The Korea Herald


Lee Sun-kyun's acting career from television to silver screen

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : Dec. 27, 2023 - 15:36

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Lee Sun-kyun in 2023 black comedy horror mystery thriller film Lee Sun-kyun in 2023 black comedy horror mystery thriller film "Sleep" (Lotte Entertainment)

South Korean actor Lee Sun-kyun, 48, was one of Korea's most decorated actors on television to silver screen, both domestically and internationally.

Lee debuted as the lead actor in the short film "Psyco Drama" in 2000, a story about a lonely nurse. On television, Lee first appeared on broadcaster MBC's sitcom series "Lovers" in 2001, playing an unemployed troublemaker.

Lee rose to stardom with the character Choi Do-young in MBC's megahit medical drama "Behind the White Tower" in 2007. The drama gained popularity for portraying the intense competition and politics among doctors and administrators at the hospital. It bagged him the Golden Acting Award, Actor in a Miniseries at the MBC Drama Awards and had him nominated for best new actor in the television category during the 43rd Baeksang Arts Awards that year.

His successful acting career continued with TV dramas through the early 2010s by taking major roles in "Coffee Prince" (2007), "Pasta" (2010) and "Golden Time" (2012).

But what really propelled him to the top was the critically acclaimed 2018 tvN drama "My Mister." This series, which focuses on the unusual bond between a man in his mid-40s and an impoverished woman in her early 20s, created many die-hard fans who habitually rewatch "My Mister."

For projects on the silver screen, he has worked several times with auteur Hong Sang-soo. Lee starred in "Night and Day" (2008), "Visitors" (2009), "Oki's Movie" (2010) and "Nobody's Daughter Haewon" (2013).

In 2014, Lee became the first Korean actor to have been invited to the top three prestigious film festivals around the world. He was invited to the 67th Cannes Film Festival with 2014 action flick "A Hard Day" directed by Kim Seong-hun. Prior to that, he went to the Venice Film Festival with director Hong's "Oki's Movie" in 2010 and the Berlin Film Festival with director Hong's "Nobody's Daughter Haewon" in 2013.

It was in 2019 when Lee gained international fame through director Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite," which won best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best international feature film at the 92nd Oscars in 2020.

"Parasite" also gave Lee the outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture during the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as in the 2019 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards. Lee also won the best ensemble cast, along with the best ensemble in the 17th International Cinephile Society Awards.

In 2021, he starred in director Kim Jee-woon's Apple TV+ debut project "Dr. Brain." The production of the second season was canceled last month following news reports on Lee's alleged illegal drug use.

This year, he met with local audiences through two different genre films, comedy flick "Killing Romance" and the Cannes-invited mystery thriller "Sleep." During the 76th Cannes Film Festival that took place in May, Lee was the first Korean actor to present two films at Cannes -- "Sleep" and another action thriller "Project: Silence." The release date of "Project: Silence" has not been decided.

Lee married fellow actor Jeon Hye-jin in 2009. They have two sons between them.