K-drama Breakouts and Un-breakouts of 2012

In an attempt to procrastinate starting my year end reviews, I started wasting time pondering random thoughts concerning the 2012 K-drama landscape. Aside from good and bad dramas, I realized I could actually pinpoint the breakouts of this year (and the un-breakouts, those who were flying high only to hit a dud this year), which actually were quite a few. Some having been toiling for years in smaller parts only to finally be rewarded for paying their dues. Others hit it big right out of the park by rising up to the acting challenge in a well-selected drama. Child actors really stole the show in many instances this year, showing us that the next generation is more than ready to step into the shoes of some young actors who are ready to graduate to the next level. I would say there were no bigger and more high profile breakouts this year than Kim Soo Hyun and Song Joong Ki, winning both box office and television ratings success and acting critical acclaim. If they were baseball players, one is a third-at-bat who loaded the bases while the latter is a fourth-at-bat who hit a grand slam home run. But for every breakout there was an un-breakout this year, coming down to earth from formerly flying high. Regardless of the successes and trip ups in 2012, it’s all ephemeral unless the actor or actress keeps moving forward in positive and productive ways.

Breakouts of 2012 – turn these accomplishments into a trophy and put it on the shelf:

Three back-to-back-to-back dramas, two of which aired to high ratings? This boy definitely earned his breakout star status in 2012 primarily with Gaksital (though Ojakkyo Brothers started airing at the end of 2011 and 7th Level Civil Servant won’t air until 2013). He also has a popular stint on variety show 1D2N and has accumulated a new coterie of fans with this breakout year. Keep on smiling, dimples, you deserve it.

Yeo Jin Gu and Lee Min Ho in The Moon Embraces the Sun. They played royal half-brothers and both were outstanding in their own respective roles. Yeo Jin Gu was boyish and idealistic, Lee Min Ho was playful and melancholy. Though this drama was the most memorable for both of them, Lee Min Ho also gave a truly charming performance in Rooftop Prince as one of the Joseon F4, while Yeo Jin Gu came thisclose to losing his child actor status with a very manly and heartbreaking turn as the younger Yoochun in Missing You.

Song Joong Ki continued his leading man ascent with the melodrama Nice Guy (The Innocent Man) and movie The Werewolf Boy. His breakout year actually started at the tail end of 2011 when he had an intense cameo appearance in the first four episodes of Tree with Deep Roots as the young King Sejong. I’ve written enough about his jawdropping acting performance in Nice Guy and I now believe there isn’t a role he can’t play.

Seo In Guk and Jung Eun Ji for their turn in Answer Me 1997. They played two Busan kids who grew up together in the 90s and end up falling in love in the most low key and realistic of ways, with heart and tons of humor. The drama captivated me more for the friendship and family elements but these two singers-turned-actors are the real deal in terms of young acting talent. Up next for Jung Eun Ji is as the second female lead in That Winter, The Wind Blows, while Seo In Guk is currently in the weekend drama Rascal Sons (and he also garnered a lot of good critical praise for his turn in Love Rain earlier this year). They both can sing great and act well – I predict the future is their oyster.

Kim Soo Hyun is on fire! His drama The Moon Embraces the Sun broke 40% in ratings and he won himself a Baeksang Best Actor Award (a great performance from him IMO but totally not deserving of that award, especially considering his competition). His ensemble movie Thieves is now the highest-grossing K-movie of all time in the domestic box office. I fear he may have ascended to the pinnacle a dash too quickly, but I know he’s got a good head on his shoulders and real acting talent to bolster his successes.

One famous child actor successfully makes his transition to adult leading roles. Yoo Seung Ho‘s former leading roles in Flames of Ambition and Warrior Baek Dong Soo weren’t that convincing, still coming across like a kid cosplaying an adult. In 2012, Yoo Seung Ho officially became an adult leading man as he delivers his first romantic performance in Operation Proposal with Park Eun Bin, then does a character actor turn as the Celestial Jade Emperor in the fantasy sageuk Arang and the Magistrate, and concluding with a dark second male lead character in Missing You. Call it the trifecta of trying new things. All three dramas are all just meh for me, and he was truly awful in Arang, but I like how he keeps pushing himself in new directions.

Kim So Hyun in The Moon Embraces the Sun and Missing You. I though Kim Yoo Jung gave the better performance in MoonSun but Kim Yoo Jung has been a breakout child actress for many years now, so 2012 was really Kim So Hyun’s chance to shine. Playing the childhood antagonist in MoonSun, she was wonderfully easy to hate as she showcased a really dark and bitchy character. She then stwitched it up completely as the tormented and woeful childhood heroine in Missing You, showing the audiences that she’s able to hit all the dramatic makjang beats the drama dropped on her. With Seo Shin Ae falling off the cuteness scale as she grows older, Kim So Hyun has stepped in as the other child actress who can vy with Kim Yoo Jung for all the prime roles.

