Lee Sun-kyun’s 10 Best TV and Movie Roles, Ranked


Hollywood has always been laced with scandals, but the public has come to accept it as part of the inevitable package deal with fame. Media outlets and fans are less indulgent in South Korea, though, where the slightest DUI or a past bullying incident can just about signal the end of a K-drama or K-pop star’s career, no matter how popular.


Maintaining a spotless image can be hard when you’re constantly under scrutiny, though. So, when beloved Parasite star Lee Sun-kyun, a relatively respectable name in the industry for 23 years, became the center of drug, infidelity, and blackmail allegations, he chose to end his life in his car near a public park through carbon monoxide poisoning on December 27, 2023, despite testing negative and still being under investigation.

He was only 48, and the news shocked his local and international fans, the press, and most of all, his two sons and wife, fellow actress Jeon Hye-jin (The Throne, Uncle). Lee was the recipient of 10 prestigious awards over the course of his career, including Top 10 Asian Stars, Best Actor, and Good Model Award, and will mostly be remembered for the following 10 most popular film and television appearances.


10 Choi Do-young — Behind the White Tower (2007)

Inspired by Japanese novelist Toyoko Yamasaki’s work and directed by Ahn Pan-seok, Behind the White Tower is a compelling medical drama that aired on MBC for 20 episodes and explored malpractice issues and surgical rivalries at Myeongin University Hospital — with a sarcastic twist. The series was a big hit and earned 11 nominations, of which it nabbed seven, including Best Director.

A Concerned Doctor

Lee plays the compassionate, warm, and dedicated Doctor Choi Do-young, who only has his patients’ best interest at heart and frequently clashes with management and ambitious, cold-hearted staff. The actor won a Golden Acting Award at the MBC Drama Awards and was nominated for Best New Actor at the 43rd Baeksang Arts Awards.

Stream Behind the White Tower on Kocowa

9 Lee Seon-woong — Diary of a Prosecutor (2019-2020)

Based on an essay by famed South Korean attorney and politician Kim Woong and directed by Lee Tae-gon, the legal drama Diary of a Prosecutor aired on JTBC for 16 episodes and followed the cases of several prosecutors in the fictional city of Jinyoung, from school bullying to illegal gambling. Jung Ryeo-won stars as Cha Myung-joo, a brilliant attorney from Seoul who is welcome within the District Prosecutor’s Criminal Unit 2 with open arms, in hopes of improving the team’s mediocre results.

Related: Jang Hyuk’s 9 Best K-Dramas

A Multilayered Prosecutor

Lee portrays Lee Sun-woong, who comes from money and has been part of the unit for 10 years. He met Cha when they were still at university, but he had never made a particular impression on her because of his laidback and reserved attitude. The series is definitely a slow-burn and is more slice-of-life than exciting action, but audiences get to gradually peel off the different layers of Lee and Cha’s characters as they clash over the various cases.

Stream Diary of a Prosecutor on Netflix

8 Hyun-soo — Sleep (2023)

Written and directed by Jason Yu, Sleep is a comedy, horror, and mystery film that was nominated at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in the Golden Camera and Critics’ Week Grand Prize categories. It stars Jung Yu-mi as Soo-jin, an expectant wife who is terrified of her husband’s sudden sleepwalking habits, fearing he might inadvertently harm her or their baby.

A Puzzling Sleepwalker

Lee plays the troubled husband, Hyun-soo, whose uncharacteristic behavior escalates enough for him to consult a sleep specialist, then, when all hope is lost, an actual shaman. The actor effortlessly balances anxiety, concern, desperation, and humor, and his chemistry with Jung helped her secure two Best Actress awards.

Stream Sleep on Mubi

7 Jonathan Na — Killing Romance (2023)

Warner Brothers

Produced by Warner Brothers and directed by Lee Won-suk (How to Use Guys with Secret Tips), Killing Romance is a romantic and musical comedy starring beloved model, musician, and actress Lee Hanee, also known as Honey Lee.

She plays Hwang Yeo-Rae, a disgraced actress who runs off to a remote island and ends up being trapped in a suffocating marriage to a wealthy and possessive business tycoon. Desperate, she decides to enlist the help of her young neighbor Kim Beom-woo (Gong Myoung), her most loyal fan.

A Controlling, Mustache-Twirling Entrepreneur and Husband

Lee’s overbearing Jonathan Na is a chilling and manipulative narcissist who locks his wife up, controls her eating habits, and is all about maintaining a picture-perfect façade in high society. It’s a refreshing change from his usual roles, and he excels as a comedic villain. Per Slash Film:

“There is not a single redeeming quality about Jonathan, but it is impossible not to laugh along with this monster even as he does horrible things, because Lee is just that over-the-top funny.”

Stream Jonathan Na on Plex

6 Choi Han-sung — Coffee Prince (2007)

The hit romantic dramedy Coffee Prince earned 10 awards, including Best New Director for Lee Yoon-jung and Best New Drama. Based on the novel of the same name by Lee Sun-mi, it aired on MBC for 17 episodes, centering on the romance between Go Eun-chan (Yoon Eun-hye), a tomboyish young woman working multiple jobs to support her family, and Choi Han-gyeol (Gong Yoo), the heir to a coffee empire.

