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The Drama Act-Off: Lee Min-ho vs. Lee Min-ho

Okay friends! After a few rounds of housewarming, we reckon it’s time for a new adventure. How do you all feel about something a little different? And by “different”, I mean BRUTAL. But also loving. After all, we don’t want to spill too much blood on our nice new floors.

The idea is pretty simple. We tend to focus on dramas as set pieces when we talk about them on the Long Yaks, and it often feels like we’re derailing when we skip sideways into related works. We’ve always stopped ourselves from going off in the deep end with comparisons or an examination of an actor’s filmography. Yet we spend a lot of our time off-air chattering and exchanging notes and digs about whoever has our attention at the moment, especially if one of us is disappointed by someone we usually enjoy.

So we present to you The Drama Act-Off, where we pit actors against every known version of themselves, and only one can win. Like K-drama Hunger Games? But with more snacks, sparks, and general glee.

And who better to helm our inaugural Act-Off than the King himself?

Jump here if you need a quick reference on the dramas cited and Lee Min-hos invoked!

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Saya: So The King: Eternal Monarch just finished airing.

Paroma: And we’re a bit…dazed. Sometimes I wake up and wonder if it was all a fever dream.

Anisa: I, meanwhile, gave up after two episodes, so I’ve been watching all this unfold with probably too much schadenfreude. Which is why Lee Min-ho is the perfect actor to start off this new feature.

Saya: Who are we throwing into the ring? I take dibs on King dude and Mermaid-man. Mainly because I will enjoy getting them drubbed in the first minute. I mean, if they even pass the physical.

Paroma: I’m taking general dude and architect dude. Guess that leaves you with City Hunter, Anisa.

Anisa: Happy to take the City Hunter, since that’s the only one that really lives on in my mind! Other than Whatshisface Curlyhead, whom I notice we’re all ignoring. But this podcast does owe a debt to Gu Jun-pyo, so I feel we should at least mention him! (Guess those are my two if we’re claiming roles.)

Saya: Aaahh I forgot about Boys Over Flowers! HA. But I could only tolerate one episode of that vicious cruelty. I was prepared to give it a chance if Gu Jun-pyo himself wasn’t evil, but he was the actual worst part, and in 2019, I was OUT. I am pretty sure I would have been the same in 2012…though I can’t guarantee 2009-me wouldn’t have been seduced by him. UGH. Thank God for upward socio-emotional development.

Anisa: I actually loved Hana Yori Dango (the first Japanese adaptation of the manga) and have rewatched it multiple times, so I started Boys Over Flowers immediately as it started airing. The contrast was highly unflattering and I dropped it two episodes in, though I went back and skip-watched/read recaps later just to see what they changed from the original.

Paroma: Should I feel ashamed to admit that I enjoyed Boys Over Flowers when I first saw it? I even rewatched it. Though I have to say, I fast forwarded through the latter half every time. It gets pretty tedious after 18-year-old Gu Jun-pyo flies off to become the CEO of his dad’s empire and pretends to forget Geum Jan-di. This also holds true for later adaptations like the Chinese Meteor Garden.

Saya: Aw, I think we can be forgiving of past selves. The only reason I think I might not have been okay even at the start of my K-drama career is because of how much I hated Hyun Bin’s similarly jerky-toxic character, Kim Joo-won, in Secret Garden (which only redeemed itself to me by ending well).

Anisa: Oh, that’s one of my secret shames—I was ALL IN on Kim Joo-won. Secret Garden was such a crack drama for me despite its egregious gender politics. But I think Boys Over Flowers occupies that same crack drama space for a lot of the fandom, so I guess Gu Jun-pyo is the gateway drug. Memorable, perhaps regrettable, but not an all-time fave.

Saya: Yeah, I think I was so spoiled on my gateway hero (Jang Geun-seok as Hwang Tae-kyung in You’re Beautiful) that nothing can ever live up to him. Though that’s an act-off for another day!

Paroma: He was definitely the one for me. The only hero who’s come close to the incomparable Hwang Tae-kyung was Kim Boong-do (Ji Hyun-woo) from Queen In-Hyun’s Man. I like my men sassy.

Anisa: My gateway hero was Choi Han-kyul (Gong Yoo in Coffee Prince), so I totally relate. But yes—we will save both of those for later!

Saya: Isn’t it weird how we sort of treat Lee Min-ho as if he was invented in 2009 with Boys Over Flowers? Which I guess in a sense, he was.

Anisa: Yeah, I always think of it as his debut.

Paroma: True. Until recently, I had no idea that he had been in other projects before Boys Over Flowers.

Saya: I am cheating and looked him up (because my mental K-drama encyclopedia has begun imploding on me) and I was surprised to see quite a slew of web dramas/minor outings between Heirs (2013) and going off to army after Legend of the Blue Sea (2016). Though I cynically wonder if they were CF tie-ins, if only to explain why it seems like he’s forgotten how to have screen presence between Faith and now. Remember Personal Taste?

Paroma: Ha! Do I!?

Saya: Isn’t it also weird to think of him paired with Son Ye-jin? Like, that’s a pairing I can’t even imagine now.

Anisa: It was weird even then, to be honest.

Saya: Oh wow, really? I was still pretty new on the drama scene then so I took it all at face value. But the difference in calibre is really difficult to equate. Like mangoes/blueberries.

Anisa: The gap in their acting certainly showed. And they did the whole her-freaking-out-because-he’s-so-good-looking thing he gets in EVERY ROLE, but the pairing didn’t feel natural. Maybe it was because it was so soon after the school uniform in Boys Over Flowers, but to me he seemed like a kid playing dress-up in adult clothes and a grown-up job.

Paroma: I remember being quite…shocked at how quiet he was in Personal Taste after Boys Over Flowers. I thought hamming was his natural state.

Saya: What, you mean he speaks more in BOF?!

Paroma: I meant more reserved! Restrained? Pfft.

Anisa: He was definitely most animated as Gu Jun-pyo—I feel like he’s gotten progressively more muted as he’s gotten older.

Saya: Lee Min-ho always reminds me of two people. One was my form tutor in sixth form—who, incidentally, was a maths teacher and far too handsome to be working in an all-girls school—anyway, though! He had a voice that was always pitched so low that you could barely hear him and I remember how I constantly had to ask him to speak up or repeat himself. (He did have facial expressions though.) The other person he reminds me of is a young Nick Carter from his early 2000s Backstreet Boys days. I had a hard time finding a picture that shows it, though—it’s much clearer in vivo.

Paroma: I…don’t see it. XD