Ji Chang-wook, the earnest romantic and the tough action hero: Revisiting Suspicious Partner, Healer and K2; his best performances

It takes unimaginable skill to play a lovestruck prosecutor in a romantic comedy that deals with a psychopathic serial killer, but Ji Chang-wook does it smoothly. In one scene, he’ll melt your heart as he tries to win his reluctant girlfriend over, and in the next, he cracks down mercilessly on a criminal in court and resorts to mind games to make him confess.

With a series of highly rated shows to his credits, including The K2, Healer and Suspicious Partner, it’s no surprise why Ji Chang-wook is one of the popular stars in South Korea. Even if the show goes slow, drearily slow — as in the case of Lovestruck In The City — you’ll still somehow sit through it for him, because of the chemistry he manages to create with his co-stars. Here he played the earnest and romantic lover, only to find out that he had been unintentionally duped. This unusual story wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, yet Chang-wook’s boyish charm and winsomeness chemistry keeps you hooked. He knows how to draw you into his anguish and heartbreak, from the sunken and swollen eyes, to the slumped shoulders.  You’ll forgive the flaws, maybe just a little.

One of his most delightfully twisted, yet addictive shows is Suspicious Partner, which starred Nam ji-hyun and Choi Tae-joon. He plays a disgraced prosecutor for he did the right thing and saved an innocent woman, Bong-hui (Nam ji-hyun), from a sentence of lifetime imprisonment. His love life is also down in the dumps as he discovered that his girlfriend cheated on him with his best friend. In the middle of all this turbulence, he falls reluctantly for Bong-hui. Their bizarre antics are a joy to watch, as they navigate a minefield of a relationship and drive the show with heavy emotional moments interspersed with chaotically sweet scenes.

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(Photo: Netflix) Usually a goofy romantic comedy in the middle of a serial killer thriller appears misplaced and jarring, but the star cast pulled it off with much flair and ease. Chang-wook portrays the many layers and nuances of Noh Ji-wook, a man who has had a traumatic past, and later gets trapped in the anguish of distorting his own memories to absolve himself of guilt. It’s one of his strongest performances as he embodies the role of a man who has lost enough in his life and is desperate to not lose more. After his colleague gets brutally stabbed by the killer, a broken Ji-wook sobs at the operation theatre, after almost breaking down the door. Yet his tears are replaced by a peculiar stony expression as he decides to confront the killer on his own, with a far-fetched plan. Ji-wook proves that he can switch from different moods without letting the story suffer.

(Photo: SBS)But  Chang-wook doesn’t restrict himself to just being a die-hard romantic in his shows. He can pull those punches and roll with intense action sequences.  In The K2 and Healer, Chang-wook plays similar double agents, entwined in political intrigue. In The K2, he’s a fugitive, who has just escaped to South Korea and is the bodyguard of a seemingly sinister presidential candidate. In The Healer, he moonlights as a reporter while he’s actually an ‘illegal courier’ with top-notch fighting skills, almost close to a superhero that includes jumping from terrace to the other. Yet, he knows when to pack the emotional punch, and can tug at the heartstrings even if the OST in the background doesn’t fit the scene at all.

It’s always fun to watch a Ji Chang-wook series, because you never know what new deliciously relatable character he might bring forth. He seems to have refused to be typecast as many K-drama male leads are. You want a musical fantasy, mixed with horror elements and a serial killer thrown in? Sure, Ji Chang-wook will surely oblige you.

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