A Music Producer Fixated on His Ex

Lee Sun-kyun portrays Han-gyeol’s cousin and best friend, Choi Han-sung, a successful record producer who still hasn’t gotten over his cheating ex-girlfriend, Han Yoo-joo (Chae Jung-an), and then starts developing feelings for Eun-chan. He must either break out of this love triangle and get back with his ex, or move on to somebody new.

Stream Coffee Prince on Kocowa

5 Choi Hyun-wook — Pasta (2010)

MBC’s quirky romantic comedy Pasta follows Seo Yoo-Kyung (Gong Hyo-Jin), a longtime kitchen worker at a high-end Italian restaurant who gets promoted to pasta assistant and has to work closely with a recently recruited chef. Sparks start flying between them as they clash, but meanwhile, she also catches the eye of a mysterious regular customer.

The Misogynistic Chef

As soon as Lee’s Choi Hyun-wook takes over the kitchen, he fires all the female staff, but Yoo-Kyung, who stands up to him, sparks his interest and slowly manages to melt his heart, as more layers to his character and motivation are revealed. The duo won Best Couple at the MBC Drama Awards, and Lee made the Top 10 Asian Stars at the China Entertainment Television Awards.

Stream Pasta on Kocowa

4 Kim Hyung-joon — Miss Korea (2013)

Miss Korea (2013)

Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation

Set in 1997 and spanning 20 episodes, Miss Korea is a romance dramedy centering on ViVi, a cosmetics company that is going through a financial crisis. The only solution is to make a beautiful and popular elevator girl, 25-year-old Oh Ji-young (Lee Yeon-hee), the next Miss Korea, garnering ViVi much-needy publicity and keeping it afloat again.

A Visionary Cosmetics CEO

Lee portrays ViVi’s president, Kim Hyung-joon, who owes a substantial sum to loan sharks and is desperate enough to come up with that creative beauty pageant plan to save his company (and reputation). He struggles to keep things professional, though, as Ji-young happens to be his high-school sweetheart. For his compelling and entertaining performance, the actor was nominated for the Excellence Award at the prestigious MBC Drama Awards.

Stream Miss Korea on Kocowa

3 Ko Gun-su — A Hard Day (2014)

A Hard Day is an action thriller written helmed by Kim Seong-hun that was given a whopping 18 awards, including Best Director and Best Cinematography, making the much-coveted Korean Association of Film Critics Awards’ Top 10 list. The movie has been remade in China as Peace Breaker, in the Philippines as A Hard Day, in France as Restless, and in Japan as Hard Days.

Related: 15 Least Controversial Movie Stars of All Time

A Corrupt Detective

Lee portrays the main lead, Ko Gun-su, a thriving, crooked police detective who is suddenly dealt a series of misfortunes, from getting investigated for bribery to losing his mother to crashing into and killing a homeless man while under the influence. Instead of reporting the manslaughter, he hides the body in his mother’s coffin.

Unfortunately for him, the man’s phone was still on him, and there might be more to the incident, possibly coming from within his own precinct. For his exceptional performance that takes viewers on an emotional roller-coaster, Lee was nominated for several awards, winning Best Actor at the 51st Baeksang Arts Awards.

Rent A Hard Day on Apple TV

2 Park Dong-hoon — My Mister (2018)

Also known as My Ahjussi, My Mister is a somber, violent, and poignant slow-burn drama that tackles the themes of corporate greed, extramarital affairs, sibling bonds, addiction, failed dreams, and street cruelty. It explores several character arcs, including IU’s Lee Ji-an, a young temp who owes a loan shark a lot of money and is the primary caretaker of her bedridden grandmother, and Kim Young-min’s Do Joon-young, the manager of an architecture firm who is having an affair with his subordinate’s wife.

An Undemonstrative but Compassionate Engineer

Lee portrays Park Dong-hoon, an honest structural engineer at the firm whom Do tries to get rid of with bribery, not only because he is sleeping with his wife, but also because he is jealous of his standing with the CEO.

Park develops a fatherly bond with Ji-an, lending her a helping hand with groceries and her grandma, unaware that she was hired by Do to spy on him and seduce him. For his moving performance, Lee was nominated for the Grand Prize at the APAN Star Awards and for Best Actor at both the Baeksang Arts Awards and the Seoul Awards.

Stream My Mister on Netflix

1 Park Dong-ik (Nathan) — Parasite (2019)

Read our Parasite review.

Directed by Bong Joon-ho, the dark comedy thriller Parasite premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first South Korean feature to win the Palme d’Or. It also nabbed four Oscars: Best Picture (the first foreign film to win this honor), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. The story centers on the low-income Kim family who attempt to take advantage of the wealthy Parks by landing several jobs at their mansion, from chauffeur to English tutor to art therapist.

parasite

Parasite

Release Date
May 30, 2019

Rating
R

Runtime
132

The Poised Patriarch

Lee’s Park Dong-ik is the well-mannered head of the Park clan and the brilliant CEO of a virtual reality company. Despite navigating the pompous world of the elite, he is level-headed, confident, and a good husband and father. This role propelled the actor to international stardom, earning him the Screen Actors Guild Awards’ Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Sadly, Lee is no longer able to capitalize on that fame. But he will always be remembered for his excellent acting, his diverse roles and his good relationship with his K-drama peers.

Stream Parasite on Max



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