The Premium Oppas (Part 1)

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Due to popular demand after our “14 Days of Oppas” feature last February, GwenchaNoona brings you our second oppa-centric series: the Premium Oppas™.

In his late 30s or older, a Premium Oppa™ has the enviable combination of looks, talent, and an unproblematic reputation both onscreen and off. He may be visible in k-dramas, in the movies, or both. He embodies style and substance. Bonus points are awarded to oppas who are unafraid to lend their star power to projects beyond the usual commercial feature, such as starring in or supporting progressive movies or supporting humanitarian causes.

Jo In-sung

Jo In-sung would like to get married. Soon. And yet, despite being one of the most handsome men in Korea, love seems hard to come by for this 39-year-old (41 in Korean years) A-list actor. He worries that his status may be too burdensome for the women he dates.

We volunteer as tributes.

In the recently-aired variety show “Unexpected Business,” he and his best friend Cha Tae-hyun ran a small grocery in the countryside. Against the idyllic snow-covered backdrop, the 6’2” former model hunched over a stove to cook bowls of snow crab ramyeon, no doubt setting off a million fantasies of domestic bliss with the elusive bachelor.

Tall, lean, impossibly handsome, and with a smile that can knock your socks off, Jo In-sung has been one of Hallyu’s most in-demand leading men for nearly 20 years. He has starred in some of the most popular dramas and movies of the 2000s: “The Classic” (2003), “Memories of Bali” (2004), “Spring Day” (2005), and “A Frozen Flower” (2008).

His second decade as an actor only solidified his star status further, with the dramas “That Winter, the Wind Blows” (2013) and “It’s Okay, That’s Love” (2014) becoming huge, enduring hits across Asia. His heartbreaking performance as a novelist with undiagnosed schizophrenia in the latter earned him the Daesang at the APAN Star Awards.

Jo In-sung has spent the past few years building his film portfolio. He starred alongside Korean movie star Jung Woo-sung, who inspired him to become an actor in middle school in the political crime movie “The King” (2017). He played a Goryeo-era general in the historical action epic “The Great Battle” (2018). Both were critical and box office hits. His latest film, “Escape from Mogadishu,” based on the true story of Korean embassy officials caught in the Somalian Civil War in 1990, is slated for release this summer, and he has recently started filming the 1970s-set action movie “Smuggling” with Kim Hye-soo and Yum Jung-ah.

K-drama fans will be happy to learn that this Premium Oppa™ will soon be returning to the small screen via the fantasy drama “Moving” with Han Hyo-joo. We can’t wait!

So Ji-sub

Becoming a Hallyu superstar was the farthest thing from this former competitive swimmer’s mind when he started modeling jeans. All So Ji-sub was thinking of at that time, he has admitted, was hoping to pose with a famous hip-hop artist he admired and make some easy money.

Of course, it’s only “easy” when you happen to be born looking like So Ji-sub. One wouldn’t exactly describe him as having classical good looks, but his palpable charm certainly makes everyone sit up and take notice whenever he shows up onscreen.

His attractive face can turn somber in one moment and then playful and flirty in the next. His tall, lithe figure is as crushable as an action hero, a romantic lead, and a celebrity on the red carpet.

Like everyone else in the industry, he started with small and supporting roles in dramas and films from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. It was only in 2003 when he nabbed his first leading role in the series “Thousand Years of Love.” Since then, he has been cementing his popularity in films such as “Always” (2011), “A Company Man” (2012), and “Be With You” (2018). He is best loved for his role as the chaebol with the troubled past in the series “Master’s Sun” (2013), the fitness trainer who falls in love in “Oh My Venus” (2014-15), and the secret agent turned nanny in “My Secret Terrius” (2018). Among his many awards are a Baeksang Best Actor on TV for his work in the drama “I’m Sorry, I Love You” (2004) and a Baeksang Best New Actor for the film “Rough Cut” (2008).

Among his peers, So Ji-sub is known to be a considerate professional who shows up to film sets way ahead of time. It prompted a younger co-star to complain jokingly that he had to get on set 50 minutes ahead of time just to get there at the same time as the veteran actor.

With that kind of work ethic, it’s not surprising that this modern-day Renaissance Man has published a book, opened a successful café, released rap singles, set up a one-man entertainment agency, and continues to cement his dominance in Hallyu. In 2019, after 24 years of dodging romance rumors with different celebrities, he finally confirmed that he was dating a reporter. They eventually married in 2020.

He has literally left his permanent mark in his home country—a road named after him in Gangwon province—just as he has certainly left his mark in the hearts of all his fans worldwide.

"Be With You" and "Always" are available on Netflix.

Joo Ji-hoon

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—Joo Ji-hoon. The video was meant as a warning to 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 Joo Ji-hoon had in him that made it so hard to look away.