Unbreakouts of 2012 – bet these guys want to erase this year from their resumes:

Terrible, terrible, terrible. Terrible characters, terrible acting, terrible script, everything about Fashion King was so abysmal that it dragged down formerly high flying Yoo Ah In and Lee Je Hoon. The former had a breakout year in 2010 with Sungkyunkwan Scandal and the 2011 box-office smash Wandeuki and the latter has been accumulating accolades in film acting with The Front Line and Introduction to Architecture. Their turn in FK flushed all that goodwill down the drain (for the time being), and they will need a great project to revive their potential for me. Lee Je Hoon left for the army after FK so that will be a nice break for him and he can come back with a clean slate.

Gong Yoo and Lee Min Jung in Big. I may have loved this drama and loved their performances in it, but it was a great big letdown in terms of ratings and critical reception for this drama. I like to say they made it just for me (and the few other Big lovers out there), but at the end of the day, they probably want to move on from this and pick a project that garners more widespread appeal. This was Gong Yoo’s first drama since Coffee Prince (and his return from military service) and I’m sad that he couldn’t have picked a drama that was better received.

The entire cast of Dream High 2. Poor kids, the sheer suckitude of this script is beyond even anyone’s ability to redeem, much less a cast of mostly idols. I felt the worse for leading lady Kang Sora, who followed up her star-making turn in the smash K-movie Sunny with this crap. Erase this and move on.

Lee Min Ho in Faith. A lackluster drama with poor ratings, this is the sageuk equivalent of Gong Yoo and Lee Min Jung’s disappointing production with Big. Lee Min Ho was awkward and stilted as a Goryeo general, the script was piss-poor, the directing was atrocious, and his chemistry with leading lady Kim Hee Sun was nil. He needs to stick with modern fare going forward and this was a really disappointing way to follow up his smash success with 2011’s City Hunter.

Lee Bum Soo in Time Slip Dr. Jin. He had a great run with the dark and quirky History of the Salaryman, but that drama wasn’t nearly as memorable as the once-in-a-lifetime level of awfulness that was Dr. Jin. His presence in it was like Laurence Olivier starring in Inchon (google the movie if this reference flies by). I like to think he was self-aware enough to realize how stupid this drama was and therefore he found some tongue-in-cheek enjoyment in it. That, and getting to hang out on set with his good friend Song Seung Heon. Though I worry he might not have learned his lesson and is now set to reprise this experience with IRIS 2.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Baby:

What does this list teach us? It’s that role, role, role is sometimes more important than actual acting talent. A really spectacular role in a good drama can make a mediocre actor. But a truly bleh role in a crappy drama can drag down a talented actor. Ultimately a drama is a group production and one great actor can rescue a drama alone when too many other things suck in it. But an average actor can make a lasting impression in a great drama, and this is magnified even more when the actor is actually truly exceptional at acting. But one great breakout year means nothing unless it’s continuously built upon, and one stumble is merely a lesson to be learned to guide future decisions.


K-drama Breakouts and Un-breakouts of 2012 — 40 Comments

  1. Totally agree. It’s just sad to see such stars like Lee Bum Soo, Yoo Ah In, and basically everyone you listed in the un-breakout list pick such crappy dramas to star in. =(
    Oh well, hopefully next year will be better for them.

  2. I think Kim Yoo Jung should be in the list Moon sun got high ratings and so did May Queen! And now she’s filming a movie with TOP

    • i really think her breakout year was in 2010. Sure, she got major popularity this year, but mang kdrama directors and writers just kept casting her in meaty roles in 2010. Blown away by her in flames of ambition (2010) alright. And like koala said below, you can’t breakout if you have already broke out. 😉

      That said, SJK deserves all the props he’s getting. This is really his year.

  3. I hold to the theory that Lee Bum Soo and Lee Won Jong knew they were in a total dog with Dr. Jin and just hammed it up for fun. I picture them off to the side of the set, playing poker and laughing up a storm. That’s my only way of explaining their roles there.

    • I don’t knnow about that as far as Lee Bum Soo is concerned…’cuz if I remember correctly he commented that he wanted Jin to be extended for more episodes (10 or 20?) This was when the show was considering an extension

    • That’s exactly what I theorizing about LBS (one of my faves) picking and sticking with Dr. Jin. Set pictures looked like everyone was having a blast though.

