Killer
“His face is [for] romance; his body is [for] action” is quite the apt description of Jung Hae-in by his fans.
A boyish smile, perfect white teeth, and glass skin—Jung Hae-in has the face of a quintessential k-drama romantic male lead. Even his genes are impressive: he's the great-grandson of Jeong Yakyong, one of the greatest Joseon-era thinkers. If this pedigree wasn't enough, he was also born to affluent doctor parents.
To attribute his success solely to his family, however, is unfair. Once he realized his love for acting while in the military, he decided to pursue it, even if it meant debuting at the late age of 26. A black belt, he made full use of his taekwondo skills in his action scenes for the “sageuks” (historical shows) “The Three Musketeers” (2014) and “The Age of Blood” (2017). He even trained in boxing for three months for Netflix’s military drama “D.P.” He also became the most searched on the Korean portal Naver as “While You Were Sleeping” (2017) was airing. He launched his "noona killer" status when he charmed Son Ye-jin's character in “Something in the Rain” (2018) and cemented it again in "One Spring Night" (2019). Most recently, he broke hearts when he played a North Korean spy in the historical drama “Snowdrop,” opposite Blackpink’s Kim Ji-soo.
A versatile actor who can cook and clean, is kind to the cast and crew, but doesn’t fully grasp how endearing he is—the introvert Jung Hae-in possesses charms that are truly lethal to all "noonas" and non-"noonas" alike.
February 4: Park Seo-joon (박용규), The Marvel
Dreamy yet down-to-earth. Endearingly boyish but manly at the same time. He is equally believable as a rugged, everyday man and as a snobby, conglomerate heir. Park Seo-joon is a study in contrasts, with a legion of fans ready to become scholars.
Park Seo-joon has been charming audiences both at home and overseas since his first television drama "Dream High 2" (2012). And it’s not hard to see why he is called the “master of romantic comedy” with his swoon-worthy good looks, dazzling smile, and believable chemistry with all of his leading ladies. (Admit it, you’ve rewound a few of those confession scenes. We don’t judge you.)
This hardworking actor spends as much time preparing for his roles as he does keeping fit. The result is hard to miss. His finely sculpted figure is the stuff of women’s dreams and men’s fitness goals. You simply cannot fake this gold standard of palpable sexiness and raw masculinity.
Off-screen, he has built a reputation for being gallant towards co-stars and fostering genuine friendships with his fellow celebrities.
His real life shy and sometimes introspective persona is just as appealing as his dashing on-screen characters. The combination of sincerity and sexy has given him massive global appeal, and has likely launched the imaginations and creations of many a fanfic writer worldwide.
February 5: Lee Jong-suk (이종석), The Romantic
It’s somewhat of a mystery, really, how Lee Jong-suk somehow has chemistry with every actress he works with, and manages to make viewers fall in love in every romantic drama he appears in.
It could all be in his eyes, which can portray a wide range of emotions with such fierce intensity that no words are even needed, and yet turn naïve or innocent or playful in a split second. Or it could be because of his unusually striking visuals, which made his runway debut at 15 years old a phenomenon never before seen in the modeling world.
Or, perhaps, he really is just that gifted an actor, helping propel whatever project he picks—from his breakthrough performance in “School 2013” (2012) to “I Can Hear Your Voice” (2013), “Pinocchio“ (2014), “W: Two Worlds Apart” (2016), “While You Were Sleeping” (2017), and “Romance Is a Bonus Book” (2019)—into timeless hits. The acting awards that followed almost all these projects is testament to his talent.
But it’s not just these innate gifts. His devotion to his craft and intense work ethic is well known in the industry. Amid all his on-screen projects, in fact, he managed to graduate from Konkuk University in 2016 with a degree in Professional Motion Pictures and Art.
After being away for two years for his mandatory military service, Lee Jong-suk is making his highly anticipated comeback this year in the action thriller “Decibel”, where he plays a navy captain racing to stop a terrorist attack, and the tvN drama “Big Mouse”, where he will take on the role of a third-rate lawyer mistaken to be a genius swindler.
February 6: Hyun Bin (김태평), The Captain
Tall, handsome oppas seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but only time can tell who among today’s crop of rising stars have the power to stay. More than 18 years since his debut in the drama “Bodyguard,” Hyun Bin has proven several times over that he is in a league of Hallyu celebrities that can withstand the whims of a public obsessed with finding the next big thing.
Although there’s no denying that his majestically good looks—impossibly broad shoulders, impeccable bone structure, and killer dimples—have won the hearts of fans around the world, his longevity may be attributed to his range as an actor, the intelligence with which he has navigated his career, as well as his quiet and dignified mystique.
