Cover Lee Jung-jae in the movie, "Deliver Us From Evil" (Photo: Imdb.com)

Before international audiences knew him as Seong Gi-hun in Squid Game, Golden Globes nominee, Lee Jung-jae is already a household name in South Korea. Here, we look back at his best movies and shows before the Netflix hit

Long before his Squid Game fame, Korean star Lee Jung-jae is already a household name in South Korea. The model-turned-actor is considered one of the most successful actors in the country, with a career in movies and television spanning almost 20 years.

The newly-appointed Gucci ambassador made history when he received a nod for his Squid Game performance at the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

In celebration of his historic Golden Globes nominee, we look back at some of the movies and shows that made Lee Jung-jae the star he is today long before his Squid Game fame.

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1. City of the Rising Sun

City of the Rising Sun follows two friends: Do-chul (Jung Woo-sung), a boxer with dreams of winning a local title and Hong-gi (Lee Jung-jae), a ladies’ man and con artist who long for a better life.

The movie gave Lee a Best Actor award at the Blue Dragon Film Awards and the Korean Association of Film Critics Award. It’s also referenced by many as his acting breakthrough.

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2. Il Mare

You might know The Lake House which stars Keanu Reeves but did you know that the 2006 movie was actually a remake of the Korean movie, Il Mare which starred Lee in Reeves’ role?

The time-travelling romance centres around architect Sung-hyun (Lee) who movies into the house, Il Mare that his father built. One day, he receives a letter from a young woman, Eun-Joo (Jun Ji-hyun) from the past. Soon, more letters follow and her predictions come true.

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3. Asako in Ruby Shoes

Asako in Ruby Shoes is relatively less well-known than Lee’s other projects but that’s what makes it an underrated gem worth seeing. Lee plays E U-in, a Korean civil servant who’s bored and unhappy with his job.

Not having friends, he spends his nights looking at internet porn sites and pinning after a woman (Kim Min-hee). One day, he receives a spam email where he’s led to a site where he could create his perfect woman. From there, Asako in Ruby Shoes is born.

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4. Air City

While many might have been introduced to Lee through Squid Game, Lee is actually more of a movie actor. He’s only done a couple of dramas and shows over the years, one of which is Air City.

Shot almost entirely at the Incheon International Airport, the drama tells the story of Ji-sung (Lee), a national secret agent whose colleague was killed in an accident. Soon enough, he becomes aware of an international conspiracy and tries to expose it with the help of Do-kyung (Choi Ji-woo) and Ha-hoon (Lee Jin-wook).

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5. The Thieves

Lee is one of the star-studded cast of the heist film, The Thieves which sees his reunion with Il Mare co-star, Jun Ji-hyun.

Popie (Lee), Yenicall (Jun), Chewinggum (Kim Hae-sook) and Zampano (Kim Soo-hyun) are all part of a team of elite thieves. They receive a highly lucrative offer in Macau but have to work together with the Hong Kong team for the heist of their lives.

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6. New World

Showcasing his versatility as an actor, Lee starred in the noir crime movie, New World alongside A-list actors, Choi Min-sik and Hwang Jung-min.

Lee plays a police officer, Ja-sung who’s been tasked to work undercover and joins a crime organisation. Soon enough, he becomes the right-hand man of Jung-chung (Hwang Jung-min), the number two boss of the group.

But Lee soon discovers that there’s more to his undercover assignment than meets the eye.

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7. The Face Reader

Further venturing into other genres, Lee starred in the historical film, The Face Reader. For his role as Prince Su-yang, the actor received a Best Supporting Actor award at the Baeksang Arts Awards and Blue Dragon Film Awards.

The film follows Nae-kyung (Song Kang-ho) who has the ability to know the personality, mental state and habits of a person simply by looking at one’s face. Because of his skills, he comes involved in a power struggle between Prince Su-yang (Lee) and politician and military official, Kim Jong-seo (Baek Yoon-sik).

 

8. Along With the Gods

Romance? Check. Crime action drama? Check. Historical film? Check. Lee tries his hand at fantasy action with the Along with the Gods duology.

Based on the eponymous webtoon, the movie follows a firefighter (Cha Tae-hyun) who dies a heroic death. He navigates the afterlife with the help of three guides. Lee plays the God of Death, King Yeomra.

9. Chief of Staff

After 10 years of doing movies, Lee returned to the small screen with the Korean drama, Chief of Staff alongside Shin Min-a. The series tells the story of politicians and their aids who are all trying to climb up the political ladder and gain more power.

Lee plays Jang Tae-jun, a former detective who wanted more in life so he moved to work at the National Assembly. Now, he’s the chief aide of a lawmaker.

10. Deliver Us From Evil

If you’re shocked by the violence, blood and gore in Squid Game, it’s actually nothing new for Lee. Just watch Deliver Us From Us. Reuniting with Hwang Jun-min, the action film follows In-Nam (Hwang), a contract killer who just completed his last assassination.

But before he throws in the towel, he becomes aware of a kidnapping case that hits close to home and heads to Thailand. Meanwhile, Ray (Lee) learns that his sibling has been killed by In-Nam and decides to take revenge.

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