      Or it could be money. A truckload of it.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if they played drinking games during breaks in filming. Or acted out scenes while buzzed. I want them to admit one day on a talk show or something.

  4. It does seem strange that it took this long for SJK to hit this big, but he started out very very raw.
    It takes a lot of years and work to become an overnight success!

    I kinduv understand why Big didn’t get critical praise for the writing, but did critics not like the performances?

    It still SHOCKS me a lot that KSH got the Baeksang up against Shin Ha Kyun and Han Suk Kyu. Maybe the older actors split the vote? I dunno.
    Han Suk Kyu made it look really easy to play that complicated, sweet, crazy, ambitious, afraid King. I still go back and watch some of the scenes in awe.
    And SHK’s intensity scared the crap out of me. He WAS Dr. Brain.

    I have said this before, I enjoyed FKing. LJH was awesomely beautiful and frustrated and immature.
    I liked the time spent watching it, but the lead girl, the end and the fashions were horrible. The end was just stupid, and even though you could tell by YAI’s hair they filmed it early on, it felt glue-sticked on, before it completely fell off.
    They should have rewritten it.

    • FK was an awful entertaining drama, no doubt about that. I discovered LJH thanks to it and I was blown by his charisma and acting abilities despite the fact than his character was hopeless… Still a little something to salvage.

  5. Wonderful post Koala! I pretty much agreed with everything you typed. Thought most people found Big confusing and written poorly (yea it kinda was), at least the chemistry was there! Holy crap is this the year for Joo Won, Song Joong Ki and Kim Soo Hyun or what?! I probably should add Yoochun to that list but I didn’t really click with his performance in RTP.

    As for craptastic dramas, DH2 takes the cake. Everything about it was crap. I could barely finish the first number let alone the first episode. It’s a shame too that some of them can really sing and that I really liked DH1.

  6. if you take out Fashion King, I think Lee Je Hoon had a pretty stellar year since he definitely upped his visibility and popularity several fold with his hit movies..definitely his breakout year in chungmuro (or was it last year starting with Bleak Night?)

    I think my favorite breakouts this year were Jo Jung Sook (Shi Kyung!!!) and Yeon Woo Jin (Arang, Ojakgyo and Ordinary Love)…also the Answer Me 1997 Kids : Jung Eun Ji, Seo IN Gook and Shin So Yool

    • *favorite breakouts in dramaland that is…I have completely different list for Kfilms

      Also wanna add that there were other actors that are not exactly breaking out in 2012 but who I personally discovered and came to love this year…This includes Im Joo Eun who was fantastic in all three shows I saw her in this year, also Sung Joon still think he has a lot to work on as an actor but I’ve developed a certain fondness for him due to the lovely shows he did, Lee Seung Min– definitely my ahjussi crush to top all ahjussi crushes this year and last but not the least; Jung Ryu Won– seriously, how much do I love her and her crazy/badass characters in HOTS and King of Dramas

  7. Interesting post! And I agree on almost everything.

    Faith was disappointing after the high that was City Hunter for Lee Min Ho. But I did enjoy some parts watching it, and end up finishing the whole drama instead of dropping it midway. I think the heartwarming characters and relationship saved it. I adore Lee Min Ho and Kim Hee Sun together and think they had great chemistry there. Every little gestures and gaze between them sent me into a puddle of goo.

    And I have to agree with what some people already said here, Jo Jung Seok is definitely another breakout star this year with his performance in The King 2 Hearts and Introduction of Architecture.

    Looking forward to more reviews on kdramas this year!

  8. 2012 of coz the years of KSH & SJK..Both have success like what have you mention above…but for me there are 5 breakouts player this year..
    and the 1st best of the best absolutely
    Kim Soo Hyun..his drama have been include as a national drama of 2012..
    His movie have been the highest-grossing K-movie in korean history..
    like his character as the king in METS.,he’s the real king of 2012…
    2nd best was Song Joong Ki..He also success in both movie and drama with his excellent acting..
    3rd was Joo Won…for me he share as no 2 with SJK in acting.,just put him as no 3 becoz he doesn’t have movie in 2012.
    4th i have to choose Kim Yoo Jung first instead of no 5th Yeo Jin Goo..
    Why.?? because KYJ have been in 2 high rating drama..and both started with her amazing acting.She and Yeo Jin Goo absolutely the best young actors at the moment.,but KYJ choose a better project after METS.,so she got better acclaim..but still YJG acting as King Lee Hwon unforgetable for viewers..

