• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2022: Lee Jung-jae, “Squid Game”

If, in real life, the global pandemic of the last two years has served to highlight the interconnectedness of the modern world, and how our fates are to some degree all inextricably linked, it has also proven, once and for all, the universality of a compellingly told story, no matter the language.
For evidence, look no further than Netflix’s Squid Game, a South Korean survival drama about a group of desperate people, all saddled with deep financial debts, who are recruited from a cross-section of society to play against one another in a series of recreated children’s games with life-or-death stakes. Bowing in September 2021, the series quickly became a bona fide worldwide sensation, attracting viewers in 142 million households, and becoming Netflix’s top-watched program in 94 countries.
Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game is first and foremost a character-rooted thriller, with all manner of shifting alliances and secrets revealed. But it also delivers social commentary on the grind of capitalism, and the class disparities and socioeconomic misery it can produce.
And at the show’s center, giving it both relatable heart and a quickened pulse, is Lee Jung-jae (49), the already very popular and well-established South Korean actor who may now — having been nominated for his first Golden Globe, as Best Television Actor in a Drama Series — find himself grappling with a whole new level of global superstardom.
Lee portrays Seong Gi-hun, a gambling addict who lives with his mother and struggles to make child support payments. With his ex-wife and her new husband set to soon leave South Korea, and take with them his daughter, Gi-hun is forced to confront his selfishness and self-destructive impulsivity, and fight for his life both literally and metaphorically.
Born to modest means, Lee spent several years working as a fashion model, before making his acting debut in 1993 with the TV series Dinosaur Teacher and co-ed drama Feelings. What was initially intended to be a small supporting role in the politically-rooted period drama Sandglass ended up being expanded, helping to turn Lee into something of a heartthrob. The Young Man released the same year, also netted Lee Best New Actor Grand Bell and Blue Dragon awards, among the most prestigious in South Korea.
Lee soon pivoted more to movies and would enjoy a number of breakthroughs in the late 1990s, including director Je-yong Lee’s An Affair and 1999s City of the Rising Sun, the latter for which he was feted with several Best Actor prizes.
In 2000, alongside Jun Ji-hyun, Lee top-lined the romantic drama Il Mare, which six years later would be remade in English as The Lake House, starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. This led to his casting in a number of love stories, though movie stardom always made sure Lee balanced his big-screen portfolio with plenty of action and fantasy fare — the latter most recently embodied in a supporting role in the enormously commercially popular Along With the Gods movies, 2017s The Two Worlds and 2018s The Last 49 Days.
Other notable credits include Im Sang-soo’s erotic thriller The Housemaid, which in 2010 competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival; 2013 period piece The Face Reader, for which Lee picked up a Best Supporting Actor Blue Dragon Award; 2015s espionage action movie AssassinationOperation ChromiteNew WorldDeliver Us From Evil.
While Lee waits for Hwang to cook up a second season of Squid Game, which will reunite the pair, he’s currently shooting his directorial debut with spy thriller Namsun, on which he will also take a co-writing credit.