He has taken on roles as varied as a young mathematical genius ("Snow Queen," 2006), a psychiatric patient ("I am Happy," 2009), a suave gigolo in Seattle ("Late Autumn," 2011), a chaebol with a dissociative identity (previously known as split personality) disorder ("Hyde, Jekyll, Me," 2015), and a devilish hostage taker ("The Negotiation," 2017). His most iconic roles—as an arrogant chaebol who occasionally swaps bodies with a poor stuntwoman ("Secret Garden," 2010) and as an upright yet inner softie North Korean soldier ("Crash Landing on You," 2019)—earned him not just international adulation but two "Daesang" (Grand Prize) Awards.
On top of being one of Korea’s most highly-paid actors and commercial endorsers, Hyun Bin is a successful businessman who established his own agency, actively invests in real estate, and gives generously to charitable causes. These days he plays a lot of golf and has been spotted going on food trips with his equally famous girlfriend Son Ye-jin.
Watch out for his devastating visuals in the upcoming films “The Point Men” with Hwang Jung-min, based on the 2007 South Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan, and the sequel to “Confidential Assignment 2.”
February 7: Ok Taecyeon (옥택연), The Beast
The impossibly ripped muscles never fail to draw incredulous stares. From being a “jimseung-dol” or “beast idol” along with other members of 2PM, to his being dubbed “Captain Korea” during his time in the military, Ok Taecyeon possesses one of the most admired and desired bodies in the Korean entertainment industry.
But the most attractive aspect of this idol-turned-actor is what’s inside his perfectly chiseled physique.
“I hope I can become the ‘Happy Virus.’ Doesn’t matter where I go, I want to give happiness to many people,” he said in an interview last year. “As a singer who is acting, if you watch me act and you can feel the comfort and happiness from my heart that would be great.”
That’s exactly what the multifaceted, multilingual US-raised Korean has been doing since 2008, when he joined the reality show “Hot Blood Men” to eventually debut as a rapper for the boyband 2PM. His success as an idol brought him to the world of acting, not just in Korea but also in Japan. After debuting in the k-drama “Cinderella’s Sister” in 2010, he joined fellow idols in the hit show “Dream High” in 2011. That same year, he debuted on Japanese TV, bagging a role in the Sunday drama “Boku to Star no 99 Nichi”. He even became a variety show mainstay, showcasing his easygoing personality on the popular “Three Meals a Day” for two seasons.
Off-screen, he has also earned praise for his determination to serve his country. First, he gave up his US permanent residence visa. Second, after failing the medical exam in 2008, he retook it in 2013 after two operations on his spinal discs in order to be cleared for active duty. In 2017, he finally began his service, earning distinctions from the military, the “Model Soldier” award from the Ministry of National Defense.
After he was discharged, he gave us arguably his most iconic role to date—the intern-turned-cold-blooded-villain in “Vincenzo” (2021)—one that he said appealed to him because it allowed him to show many sides. And he followed that by showing yet another side of him in the romantic comedy "sageuk" (historical show) “Secret Royal Inspector Joy” (2021). He’ll be back on screen later this year in a completely different role, this time as a police detective out to punish evil in the OCN drama “Blind”.
Clearly, Ok Taecyeon has already been spreading a lot of joy. But can somebody please tell him more shirtless scenes will make us extremely happy, too?
February 8: Park Bo-gum (박보검), The Crown Prince
"Handsome" is an adjective too shallow, too weak for someone as striking as Park Bo-gum. The insane symmetry of his features and his ridiculous charm demand a word that is leagues above mere handsomeness. Stare at those kind eyes and well-defined jawline long enough, and you know the most appropriate word to describe him would be "beautiful." Yes, Park Bo-gum is a beautiful, beautiful man.
And if that wasn't enough, he’s also an accomplished working actor, a successful model, a musical theater graduate, and a devoted son. Yet it is what lies beyond his refined features that makes him truly fascinating. His calm personality, effusive warmth, and enviable friendliness all converge to create a squeaky-clean image that in the hands of other celebrities would simply be disingenuous and inauthentic. At a time where Insta-celebs and lesser actors try to go viral by inciting one scandalous gig after another, Gummy has remained true to his wholesome, boy-next-door charm without struggle or compromise, and has succeeded wildly because of it.
Yet his beginnings in k-dramaland could not be more different. Taking on interesting starter roles such as a cello prodigy in “Naeil’s Cantabile” (2014), and a teenage psychopath in “Hello Monster” (2015) has set him up to be the kind of actor that can go beyond being pretty. His early work in the movies—as a youth enmeshed in war (“The Admiral”) and as a boy caught in a gang vendetta (“Coin Locker Girl”)—have also taught him to pay the difficult dues demanded from an actor. In 2015, he became a household name when he played the genius Go player Choi Taek in “Reply 1988,” which earned him the moniker of “Nation’s Little Brother.” He then quickly moved on to become the “Nation’s Crown Prince” when he starred in the runaway historical hit “Love in the Moonlight” in 2016. Since then, the accolades have never stopped coming.