  9. Its interesting that rather than scoring a lead in a drama or a movie, its taking the chance that you get, no matter how small the part might be and not only using the best of your ability to completely own it and learn from the actors that you are working with. Quite a lot of the breakouts come from working smaller parts and showing people what you can do with them and then working your way up, learning as you go.

  10. totally agree with you about everything you said! great thinkers think alike indeed.

    “Kim Soo Hyun is on fire! His drama The Moon Embraces the Sun broke 40% in ratings and he won himself a Baeksang Best Actor Award”

    I did agree that he did not %100 deserve this award but he did eventually. He did an awesome job with high ratings and yes he was great and totally gorgeous. I believe in his accepting speech he said “I don’t think I deserve this award but I will accept it and work harder in the future to be worthy of this award.” something like this. I am sure he know so hopefully this coming up year he can be doing more drama. I have high hopes for him!

  11. Agree with everything you said, Koala. Especially with Song Joong Ki and Kim Soo Hyun. Oh my goodness, I still remember those days when I first saw these two and how captivated I was by their short but very powerful performance in “Will it Snow for Christmas”. Both are totally deserving of their success and critical acclaim right now and I’m so happy for them. I hope they’ll end up acting in a brotherhood movie like Jang Dong Gun and Won Bin in “Tae Guk Gi”.



    • Why would I mention TK2H here? This is an post about acting breakouts in 2012. TK2H is a drama.

      Seung Gi? The boy broke out years ago. Putting him here would be akin to someone handing him a newcomer award. He’s already established. Unless you want him to re-break out. But then he would have to fail for awhile first before re-emerging as a breakout star a la a phoenix rising from the ashes.

      • sorry for misunderstanding your post.i guess i have also become a hodeang along with seunggi.i am supper happy with your reply becoz i am huge seunggi fan and love your beautiful penworks on him and other post about drama world..i was supper happy when tk2h was credited by you the best drama becoz it was vastly different from k drama-conventional type …soory again for misunderstanding…..

  14. Agree! Kim Soo Hyun started the year with a boom and Song Joong Ki ended it. Both conquered tv with stellar acting and it really didn’t hurt that their respective films are breaking all records. Joo Won is also hitting it big on tv, one after the other.

    I think they deserve to be included: Jo Jung Seok came to mind when you hear Breakout Star, he just stole the show in Intro to Archi. and so earnest in TK2H. Kim Yoo Jung, is a special case in the sense that, the little lady has been always known for her acting chops, but sadly went unnoticed (mainstream level) prior to METS. Acting (overshadowing her adult counterparts), Ratings Success and Popularity-wise (mainstream), this is also Kim Yoo Jung’s year.

  15. It’s a bit depressing to see how almost all the names mentioned in this post are male. It must be slim pickings for young actresses in kdrama land.

  16. Gawd, the future looks bright and gorgeous, indeed. The noonas of the world will be swooning/squealing/sighing over YSH, YJG and all those yummy boys-turned-men a few years from now. ^_^

    Keke, hope my kids Jin Gu and Kim Yoo Jung grow up fast so that I can start shipping them. ^_^

  17. Oh God, SOng Joong Ki.. This is the year… I’m falling sooo HARD for you….

    Not that I didn’t noticed you before, because I already like you since Sungkyunkwan Scandal’s days. And since I didn’t watch in TWDW which some people said his break through performances, So I can’t judge.
    But Your Kang Ma RU, will remain still in my heart and maybe won’t get fade away for quite long, and this is the character where I start crazy in love with you

  18. About Kim Soon Hyun – I watched ~man of vendetta~ recently and she plays the kidnapped daughter, she had a really creepy look she reminded me of sadako from the ring, same thing in missing you, same dull look and long hair.I couldt connect her to MoonSun, she was so different.So far I havent noticed anything oustanding about her acting,maybe I need to watch more of her work.

    Song Joong Ki – He is the real rising start, very good performances.

    Aswer to 1997 – that has got to be the best drama of 2012, everything was so in tune, the script was great and coherent, really captivating story, awesome chemistry between the actors.

    I know this was a post about uprising talents, but I have to say my newesst discovery was ~Kim Myung Min~, I was totally unaware of this superb actor.

    • If you like Kim Myung Min you definitely have to check out his saguek hit ‘Immortal Yi Soon Shin’ as he was phenomenal there.

  19. I agree with most of what you said.. 🙂
    Although I feel like we watched two different versions of Faith, I thought Lee Min Ho had great chemistry with Kim Hee Sun….

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