Lee Min-ho (Korean: 이민호; Hanja: 李敏鎬, born June 22, 1987) is a South Korean actor, singer, model, creative director and businessman. He gained widespread fame worldwide with his role as Gu Jun-pyo in Boys Over Flowers (2009) which also earned him the Best New Actor award at the 45th Baeksang Arts Awards.
Early life and education
Lee was born in Heukseok-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul. As a child, Lee had hoped to become a professional football player. He was selected for the youth football class of South Korean manager and former professional player Cha Bum-kun, but an injury during his 5th grade of elementary school put an end to his aspiration. In his second year of high school, Lee turned to acting. He completed majors in Film & Art at Konkuk University.
Lee started auditioning and landed minor roles in several television dramas such as Nonstop 5 and Recipe of Love. His official debut role was in an EBS series, Secret Campus (2003). Early in his career, Lee went by the stage name Lee Min because his agency thought his birth name was too ordinary.
However, as his stage name was pronounced and written in the same way as the Korean word “imin”, which means “immigration”, he later said it was difficult to find himself in internet search results. He eventually went back to using his original name.
In 2006, his acting career was put on hold for a year following a serious car wreck, which occurred while riding in the back of a car with fellow actor Jung Il-woo. Their two friends riding in the front seat were killed instantly.
Lee was severely injured and spent several months bedridden. Upon recovery, Lee received his first leading role in the high-school drama Mackerel Run in 2007, but the series was reduced to only eight episodes due to low viewership ratings.
In 2008, he appeared in various roles on television (dramas Get Up and I Am Sam) and two movies, Public Enemy Returns and Our School’s E.T.. During the shooting of the latter, he became good friends with actor Kim Su-ro, who later praised him on a variety show: “I recognize a star when I see one. When I was doing Our School’s E.T., I knew that Lee Min-ho would become one of the top actors in the country”.
Lee’s breakthrough came in 2009 with the lead role of Gu Jun-pyo in KBS‘ Boys Over Flowers, the Korean adaptation of the popular Shōjo manga of the same name. Competition for the leading role was very intense and Lee only found out that he had been cast through the newspapers.
The series attracted high viewership ratings and buzz throughout South Korea during its broadcast. Lee’s new-found popularity gained him many endorsement deals and created another Korean Wave throughout Asia which made Lee a Hallyu star.
In 2010, Lee starred in romantic comedy Personal Taste, in which he played a young architect who poses as a gay man to become roommates with a young woman, leading to romantic complications.
When asked about why he chose the role during an interview, he responded “I think I would do a better job playing heavy and more defined roles when I am older. I think Personal Taste was perfect because it is bright, cheerful but you can also laugh and cry over it as well.”
2011–2013: International fame
In 2011, he played the titular character in action drama City Hunter, which was loosely based on Tsukasa Hojo‘s popular manga. The drama was a commercial success and contributed to Lee’s growing popularity, most notably in Japan, Philippines, China, and in France. He participated in a popular Chinese variety show Happy Camp in December 2011.
In April 2013, Lee’s wax figure was unveiled at the Madame Tussauds Shanghai. He then released his first album “My Everything” in May 2013 and went on a fan meeting tour in Asia.
Lee also announced his return to television with a new drama titled The Heirs, a teen drama written by Kim Eun-sook. On why he decided to take on the role of a chaebol heir in high school four years after playing one in Boys Over Flowers, he answered “Before I grew past my 20s, I wanted to play a more upbeat character, one that would allow me to return to that feeling of simple, uncomplicated innocence that I had when I was younger.”
Premiering on October 9, 2013, The Heirs enjoyed immense popularity both locally, with a peak rating of 28.6%, and internationally, having over one billion hits on the Chinese streaming website iQiyi. Lee experienced an increase in his popularity, particularly in China.
2014–present: Continued success
In January 2014, a second wax figure of Lee was unveiled at Madame Tussauds Hong Kong. On January 30, Lee became the first Korean celebrity to perform on China’s CCTV Lunar New Year Gala. He sang a song with Harlem Yu, the original singer of the theme song of Meteor Garden, the Taiwanese version of Boys Over Flowers.
He was also invited to the third conference of the South Korean Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment as the representative for the entertainment industry, to share and contribute to the discussion of issues related to developing Korea’s cultural content. Lee received the Prime Minister’s Commendation at the 5th Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards for his contribution to Hallyu.
Lee subsequently recorded and released his second EP Song for You in October 2014 under Universal Music. As with his previous album, he stated that the tracks were recorded for his fans and that he had no ambition to pursue a singing career. The album release coincided with the start of his RE:MINHO fan meeting tour which spanned various Asian cities.
He then took on a starring role in Yoo Ha‘s noir action film Gangnam Blues (2015), set in the 1970s when the real estate development boom swept across Gangnam area. The movie, which co-stars Kim Rae-won, marks Lee’s first leading role in a feature film.
In 2016, Lee starred in the action comedy Bounty Hunters, directed by Shin Terra. The film topped box office charts on its release date and went on to gross US$31 million in China. Later in the year, Lee made his small-screen comeback in the fantasy romance drama Legend of the Blue Sea alongside actress Jun Ji-hyun, which was a success.
In 2019, Lee was cast alongside Kim Go-eun in the SBS-broadcast and Netflix-distributed romantic-fantasy drama The King: Eternal Monarch written by The Heirs writer Kim Eun-sook. It was hailed as one of the most anticipated series of the first half of 2020, serving as Lee’s comeback series following his release from mandatory military service.
The series set a record for SBS’s highest 2020 Friday-Saturday drama premiere ratings and maintaining the No.1 spot on the weekly Wavve drama chart for eight consecutive weeks, but received mixed reviews and lower-than-expected domestic TV viewership ratings on later episodes compared to previous works by Kim Eun-sook.
Lee has an elder sister, Lee Yong-jung, who is the CEO of his current agency MYM Entertainment.
In 2006, Lee’s acting career was put on hold for a year following a serious car wreck, which occurred while riding with fellow actor Jung Il-woo and two other friends. The group of friends were driving to Gangwon Province when a car crossing from the opposite lane after fleeing from a previous hit-and-run hit them head-on, destroying the hood and engine of their car.
Lee and Jung, who were seated in the back of the car, survived the wreck in a critical state. Their friends, both sitting in the front of the car, died on the spot.
Lee was severely injured and in a coma for a month, after which he spent several months bedridden. His injuries included broken ribs, thigh and ankle, along with a tear in his knee cartilage. As part of his treatment, a 46-centimeter metal pin was inserted in his thigh, leaving one of his legs shorter than the other.
Lee Min-ho began his mandatory military service on May 12, 2017, at the Suseo Social Welfare Centre in Gangnam District Office as a public service officer. Lee was unable to serve as an active duty soldier due to a car crash in August 2006. He suffered another car wreck in 2011 while filming City Hunter.
On March 15, 2018, Lee entered his military training at the Korea Army Training Centre in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province. He returned to his public service duty after four weeks of basic military training. He was discharged on April 25, 2019.
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