Yet among his many labels, it is the title of a real “good guy” that he is proudest of, bestowed on him by his closest friends (most notably BTS’ V and the gang from “Reply 1988”). Despite the ever-growing glare of the spotlight and the screaming legions of fans, he still remains true to form: eternally unbothered, always amiable, and incredibly polite. Gummy is indeed precious proof that good guys don’t finish last. The good guys actually win, and win beautifully.
February 9: Im Siwan (임시완), The Visual
Many idols are beautiful men who lead largely pleasant careers, but how many have had multi-faceted paths that are actually exciting and a touch risqué? To transition to acting, survive the criticisms hurled at their kind who do so, and succeed at both in the small and big screen in roles both gritty and wholesome—that tells you something about what roils beneath the unusually calm countenance of Im Siwan. Having starred in both critically acclaimed and commercially successful dramas and films, Im Siwan is arguably one of the biggest idol-to-actor success stories.
Im Siwan debuted as a singer with the idol group ZE:A in 2010. Two years later, his acting career got off to a most auspicious start, with him playing the young version of Song Jae-hee in the ratings juggernaut “Moon Embracing the Sun.” One of the most beloved historical dramas of all time, the "sageuk" would be the first of many hit projects for the budding actor. After appearing in the sleeper hit revenge drama “Man from the Equator'' (2012), the rookie was cast in the 2013 film “The Attorney” starring Song Kang-ho. The courtroom drama went on to become one of the most awarded and highest-grossing movies in Korean history. His winning streak continued in 2014 when the workplace drama “Misaeng: Incomplete Life,” where he played a "baduk" (Korean board game Go) prodigy, turned out to be another critical and ratings success, bringing him even more popularity across Asia.
Known for taking on challenging roles in darker projects, Im Siwan has shown his range in such movies as 2017's “One Line” and “Merciless,” which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and the television thriller “Strangers from Hell (2019).”
Incredibly busy these past two years, he played an athlete in the romantic slice-of-life drama “Run On" (for which he recorded an OST track!), revealed his bright personality in the healing variety show “House on Wheels: 2” last year, and was part of the all-star cast of “Emergency Declaration” alongside Song Kang-ho, Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Byung-hun, and Kim Nam-gil. The big-budget disaster film also screened at Cannes. As if that weren’t enough, his currently airing drama “Tracer” is now enjoying ratings success.
February 10: Yoo Yeon-seok (유연석), The Man of Many Talents
The phrase “too good to be true” comes to mind when the topic of Yoo Yeon-seok is brought up. The six-and-some foot tall actor bagged his first role without needing to pass his resume around, as part of the impressive ensemble cast of the critically-lauded film "Oldboy" in 2003. After a five-year hiatus, he returned to the industry with a degree in Film Arts tucked firmly under his equally-firm biceps. The next few years would keep the swoon-worthy actor busy, taking on roles both in film and on television. He also graced the theater stages, flexing his acting chops (along with his actual muscles) in diverse roles, most notably as Hedwig in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." (Noona tip: do a quick image search, thank us later in the comments section.)
It was in his role as the charmingly disarming second lead Chilbong in "Reply 1994" that audiences truly began to take notice of his talents (and his near-perfect features). He has since worked almost non-stop, juggling movie projects, k-dramas, and the occasional variety guesting.
Whether he’s playing a dreamy doctor ("Doctor Romantic," "Hospital Playlist"), a seemingly cold bandit ("Mr. Sunshine"), or as a powerful leader of a nation ("Steel Rain 2: Summit"), you can be assured that the YYS will not disappoint.
How he found the time to learn to play multiple instruments, make his own furniture, and dabble in photography only further proves that truly, he is “too good to be true.”
February 11: Lee Joon (이창선), The New Immortal
In k-pop jargon, "duality" has come to mean the contrasting traits a k-pop idol has in his personality. K-pop fans often fawn over the "duality" of their idols, marveling at how they can go from tough to soft, kooky to serious in one take. Lee Joon, who has gone from k-pop boy band royalty to k-drama prince, may have just had a hand in forming the word itself.
Even his career has had a charming sense of the said "duality." He trained as an actor and dancer, but when Rain discovered him, he turned into a k-pop idol and even became a vocalist. He had long avoided romantic roles because he thought "only really good-looking actors should do it" but found fame as the love interest in "My Father is Strange." He is so nonplussed about his celebrity status, saying that even if he came back from his military duty and had no offers, he would "just find something else to do." But instead, he's won awards for his risqué movie roles, has been part of Hollywood's "Ninja Assassin," and now stars prominently in three shows: "The Silent Sea," "Bulgasal," and "The Red Heart."