It is this intoxicating combination of unusually aquiline features and a carelessly insolent personal life that 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 badly with the role that fans even asked that he be replaced. Unable and unprepared to cope with the sudden rise in profile, he later fell into a serious drug scandal in 2009, which banned him from appearing on TV for the next 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, Joo 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." He then made his film debut in the dark comedy "Antique Bakery" in 2008. 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), and went full-on psychotic for "Dark Figure of Crime" (2018).

Joo 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, then, 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 Joo Ji-hoon 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 there is something to be said about those who have freed themselves from that fear. Having already lost so much, Joo Ji-hoon has chosen instead to fearlessly lean into his own darkness, crawl his way back, and has come out winning. Some say that there is nothing more dangerous than one who has nothing left to lose. If so, then Joo Ji-hoon is a truly dangerous creature indeed, and one that makes it so hard to look away.

*Joo Ji-hoon will star in the upcoming k-drama "Mount Jiri" alongside Jun Ji-hyun, Oh Jung-se, and Sung Dong-il. No final date of release has been set.

Lee Dong-wook

New fans can’t help but wonder why Lee Dong-wook's lips are tinted cherry red. They are so red that his k-drama “Bubble Gum” (2015) had to include a scene where the female lead asks if his character wears lip tint. In reply, he wipes his lips with his hand, saying, "They're always like that." Fans may giggle when they find out why—possibly due to “a lot of heat he has in the body”—according to an oriental doctor he consulted.

Lee Dong-wook is arguably best-known for his role as the Grim Reaper in Kim Eun-sook’s fantasy-romance “Goblin” (2016). His bromance with the male lead spilled so much off-screen that Gong Yoo, who rarely grants interviews, appeared as his first talk show guest years later. If that wasn’t enough uwu (cuteness), his chemistry with Yoo In-na made so many hearts flutter that it spun off a rom-com led by the couple.

Fame is no stranger to him as Lee Dong-wook earlier starred in “My Girl” (2005), the drama that spawned at least four Asian remakes and catapulted him to Hallyu star status. As “Goblin” also became popular, achieving the fifth-highest rating in Korean cable TV history, he received overwhelming attention and love from his fans. Unfortunately, when "Goblin” ended, the public attention eventually waned. He felt the withdrawal symptoms and admitted that he lost his confidence.

Months later, he started to heal and plan for his next projects, carefully excluding fantasy roles to avoid being typecast. He portrayed the role of an ER doctor in the medical drama “Life” (2018). The following year, he starred as a workaholic lawyer in the rom-com “Touch Your Heart” with Yoo In-na and a dentist in the thriller “Hell Is Other People.” In 2020, he decided to break his own rule, accepting a fantasy drama, “Tale of the Nine-Tailed,” where he was cast as a nine-tailed fox living as a civil servant in the present time.

Being multi-talented, Lee Dong-wook became co-emcee of the talk show “Strong Heart” (2012 to 2013), participated in the reality show “Roommate” (2014 to 2015), and hosted the audition/reality show “Produce X101.” To celebrate his 20th career anniversary, he hosted his own talk show, “Wook Talk,” with Gong Yoo as his first guest. He has come a long way from a grand-prize-winning model in 1999 to a talented actor and host.

Watch for his drama “Single in Seoul” and his film "Happy New Year,” which happen to be both romantic comedies.

Jo Jung-suk

Find someone who looks at you the way Jo Jung-suk looks at his female leads.

The very thought of him staring at us with that intense gaze of his is enough to make us weak at the knees and maybe even let out a (not so tiny) squeal. His expressive eyes are just part of the irresistible charm that makes Jo Jung-suk one of Korea’s most sought-after, highly-paid, and adored leading men.

Jo Jung-suk honed his skills in musical theater for nearly a decade, starring in such productions as “Grease,” “Spring Awakening,” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” before jumping onto our screens (and into our hearts) in 2011. In the 10 years since he made his onscreen debut in the drama “What’s Up?,” he has shown off his immense talent—with versatility that rivals the best of Korea’s celebrated character actors but with the appeal and magnetism of its most popular leading men.

Immune to typecasting, he goes for challenging roles such as a Joseon-era peasant (“Nokdu Flower”), love-to-hate-them villains (“Hit and Run Squad”). Romantic male leads with a penchant for physical comedy (watch his scene in “Oh My Ghostess,” where he attempts to discreetly—but farcically—get back in bed with his lady love). If you only know him as the goofy yet lovable surgeon from “Hospital Playlist,” please do yourself a favor and watch “Jealousy Incarnate,” where he is at his most physically attractive (with shirtless scenes galore and Gong Hyo-jin squeezing his pecs at every turn) as a cocky news anchor.

He’s also known to bust out his incredibly smooth dance moves and singing voice onscreen. His hit remake of “Aloha” from the “Hospital Playlist” OST made his wife Gummy, a popular singer, remark that he seems to be gunning for her job. As if it weren’t enough that he’s a triple threat, he also plays the guitar, composes songs, and has a knack for comedy improv.