10 Great Movies Featuring Lee Jung-jae
Despite becoming famous on an international level just recently, though the huge success of “Squid Game” which also just netted him an Emmy, Lee Jung-jae has actually been popular in S. Korea for decades, having a career that started in the 90s, and came to include a number of the most successful blockbusters in the country, not to mention a couple of masterpieces. As a tribute to a great actor, and on the occasion of the Emmy, we decided to make a list of 10 of his works that definitely deserve a look, in chronological order.
1. An Affair (1998) by Lee Jae-yong
The story focuses on Seo-hyun, a late-thirties housewife who has a settled life, a successful architect husband and a loving son. Her day is a set of routines, which is all thrown into disarray by the arrival of Woo-in, her younger sister’s fiancé. When her sister misses her flight from LA to Seoul, it falls upon Seo-hyun to show Woo-in around as he searches for houses for the soon-to-be-married couple. As the two spend their time together looking for houses and get to know each other better, feelings take a turn down a different path and the two embark on an illicit affair that both know is wrong and will bear inescapable consequences, yet neither of them can stop it.
The portrayal of this aspect of their dalliance is beautiful, as the sex scenes are plenty and shot in a sensitive yet artistic manner, with these scenes remaining the highlights of Kim Young-cheol’s cinematography. It helps that both actors involved in them are exceedingly good looking, with both Lee Jung-jae and Lee Mi-sook looking equally ineffable. The two share a chemistry that is genuine and honest, making the feelings shared between the two come forth. The older Mi-sook particularly brings the conflict of emotions within her across quite well. There’s no outbursts from either, no large-scale quarrels that often mire narratives that follow such a storyline. Any show of emotions is expressed not by words but by the body language of the two. (Rhythm Zaveri)
2. City of the Rising Sun (1998) by Kim Sung-soo
The real-life best friends play reel-life friends too. Do-chul, played by Jung Woo-sung, is a boxer who has the skill and passion for the sport but isn’t really cut out for the game, winning nothing but cuts, bruises and concussions. Lee Jung-jae’s Hong-gi, meanwhile, is a low-level gangster working as a debt collector for a loan shark who places money above all else. Hong-gi manages to get Do-chul a job with his boss. Do-chul wants to succeed in boxing but doesn’t want to resort to any means necessary. Hong-gi on the other hand is a materialistic person who loves money, going to the extent of conning girls to get it, but doesn’t respect it and is neck-deep in debt, gambling away every Won almost as soon as he earns it. The two friends love each other like brothers but their different philosophies and outlook at life often brings them to loggerheads.
It is no secret that both Jung Woo-sung and Lee Jung-jae have charm to spare and it is on full display here too in their young selves. There’s ample opportunity for both to sharpen their dramatic abilities as well but it is when their swagger is on display that their roles shine. The relocation of their real-world friendship onto the big screen results in terrific chemistry between the two, both playing off each other well, even when angry with their respective on-screen friends. Every other role in the feature, including that of Han Go-eun’s Mimi, plays second fiddle to theirs, keeping both these charismatic and incredibly handsome young actors front and center of the narrative. (Rhythm Zaveri)
3. Il Mare (2000) by Lee Hyun-seung
It’s Christmas time and Eun-joo (Jun Ji-hyun) is moving out of a beautiful house on stilts overlooking the sea, called Il Mare (The Sea, in Italian) that she has been renting for a short while. She doesn’t want to miss out her mails – especially a particular letter she hopes to receive from the US – so she leaves a card for the next tenant in the mailbox in front of the house, where she kindly asks to forward any mails to her new address. She also wishes a Happy 1999 Christmas. Later she finds a reply from someone stating that there must be a mistake as he is pretty sure the current year is 1997. The man of the reply is Sung-hyun (Lee Jung-jae), an aspiring architect, temporarily working in construction, who has just moved in. He is confused and intrigued by the letter, not only because of the date’s discrepancy but also because he is the first owner living in that house, and he knows it more than well as it was built by his estranged father, a notorious architect and lecturer. After a short exchange of perplexed messages, they realise that they are indeed 2 years apart in time but they can communicate via the mailbox which, in some mysterious ways, is acting as a portal between the two timelines.