But it hasn't been all rosy for this multi-talented man. Although he presents as happy and as perfectly professional as all idols are trained to do, he has also openly spoken about his bouts with anxiety and panic disorder. For someone who claims he is a "big child," he certainly is serious about raising awareness of mental health in Korean society, which usually deems these topics taboo.
Having played a vampire detective, an astronaut, and now a thousand-year-old "bulgasal" in Netflix's new monster show, Lee Joon has shown he has a knack for both the scientific and the supernatural, with the looks and talent to place him both in this world and outside of it. But if his rising fame is indicative of anything, it's that "duality" is too simple a word to be used on Lee Joon. He is, in fact, every fascinating layer in between.
February 12: Kim Seon-ho (김선호), The Chief
In art, there are two familiar roads to creating a 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 as 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,” 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," and 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 rom-com 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 still the highest globally watched k-drama 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 upcoming movie “Sad Tropics,” who bravely showed their support and affection for the actor despite certain circumstances.
These days, Seon-ho’s celebrity status is especially remarkable given how his legions of fans are still growing despite his self-imposed hiatus. Having made his mark as an amazing actor thus far, one can only hope that we will see more of him if and when he chooses to return. Until then, we join everyone else in revisiting Sandbox, Gongjin, or wherever Seon-ho’s talents (and dimples!) have already made him a modern-day classic.
February 13: Kim Woo-bin (김우빈), The Heir
There is a special—almost guilty—pleasure to witnessing a cold "tsundere" boy catch feelings for an ordinary girl, which is why this predictable Austenian formula has been the backbone of many a young romance novel and comic all these years. We may think we are beyond falling for such a trope, but when Kim Woo-bin asked the famous question, “Don’t accept what—my heart?” with an arched brow and a smile, many of us still gleefully swooned and fell for it.
Kim Woo-bin first made many hearts flutter as Kim Young-do in the teen youth series "The Heirs" (2013). When the drama's popularity peaked at 28.6%, his "tsundere" role was cause for serious second-lead syndrome. He won his first acting award in "School 2013" (2012) and later received critical acclaim for his gang member character in his first movie "Friend: The Great Legacy.” He then starred as a thief, a playboy, and a con artist, until he took the lead in "Uncontrollably Fond" (2016), where he flipped his bad-boy image and cemented his heartthrob status.
He had already been cast in the 2017 film "Wiretap" and was appointed 2018 Winter Olympics honorary ambassador when he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, stalling his promising career. Luckily, his longtime girlfriend Shin Min-ah had chosen to stay with him through the darkest days, even taking two years off her own acting career to help him recover.
Recently, he has been pronounced cancer-free and is now able to resume his acting endeavors. It looks like he isn't wasting any time either: this year alone, he is slated to appear in three shows, the sci-fi fantasy movie "Alien," the star-studded omnibus tvN drama "Our Blues," as well as a new Netflix Original dystopian series “Black Knight.”
With better health and a rumored wedding on the horizon, all that’s left is for him to take back the spotlight for a blazing comeback!
February 14: Rowoon (로운), The Object of Our Affection
Rowoon was once compared to the statue of David and, based on how the reveal of his face was built up in "Extraordinary You" (where it took them two whole episodes and a slow-mo to reveal his chiseled facial structure), the comparison truly has merit. With an intimidating build at 6’3” (190.5 cm) and a deep voice, he is able to exude a mature masculinity that few men his age can muster.
Rowoon belongs to the pantheon of young idols-turned-actors: a lead vocalist of SF9 and an actor steadily making his way up the ranks. It would be tempting to stereotype him as someone who got drama roles simply because he’s an idol. Set aside your prejudice for even a few scenes and you’ll experience a world of emotions he can convey with a mere glance. His breakout lead role as Haru in "Extraordinary You," an extra in a comic book, had to be played with very minimal lines and yet one can still feel the intensity of his turmoil and yearning. Best believe, no one pines like Rowoon’s Haru. His duality is even more impressive when you watch him behind the scenes, where he is a playful goof who loves to tease his castmates and bandmates. In the world of oppas, he is that mischievous maknae (youngest child) who gets away with anything the moment he smiles. The most junior in this list, he may not yet have the deep portfolio of the others, but his charisma and talent ensures that he’ll be on more lists pretty soon.
After taking on the "noona killer" role in the JTBC drama "Sunbae Don’t Put On That Lipstick" / "She Would Never Know," he further increased his celebrity status as the genteel and learned scholar who falls for the "king" in the gender-bending hit, "The King's Affection." He is returning in a new k-drama, "Tomorrow," in March.