It’s quite amusing to think that a young So Ji Sub, a swimmer of ten or so years at the time, started off his career as a jeans model because he wanted to pose alongside his hip-hop idol, the late Kim Sung Jae. What was just supposed to be an easy gig for So Ji Sub became a prolific acting career with projects that have both critics raving and audiences watching. It’s not hard to see why: So Ji Sub is a master at melodrama. While most of his roles seem very similar on paper, on screen, his acting tells you otherwise. From his facial expressions to his body language, even the way he speaks his words; So Ji Sub manages to add extra layers to each character he portrays, giving every role its own unique personality. Not to mention every project he picks is one worth watching, even if it’s just for him.
While I do believe that every work of So Ji Sub is to be viewed at least once and admired and appreciated for the masterpiece that it is, this list of works from So Ji Sub is a great starting point for anyone new to his work. Without further ado, here is my definitive list of must-see So Ji Sub dramas and films:
Be With You (2018)
In this remake of the Japanese film of the same name, So Ji Sub stars as Woo Jin, a single father whose wife, Soo Ah (played by Son Ye Jin) miraculously returns a year after her passing with all her memories having disappeared.
This film exemplifies So Ji Sub’s range as an actor. He is known for his more stoic and cool characters; yet here he is messy, clumsy, almost visibly struggling as he portrays a father trying to hold everything together for his son while dealing with the biggest loss in his life. There’s a vulnerability in So Ji Sub in this movie that makes you want to root for him. Pair this with his chemistry with actress Son Ye Jin, and you have a heartwarming and tear-jerking story about the power of love, and to loosely quote Gabriel Marcel, how loving someone is like saying they shall never die.
Oh My Venus (2015)
So Ji Sub plays Kim Young Ho, (or John Kim) a Hollywood fitness trainer, who is coerced into helping Kang Joo Eun (played by Shim Min Ah) get back into shape and return to her former glory as the “Venus of Daegu.”
It’s a classic trope of most Korean rom-com dramas where the rich heir falls in love with the simple girl, but with a transformational fitness program ala-Rocky twist. It’s a great refresher after marathoning some of So Ji Sub’s more morose roles, and he does not disappoint on the kilig factor that most K-Drama rom-com fans crave. So If you’re up for a lighthearted, feel-good watch, Oh My Venus will deliver AND have you doubling over in laughter with all its hijinks and crazy scenarios.
Always is a romance film that revolves around Jang Cheol Min (So Ji Sub), an ex-boxer who falls in love with the kindhearted yet struggling Ha Jung Hwa(Han Hyo Joo).
Bring out your tissues for this movie; you’re going to need it. Something about this film gets me in the gut every time I watch it. Without spoiling the movie (it is definitely too much of a must-see to spoil), Always takes you for a ride, swooning at one moment and feeling the tension at another, finding yourself at the edge of your seat as the film rolls into it’s climax. There’s everything you could want in a film: romance, drama, suspense, action, and at its core: A really good story.
Rough Cut (2008)
In this film within a film, So Ji Sub is Gang Pae, a gangster and mob middleman who crosses paths with Soo Ta (Kang Ji-Hwan), an actor with a gruff and gangster-like reputation. Soo Ta enlists Gang Pie to be in his action movie, the catch? The fights have to be real.
This time capsule of a movie is an interesting watch. If the plot isn’t intriguing enough to catch your attention, the spectacular acting from both So Ji Sub and Kang Ji Hwan will draw you in. Not to mention if you want to see some questionable early 2000s Korean style, this movie will showcase the best of it. So Ji Sub’s part in this movie has very little dialogue, but his face says everything. His complex emotions hidden under a layer of grim stoicism will draw you in.
Before I get to my last must-see pick, I definitely have to give special mention to So Ji Sub’s other fantastic works that are worth watching if you haven’t seen them already:
If you need a lighthearted romp with some action and espionage mixed in, check out: My Secret Terrius (2018)
A Japanese colonial period war film with Song Joong Ki in it too? Yes please: The Battleship Island (2017)
Romance and ghosts, but also comedy and horror? Really worth checking out: Master’s Sun (2013)
A cybercrime investigational drama with So Ji Sub at the helm is a must watch: Phantom (2012)
If sibling rivalry meets revenge drama is your thing, watch: Cain and Abel (2009)
I’m Sorry I Love You (2004)
I’m Sorry I Love You follows the story of Cha Moo Hyuk (So Ji Sub), a thug that vows to get revenge on his mother for abandoning him as a child.
This. This is the drama that catapulted So Ji Sub into megastardom. If you thought you needed tissues before, get a whole box ready because you will not be able to handle the melodrama that ensues in this revenge drama-slash-romantic tragedy. I’m Sorry I Love You is arguably one of the most romantic yet heartbreaking dramas of its time. With stellar acting performances from So Ji Sub himself and Lim Soo Jung who plays his romantic counterpart, there is nary a dry eye after completing this 16 episode drama. On a personal note, I watched this in 2005 and it pretty much solidified my standard of acting and writing in a Korean drama. While I can’t say that some elements of the story have aged well (namely, the fashion, among other things), anyone open to watching an early 2000s K-drama will definitely come out of this show with a lasting impression.
Already a fan of So Ji Sub? Don’t miss out on his upcoming fanmeet here in the Philippines this coming March! Details can be found here: So Ji Sub’s Manila fan meet details revealed