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Lee Min-ho (Hangul: 이민호; Hanja: 李敏鎬, born June 22, 1987) is a South Korean actor and singer. He first gained widespread fame in Korea and parts of Asia with his role as Gu Jun-Pyo in Boys Over Flowers in 2009. The role won him a Best New Actor award at the 45th Baeksang Arts Awards. He is noted for his leading roles in City Hunter (2011), The Heirs (2013) and The Legend of the Blue Sea (2016). The success of Lee’s television dramas throughout Asia established him as a top Hallyu star. Lee starred in his first leading role in the film with Gangnam Blues (2015), followed by his first China-produced film Bounty Hunters (2016).
Early life and education
Lee was born in Heukseok-dong, Dongjak-Gu, Seoul. As a child, Lee had hoped to become a professional football player. He was selected for the youth football class of South Korean manager and former professional player Cha Bum-Kun, but an injury in the 5th grade of elementary school put an end to this aspiration. In his second year of high school, Lee turned to acting.
He majors in Film & Art at Konkuk University.
Lee started auditioning and landed minor roles in several television dramas such as Nonstop 5 and Recipe of Love. His official debut role was in an EBS series, Secret Campus (2003). Early in his career, Lee went by the stage name Lee Min because his agency thought his birth name was too ordinary. However, as his stage name was pronounced and written (Hangul) in the same way as the Korean word min, which means “immigration”, it made it hard for him to show up his ball in internet search results. He eventually went back to using his original name.
In 2006, his acting career was put on hold for a year following a serious car accident, while riding with fellow actor Jung Il-woo. Lee was severely injured and spent several months bedridden. Upon recovery, Lee received his first leading role in the high-school drama Mackerel Run in 2007, but the series was reduced to only eight episodes due to low viewership ratings. In 2008 he appeared in various roles on television (dramas Get Up and I Am Sam) and two movies, Public Enemy Returns and Our School’s E.T… During the shooting of the latter, he became good friends with actor Kim Su-ro, who later praised him on a variety show: “I recognize a star when I see one. When I was doing Our School’s E.T., I knew that Lee Min-ho would become one of the top actors in the country”.
Lee’s breakthrough came in 2009 with the lead role of Gu Jun-Pyo in KBS’s Boys Over Flowers, the Korean adaptation of the popular Shōjo manga of the same name. Competition for the leading role was very intense and Lee only got to know he was cast from the newspapers. The series attracted high viewership ratings and buzz throughout South Korea during its broadcast, Lee’s new-found popularity gained him many endorsement deals and created another Korean Wave throughout Asia which made Lee a Hallyu star.
In 2010, Lee starred in romantic comedy Personal Taste, in which he played an ambitious perfectionist young architect who poses as a gay man to become roommates with a young woman, leading to romantic complications. When asked about why he chose the role during an interview he responded “I think I would do a better job playing heavy and more defined roles when I am older. I think “Personal Taste” was perfect because it is bright, cheerful but you can also laugh and cry over it as well.”
In 2011, he played the titular character in action drama City Hunter, which was loosely based on Tsukasa Hojo’s popular manga. The drama was a commercial success across Asia and contributed to Lee’s growing popularity, most notably in Japan, Philippines, China, and parts of Europe. He participated in a popular Chinese variety show Happy Camp in December 2011.
In 2012, Lee starred in historical-medical drama, Faith with Kim Hee-sun. Although the drama garnered viewership ratings around the 10% range, it was a commercial flop due to its high budget.
2013–2016: International fame
In April 2013, Lee’s wax figure was unveiled at the Madame Tussauds in Shanghai. He then released his first album “My Everything” in May 2013 and went on a fan meeting tour in Asia.
Lee also announced his return to television with a new drama titled The Heirs, a teen drama written by Kim Eun-sook. On why he decided to take on the role of a chaebol heir in high school four years after playing one in Boys Over Flowers, he answered “Before I grew past my 20s, I wanted to play a more upbeat character, one that would allow me to return to that feeling of simple, uncomplicated innocence that I had when I was younger.” Premiering on October 9, 2013, The Heirs enjoyed immense popularity both locally, with a peak rating of 28.6%, and internationally, having over one billion hits on the Chinese streaming website iQiyi. Lee experienced an increase in his popularity, particularly in China.
On Jan 30, 2014, Lee became the first Korean celebrity to perform on China’s CCTV Lunar New Year gala. He sang a song with Harlem Yu, the original singer of the theme song of Meteor Garden, the Taiwanese version of Boys Over Flowers. He was also invited to the third conference of the South Korean Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment as the representative for the entertainment industry, to share and contribute to the discussion of issues related to developing Korea’s cultural content. Lee received the “Prime Minister Award” at the 5th Korean Popular Culture & Arts Award for his contribution to Hallyu.
Lee subsequently recorded and released his second EP Song for You in October 2014 under Universal Music. As with his previous album, he stated that the tracks were recorded for his fans and that he had no ambition to pursue a singing career. The album release coincided with the start of his RE: MINHO fan meeting tour which spanned various Asian cities.
He then took on a starring role Yoo Ha’s noir action film Gangnam Blues (2015), set in the 1970s when the real estate development boom swept across Gangnam. The movie, which co-stars Kim Rae-won, marks Lee’s first leading role in a feature film.
In 2016, Lee starred in the action comedy Bounty Hunters, directed by Shin Terra. The film topped box office charts on its release date and went on to gross US$29 million in China. Later in the year, Lee made his small-screen comeback in the fantasy romance drama The Legend of the Blue Sea alongside actress Jun Ji-Hyun.
Lee has an older sister, Lee Yong-Jung, who is the CEO of his current agency MYM Entertainment.[
Lee Min-ho began his mandatory military service on May 12, 2017, at Suseo Social Welfare Centre in Gangnam District Office as a public service officer. Lee is unable to serve as an active duty soldier due to a car accident that took place in August 2006 with fellow actor Jung Il-woo, which caused him to be bedridden for months as he had suffered serious leg injuries. He suffered another car accident in 2011 while filming City Hunter.
On March 15, 2018, Lee entered his military training at the Korea Army Training Centre in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province. He will return to his public service duty after four weeks of basic military training.