Inquirer Super

Appreciating Lee Min-ho

By: Ruel S. De Vera

Many who see the hallyu wave from afar will probably think that Lee Min-ho is just a pretty face (though he is one the prettiest faces in hallyu, yes). But Min-ho is more than that. Part of the first generation of true K-drama breakout stars together with Gong Yoo and Park Bo-gum (elite company indeed), Min-ho takes himself seriously and exclusively as an actor. His careful curation of his career projects plus his immense charisma is why, as someone that Super loves likes to say, “The Philippine is Lee Min-ho nation.”

The 32-year-old Min-ho was born in Seoul and, though he originally wanted to be a football player he did the right thing and became an actor. He overcame circumstances like an abbreviated name change and a car accident when his career in Korean right started taking off.

“Boys Over Flowers”

Though he has done a handful of successful films, he really rocketed into stardom through TV shows. That ascension really started in 2009 when Min-ho played Gu Jun-pyo, the lead character on the KBS series, “Boys Over Flowers,” based, of course, on the extremely popular Japanese manga. Jun-pyo is the heir to the Shinwa Group chaebol, but is unhappy. He leads a group of friends called F4 and though he has a mean temper, is actually a pretty good guy when you get past the rough exterior. This is revealed later on when, after giving her such a hard time, he falls hard for the poor but kind scholar Geum Jan-di (Ku Hye-sun). This role really turned heads and allowed Min-ho to make a name for himself. Trivia: the Jun-pyo role is the exact same one as the Dao Ming Si role in the similarly popular 2001 Taiwanese adaptation of the manga called “Meteor Garden,” with Jerry Yan in the role.

Min-ho as Jun-pyo

Next came another game-changing role for Min-ho. In 2001, Min-ho became an international superstar and a Korean icon when he starred in “City Hunter,” a modern Korean adaptation of a notoriously long-running Japanese manga from Tsukasa Hojo.

“City Hunter”

After a covert op goes called “Operation Cleansweep” in North Korea goes bad, a South Korean blacks ops operator named Jin-pyo is the only survivor but, once is disavowed, raises his dead comrade’s son Lee Yoon-sung and trains him to gain his revenge. Yoon-sung gets a degree from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and gets a job at Korea’s Blue House where he carries out their secret agenda. It is also there that he meets and falls in love with presidential bodyguard Kim Na-na (Park Min-young), who soon joins him on his crusade. He is the mysterious titular “City Hunter,” and, because of his very impressive action scenes as well as his screen chemistry with Min-young, who also broke through in this series, “City Hunter” became one of the first true K-dramas to be a global hit.

Min-ho as Yoon-sung

Min-ho played another chaebol heir in his other big project, 2013’s “The Heirs,” also known as “The Inheritors,” from SBS. In this series, Min-ho plays Kim Tan from the Jeguk Group. After being banished to the United States by a brother to keep him from taking control of the company, Kim Tan falls in love with Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin-hye), and problems arise because Kim Tan is already engaged, and his best frenemy also wants Eun-sang). The tension between the characters and the idea that business and romance are not compatible made “The Heirs” quote successful, as did its large and impressive cast that included fellow young K-drama stars Kim Woo-bin and Kim Ji-won. It even included Korean singers Krystal from f(x) and Kang Min-hyuk from CNBLUE. But, of course, the main attraction here was the great lead romance between Min-ho and Shin-hye.

“The Heirs”
Min-ho as Kim Tan

As you may have noticed, Min-ho has been paired up with some very popular actresses by this point of his career. In 2016, he got his biggest pairing yet in SBS’ “Legend of the Blue Sea,” where he was paired with the biggest K-drama actress, Jun Ji-hyun, “My Sassy Girl” herself. In this story based on Korean folk tales, a romance is revealed between a man played by Min-ho and a mermaid played by Ji-hyun in two different time periods, the Joseon and the modern. This fantastical and complicated romance, with its beautiful underwater scenes, came at a time when K-dramas were now being consumed around the world and “Legend of the Blue Sea” truly benefited from that circumstance. Min-ho was as popular as ever and showed he intended to challenge himself with more complicated roles.

Jun Ji-hyun and Min-ho in “Legend of the Blue Sea”

 He said as much when he visited the Philippines in 2016 for fan meets in Manila and Cebu for Bench. “The first thing would be finding good material to work with. Not all work is good or suitable for me. The second thing is probably because I make sure that I put all of my efforts to bring out the best results,” he said. “There are many characters that I want to play. In the future, there might be another trend so I want to try any character for me.” He is managed by MYM Entertainment and his fandom is called the Minoz (hi, everybody).

Min-ho with Sam Oh at the Manila fan meet in 2016
With his wax dummy at Madame Tussauds in Hong Kong

He’s even even appeared in the MV for Sandara Park’s song “Kiss.”

He is so popular that not only does he have a wax dummy in Madame Tussauds in Hong Kong. Fans have also kept track of his love life, most notably when Min-ho dated fellow K-drama stars Park Min-young and Suzy Bae. Min-ho has taken care of business, as he already completed his mandatory military service in 2019 after serving as a public service officer at the Suseo Social Welfare Center in Gangnam District Office since 2017.

Min-ho with Suzy Bae
Min-ho during his military service

He has done more service since then. Min-ho donated 10 million won (roughly P424,000) to the children’s welfare organization Hot Welfare in its efforts to fight COVID-19. He did this through Promiz, a donation platform he started in 2014 and champions nonstop.  Promiz announced that Min-ho and MYM Entertainment donated of 300 million won (some P12.7 million) to eight organizations including the Community Chest of Korea, Good Neighbors, Hope Bridge Association of the National Disaster Relief, Save the Children and Green Umbrella, among others.

Min-ho in “The King: Eternal Monarch”

After going on hiatus for his military service, Min-ho is back at work. Later this year, he will play the lead in his first K-drama since 2016’s “Legend of the Blue Sea.” Coming from Studio Dragon (the same company that gave you the immensely popular “Crash Landing On You,” “The King: The Eternal Monarch” is fantasy romance that teams up Min-ho with another K-drama star, “Goblin’s” Kim Go-eun. Written by “Goblin’s” acclaimed Kim Eun-sook, “The King” features Min-ho as a king from a kingdom where he can travel between dimensions and he comes to ours to meet Go-Eun, a jaded detective who now has a new mystery to solve. Watch the most trailer here:

Min-ho has done everything right, and Filipino Minoz can’t wait to see what he’ll do next, or when he’ll be back in the country. As Lee Min-ho said in 2016: “I usually communicate with the fans through social network sites. They show much love for me, and I appreciate it very much. To pay back the love that I am receiving, I will return with good projects. I want to continue meeting Filipino fans in the future, as well.”