Lee Jung-jae fits well in the shoes of Mr Nice Guy, cooking spaghetti like a Master Chef and sipping fine wines over the Jazzy OST, sometimes dangerously on the verge of looking like a chocolate box commercial, but always very likable. (Adriana Rosati)
4. Asako in Ruby Shoes (2000) by E J-yong
Many years before “The Asian Angel” brought Korean and Japanese cast as protagonists in the same before, and even more years before Lee Jung-jae became an international star due to “Squid Game” and Kim Min-hee due to “The Handmaiden” and her collaborations with Hong Sang-soo, there was a film that managed to bring all these elements together, “Asako in Ruby Shoes”.
The story unfolds in two different settings, in S. Korea and Japan. In the first one, E U-in is a rather bored civil servant, who is unfulfilled in both his job and friendless and girlfriend-less life. He spends his nights cruising in porn sites, although in 2000, visiting them was an endeavor that demanded money he was not willing to give. His voyeurism does not stop there, however, but extends in his real life, as he frequently peeks on women in the bathrooms of the office he works in, an endeavor that eventually leads to an infatuation to the point of stalking, of Mia, a punkish red-haired woman, who soon realizes his wishes but shows no wish to deal with him in any way. One day, U-in receives a spam mail that eventually leads him to a website that asks him to type in the characteristics of the perfect woman for him, where he immediately proceeds on inserting Mia’s. His choice however, leads him to the titular Asako, which brings us to the second setting of the movie.
The sum of the pros and cons of the movie lingers towards the first, even if not decidedly so, particularly due to the performances and the charisma of the protagonists, along with some rather entertaining episodes. The movie, though, shows its age, while its duration is not exactly ideal. There is fun to be had here, nevertheless, while film buffs will probably get a kick of seeing Lee Jung-jae and Kim Min-hee in the beginning of their career, under a whole different light than they are today.
5. The Thieves (2012) by Choi Dong-hoon
Popie, Yenicall, Chewinggum and Zampano are a team of professional thieves who are willing to do everything to achieve their goals. After a successful heist, Popie’s former “associate”, Macao Park contacts him and informs him of a very lucrative job that is to take place in Macau. At the same time, Pepsee, the third member of the previous team and Park’s ex-lover is released from prison. Popie’s current team agrees to take on the new job and they take along Pepsee, without informing Park. When they arrive in Hong Kong, a separate team awaits them, consisting of Chen, Andrew, Julie and Johnny. All of them must now cooperate to steal a legendary diamond named “Tear of the Sun.” However, as tensions rise between the members, everyone seems to have his own agenda.
As for the cast, all of them perform wonderfully and the chemistry between them is great, which is quite a big achievement considering the number of protagonists. Kim Hye-soo as Pepsee and Kim Hae-sook as Chewinggum stand out from the female leads, while the film takes as much advantage as it can from the looks of Gianna Jun, who plays Yenicall in sultry fashion. Oh Dal-su as Andrew is great as always as a comic relief character, Simon Yam steals the show at times as Chen, in another tragic role for him, while the tension between Kim Yun-seok as Macao Park and Lee Jung-jae as Popie is one of the films biggest assets. (Panos Kotzathanasis)
6. The Face Reader (2013) by Han Jae-rim
Skilled face reader Nae-gyeong (Song Kang-ho) lives with his brother-in-law Paeng-heon (Jo Jung-sek) and his son Jin-hyeong (Lee Jong-suk) in the rural parts of Korea, mostly isolated from any major settlement, apart from a few sparse visitors wanting to buy their brushes. Ashamed of his father’s talent and his inability to make a living, Jin-hyeong one day leaves to apply to become a government official. Disappointed and saddened by the event, Nae-gyeong decides to take up an offer by Yeon-jong (Kim Hye-soo), a courtesan, to become one of her main attractions of her establishment. However, after a night of heavy drinking, the face reader finds out he has been tricked into working almost all day from now on for every costumer, making very little money.
One day, he managed to help in a murder investigation, resulting in a different kind of clientele now looking for his services. In the end, even King Munjong (Kim Tae-woo) becomes a customer, demanding the face reader to observe the members of his court for possible traitors, who might be looking to kill him or his heir to the throne. While Nae-gyeong enjoys the pay as much as the fact of his talent being appreciated, he soon finds himself in the middle of a power play among the king’s advisor and Prince Suyang (Lee Jung-jae). Also, his dangerous talent which could expose the traitor among the king’s men has come to the attention of many, endangering his life and his son too, who has managed to become an official at court after all.
