A late-bloomer in the acting industry, Choi Jin-hyuk only started to experience the joys of being an A-list leading man in 2014, at the ripe age of 28. Given that he gives off a vibe of being more mature than his age, I would have pegged him down to snagging up lead roles much earlier, especially since he’s a looker with acting talent.
As an early 1986-er, Choi finds himself needing to enlist in the military in the first half of 2015, putting a rather abrupt halt to his expanding resume of lead roles. Still, it’s such a fortunate event that he made his big break before his enlistment, and had at least two years to build on that popularity boost. While he may fear being forgotten by the masses in his two-year break, Choi left a pretty lasting impression in 2014 with his non-stop memorable acting projects, and Pride and Prejudice (which just ended its run a week ago) was an excellent high note to leave on.
So how did his celebrity career even start in the first place? Back in 2006, Choi took part in the KBS reality talent show Survival Star Audition, and won the grand prize. After which, he was casted in a few drama specials and supporting roles, but nothing that special happened until 2010 when he finally landed his first leading role in It’s Okay, Daddy’s Girl opposite Moon Chae-won. Still, it was not the big break he was waiting for.
He followed up with roles in I Need Romance, My Daughter The Flower, Ms. Panda and Mr. Hedgehog, but still didn’t manage to chance upon the one defining role that every actor needs, to create that popularity boost.
Crazily enough, that lucky role came in 2013 — seven years after his debut — in a two-episode cameo appearance as Wol-ryung in Gu Family Book. It’s amazing how his breakout role wasn’t a permanent role in a drama series, but a mere cameo role. Wol-ryung is a flawless example of how his charisma and intensity was well-utilized, something that might have been overlooked in his previous roles.
His cameo appearance inflicted the whole of South Korea with Wol-ryung fever, immediately becoming an overnight sensation, both for his acting ability and his character’s tragic pathos (and maybe his mane of glory as well). The hot response led to viewers demanding his character be brought back to screen a second time. What was intended to be a short two-episode cameo, eventually extended to another ten episodes. His name hit the top of search engines after each airing of the drama, and his OST release even went on to debut at 6th in the music charts. (Choi is also a pretty decent singer, having released an OST for most of the dramas he participated in). His breakout performance as a brooding gumiho eventually led him to pick up a couple of Best New Actor Awards and served as his mythical career-defining moment.
His brilliant portrayal of Wol-ryung’s heartache impressed Heirs writer Kim Eun-sook to the point that she invited him to take on the role of Lee Min-ho’s older brother. And although his role was rather minimal, it signified the start of Choi’s rise to prominence on the small screen.
Barely a few months after, Choi took on his first lead role in tvN cable drama Emergency Couple, opposite Song Ji-hyo. Right off the bat, the star cast drew in pretty good ratings (for cable standards) at 2.4%, and it rose steadily until it doubled to 5.08% by the last episode. The drama was a great vehicle for Choi to show off his unique abilities — crackling chemistry with the female lead, as well as fully capturing the dichotomy of a soft underbelly beneath a tough exterior.
Shortly after, Choi returned to second lead territory, as Daniel Pitt in the popular remake of Fated to Love You. His daddy long legs character was (sadly) doomed to pale in comparison next to Jang Hyuk and Jang Nara’s comedic romance, but this production was just a stepping stone for his eventual goal of a lead role.
Three weeks after, he announced his headlining role in law drama Pride and Prejudice, which would be his last project before enlisting in the military. The role of the genius prosecutor Gu Dong-chi was right up his alley, as his charming low voice and striking screen presence made his righteous and tough-as-nails-character stand out even more. Choi also showcases genuine camaraderie and interactions with his fellow cast members, his standoff sequences with Choi Min-soo and bromance scenes with Lee Tae-hwan being especially indelible. He even picked up a Excellence Award during the MBC Drama Awards for his efforts.
Choi is indeed an all-rounded talented actor. His fantastic body proportions makes him an easy shoo-in for a drool-worthy target, and his overwhelming aura allows him to be an ideal candidate for any roles which requires a charismatic actor to pull off.
As seen with his Wol-ryung role, Choi has this magical ability to draw people’s eyes to him, be it due to his tall height, his rumbling voice, or even just the mesmerizing look in his eyes. He’s somewhat of a scene-stealer, zealous and passionate whenever he’s on-screen, allowing the viewers to be riveted by the entirety and sincerity of his character. Although he seems more apt to pulling off darker characters, he has definitely proved his goofy side with some lighter roles, perhaps stemming from his easygoing real-life personality.
His soothing vocal range is something we don’t get to see as often, but his singing chops add an even more romantic aspects to this perfect gentleman. As an underdog whose lucky stars blessed him with that one minute of fame, he perhaps understands better than anyone else how rare his opportunity was. As a result, he treasures his current position a little more and works his hardest to make the fullest use of this one-in-a-million chance.
And while two years might seem like a long time, Choi has done more than enough in leaving a mark in the acting industry, and there will definitely be a spot waiting for him to come back. In the meantime, here’s to hoping he will greet us again in two years, safe and healthy, with even more noteworthy projects. Good luck, Wol-ryung!
(YouTube, Images via tvN, MBC, Elle)