This year, I decided to put together my K-Drama All-Stars list. That is, actors who I might have seen the most in my drama watching in 2022. And thankfully, those same actors are also among those who delivered some of the best performances from the year too!
Park Hae Soo
I got a chance to watch three Park Hae Soo performances this year. And together, it was a showcase for how he is able to deliver with every one. In Prison Playbook, he is the endearing Kim Je Hyuk who is absolutely the heart of the excellent series. In Narco-Saints, he is the business-like agent Choi Changho who gives the series its necessary crime-fighting heft. And in Money Heist: Korea, he is the charismatic, almost-larger than life Berlin. Three very different characters. Almost as different as can be. But Park Hae Soo is an actor who is able to take every role and effortlessly deliver.
Seo Ji Hoon
I first met Seo Ji Hoon through the great KBS Drama Special The Legendary Lackey which I first watched in 2017. Since then, he’s had steady work in many diverse series, but has remained criminally underrated. And this year, I also got to watch him in three series where he plays three very different characters.
In Longing Heart/My First Love, he takes on the role of a romantic lead. In Revenge of Others, he delivers a nuanced performance that is necessary for the series’ biggest twists to work. Which he of course does. But in Seasons of Blossom, Seo Ji Hoon delivers a stunning, emotional performance that also requires nuance, but in a way where he must be both strong and vulnerable. Probably the best performance of his career so far.
Bae In Hyuk
Bae In Hyuk delivered an incredible performance in last year’s At a Distance, Spring is Green, showing how much he is deserving of a lead role. Though he was horribly underused in the lacking Why Her?, he got the chance to shine in Cheer Up. Though much more lighthearted than At a Distance, Spring is Green, Cheer Up is his first series where he can truly show he is capable of being a romantic lead. He helps to lead a charming ensemble cast. And being able to show off his range this year will hopefully lead to bigger and better roles in the new year.
Lee Jin Wook
With every role, Lee Jin Wook is able to prove time and again that he is one of the best and most charismatic leading men in the industry. Bulgasal was just another opportunity to show that and he more than does so.
As Dan Hwal, he must deliver a nuanced performance that carries with it the weight of the entire series. Being able to immediately connect with the character from the start is important. And then having to navigate the character through the many twists and turns is of high priority in order to keep the series from falling apart. But Lee Jin Wook is just that kind of actor. It is a commanding performance that has him effortlessly cycling through a range of emotions from scene to scene.
Lee Jin Wook grabs you from the very first time you see him on screen and he never breaks that connection with the viewer up until the final moments of the series. Other than the story itself, if there was a glue that holds the series together, it is Lee Jin Wook’s performance and the chemistry that he fosters with the rest of the cast.
Jung So Min
I, like many K-drama fans, first fell for Jung So Min in the Korean adaptation of Playful Kiss. Since then, she’s had a wide variety of roles and series. From drama to comedy to action, she always delivers. And this year, her performance in Alchemy of Souls was simply awe-inspiring. The series’ excellent, vibrant world served as Jung So Min’s playground. With her years of experience, she was so effortless in her portrayal of Mudeok. Whether quiet moments or exciting action, lighthearted humor or emotional drama; Jung So Min commanded the screen.
Park Eun Bin
Park Eun Bin’s experience and talent was on full display as Attorney Woo. She must give the character the right amount of depth and sincerity. Even with the strong writing, Park Eun Bin needs to still deliver the character’s nuance while also being relatable and endearing. She does that and then some. (Though it is certainly not a surprise to anyone who has watched any of the accomplished actress’ previous work.) It’s hard to imagine another actress in this role as Park Eun Bin embodied all the endearing and charming depth of Attorney Woo Young Woo.
Kim Hee Sun
Kim Hee Sun is as captivating as ever in Tomorrow. Koo Ryeon is a multi-faceted character. A cold badass on the outside, but broken and vulnerable on the inside. Kim Hee Sun effortlessly brought the character to life in a way that allows Ryeon to be a full character with heart and depth. And with a story that involves some very heavy material, Kim Hee Sun’s performance allows for an engaging, affecting, but accessible connection to the series.
Youn Yuh Jung
Youn Yuh Jung delivers a powerhouse performance in Pachinko and leads an outstanding cast who never miss a beat. The ensemble does their part to bring the enthralling story to life. But Youn Yuh Jung’s presence helps to add a certain amount of gravitas that elevates the series to even more than where it already was at. There are some breathtaking scenes during the series where she reminds everyone (as if it is even needed) of the effortless talent that led to a well-deserved Oscar win.