“The Face Reader” is a great period drama about power and powerlessness. Han Jae-rim manages to direct a feature, which, despite some flaws, is wonderfully acted and photographed, capturing the microcosm of the rich and the powerful, as well as their schemes and plots. (Rouven Linnarz)
7. New World (2013) by Park Hoon-jung
Park Hoon-jung directs an agonizing crime thriller, which contains the usual violence, anti-heroes, impressive action sequences, and stylish gangsters in their suits, along with the much-loved plot twists. However, the film’s main point of excellence is its characters, with the thin balance that dominates their relationships constantly shifting, in a game of death where nothing is improbable, as it is most eloquently stressed in the film’s finale.
Another point of excellence is the acting, with each of the main protagonists performing their respective roles magnificently. In that fashion, Lee Jung-jae plays the perpetually anxious Ja-sung, who has to maintain his cool composure when he is in the company of Jung Chung, acted with brio and overall artfulness by Hwang Jung-min, in both his calm moments and his outbursts. Choi Min-sik is great as always, in the role of a cop that is not so much different from the people he is after. (Panos Kotzathanasis)
8. Assassination (2016) by Choi Dong-hoon
The film is set during the Japanese occupation of the country in the 1930s, and tells the tale of a team of resistance fighters. A sniper named Ahn Ok- yun, a gun smuggler and graduate of the Independence Military School named Sok-sapo, and explosives specialist Hwang Deok-sam are tasked with the assassination of the governor of Gyeongseong and Kang In-gook, a Korean mogul who is pro-Japanese. However, Yeom Seok-jin, who is supposedly a comrade, seems to have ties with the enemy, and employs two contract killers, Hawaii Pistol and Younggam to deal with the aforementioned. Things become even more complicated when Ahn Ok-yun‘s twin sister appears.
In terms of acting, “Assassination” features the crème de la crème of the contemporary S. Korean cinema. Jun Ji-hyun as Ahn Ok- yun is the definite protagonist, and for once, the film does not focus on her looks, but her actual character. Lee Jung-jae as Yeom Seok-jin and Lee Kyoung-young as Kang In-gook are quite good in the role of the villains, particularly the first, who has the biggest role. (Panos Kotzathanasis)
9. Svaha The Sixth Finger (2019) by Jang Jae-hyun
The story itself revolves around the murders that lead to the pseudo-Buddhist religious cult called The Deer Mount and its mysterious founder and leader Ye-seok (Jeong Dong-hwan). While they are being officially investigated by the police and its chief Hwang (Jung Jin-young), they also draw the attention of Pastor Park (Lee Jung-jae), a man specialized in investigating and exposing cults and pseudo-religious groups, who becomes our protagonist. With the help of the two of his employees, driver Joseph and deaconess-secretary Sim (Hwang Jung-min) and the valuable information provided by his Buddhist monk friend Hae-an (Jin Seon-kyu, glimpsed in “The Extreme Job”), he is on his way to solve the mystery that exceeds the borders of the material world.
The thing that elevates “Svaha” above the line of average is the carefully picked cast. The actors are making an effort to breathe the life into the characters that are either stock, broadly sketched or a bit underdeveloped. Pastor Park even has some franchise potential as a character, while Lee Jung-jae has the star power to carry it. (Marko Stojiljković)
10. Deliver Us from Evil (2020) by Hong Won-chan
After dropping out of the Agency, In-nam (Hwang Jung-min) has become a hitman for hire who only kills “bad” people and his recent kill is Japanese crime boss Koraeda, a bastard of all bastards. Since it’s his last job, he’s looking forward to his retirement in Panama. However, Koraeda has a brother, Ray the Butcher (Lee Jung-jae) and he’s more than keen to carve up In-nam. Needless to say, a bloody showdown is ensured in Bangkok.
As the cold blooded killer Ray, Lee Jung-jae has the most scenery-stealing role; he’s immaculately dressed, armed to the teeth and spotting neck tattoo. He has only one thing in mind, to avenge his sibling’s death at all costs. Because he favors using knives, viewers are treated to lots of knife fights which are brutal and bloody. (David Chew
Original article from AMP