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Uhm Tae-Goo (엄태구)

Updated: Jul 15

The 2021 neo-noir gangster film Night in Paradise may have put his name on many a film fanatic's radars, and his part in Apple TV's newest show, Dr. Brain, has brought him even more popularity, but Uhm Tae-goo has been part of a number of critically-acclaimed productions for a while now.

Now 40 years old, small screen fortune has finally bestowed her favor upon this film noir favorite. After years of playing eclectic small film roles and violent thugs, Tae-goo sheds his usual bloodied countenance to portray the sensitive gangster Seo Ji-hwan in the current K-drama hit, “My Sweet Mobster.” His well-deserved turn as a bona fide romantic comedy lead showcases his versatility as an actor who can easily straddle the gritty noir underworld and the hilarious realm of romance.


Since 2007, the tall and lanky character actor has been nominated in and even won acting awards for his performances in films such as Coin Locker Girl, The Age of Shadows, The Great Battle, and the heartwarming My Punch-Drunk Boxer with fan-favorite Hyeri.

In the 2016 patriotic film The Age of Shadows, Uhm Tae-goo plays Hashimoto, an important supporting role. The film revolves around the story of a Korean policeman, Lee Jung-chool, and other brave Korean resistance fighters as they embark on a perilous mission to smuggle explosives through treacherous territories, all in a daring effort to demolish Japanese-controlled facilities.

He also stars in a supporting role in 2015's Coin Locker Girl, a female-driven noir flick directed by Han Jun-hee. In it, he plays Woo-gon, one of Ma Woo-hee’s (Kim Hye-soo) “adopted” children. As the default "big brother," Woo-gon is in charge of collecting debts, drafting dubious paperwork, and meting out violence against anyone who goes against his criminal family.

When he's not filming independent movies, he does make time for K-dramas. He's also the lead in various dramas, such as Save Me 2 and the recent noir-crime series Hometown.

Save Me 2 (2019) is based on the 2013 animated movie The Fake by Yeon Sang-ho (Train to Busan, Hellbound). It is the sequel to the well-received 2017 drama depicting a suspicious religious group that starred Seo Ye-ji and Ok Taecyon. This OCN series stars Uhm Tae-goo as Kim Min-cheol, a troubled ex-convict who returns to his rural hometown. However, his troubles resurface when he begins to suspect that the local pastor may not be as virtuous as he appears to be.

In the 12-part series Hometown (2021), Uhm Tae-goo takes on the unsettling role of Cho Kyung-ho, a convicted terrorist and suspected cult leader who is imprisoned for a gas attack. When his daughter disappears suddenly, his sister Cho Jung-hyun, portrayed by Han Ye-ri (known for her role in the acclaimed film Minari), is forced to deal with the aftermath of her brother’s actions. As a series of violent murders and suicides plague the town, a widowed detective suspects a potential connection to the gas attack years before. But will he have the strength to confront a psychopath as composed and strategic as the enigmatic Cho Kyung-ho?

Ultimately, Uhm Tae-goo was born to play noir, and Netflix’s Night in Paradise is basically his habitat. The 2021 crime thriller sees him play the lead, Park Tae-goo, a mobster bent on taking revenge for the murder of his sister and niece before fleeing to Jeju Island. There, he crosses paths with a mysterious woman (Jeon Yeo-been) who seems to equal his sadness. Will these two lost souls ever find a smidgen of happiness? Or will both their fates bind them to a bitter end? 

My Sweet Mobster (2024) is the hilarious romance between two complete opposites: one is a gang leader who’s had a rough life (Uhm Tae-goo), and the other is a sweet content creator who loves kids (Han Sun-hwa). Throw in all the classic rom-com tropes and add a zany gang of ex-mobsters in the mix, and you have what may just be another unexpected K-drama hit for 2024.

Clearly, this versatile actor prefers gritty, unglamorous, and difficult roles. While his artistic choices may not easily earn him adorable "oppa" titles, his talent and focus will definitely gear him toward cinematic greatness. We can't wait.

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