With 2024 marking Lee Jun-young’s tenth year working in the entertainment industry, it seems fitting to take a look back on his journey which has been filled with many highlights. From debuting in a K-pop group at the age of 17 to now bringing various characters to life as an actor at the age of 27, Lee Jun-young has never let his passions fade. For the seventh installment of ACT!ON’s From Stage to Screen series, we introduce Lee Jun-young, an idol-turned-actor who continues to show exponential growth.  

Debut in UKISS 

In 2008, the six-member South Korean boy band U-KISS debuted. The name U-KISS stands for “Ubiquitous Korean International Idol Super Star.” The group promoted both in South Korea and Japan. Over the course of many years, the group saw various line-up changes and currently has five members

Jun-young, or Jun, was first introduced as a new member of U-KISS on May 15, 2014. He made his debut on June 2, 2014, during the release of their 9th EP, Mono Scandal. The music video for their title track song ‘Quit Playing (​​끼부리지마)’ was rated 19+ and the “inappropriate” choreography was temporarily banned from broadcast until revisions were made. After over seven years with the group, Jun-young left U-KISS and NH Media in August 2021 after his contract expired. In November 2021, it was announced that he had co-founded a new agency, J-flex, to manage his acting projects. In 2023, J-flex merged with Blade Entertainment

Acting Debut and Participation in The UNIT

In October 2017, Jun-young’s debut drama Avengers Social Club aired on TVN. The series featured three women and one man who came together to enact revenge on people who harmed them. He played Lee Soo-gyum, who sought revenge on his biological parents who neglected him. 

Representing U-KISS, in 2017 Jun-young joined The Unit, a survival reality show. The show aimed to give already debuted idols a chance to show their true talents. At the end of the show, the finalists formed two project groups. The male project group was named UNB, and the female project group was named UNI.T. 

During the initial evaluations, Jun-young was the first contestant to receive a “Super Boot.” Idols who auditioned for the program received a “Super Boot” when 90% of the audience voted for them. If they received a “Super Boot” they  immediately passed to join the show. During the first evaluation, the judges asked him why he decided to join the show even though U-KISS was relatively popular. He explained that even though he joined late he wanted to help by bringing positive light back to the group. 

Throughout the program, he remained in the top nine ranks. He was constantly competing with Bigflo’s Euijin for the number one spot. At the final, he placed first and secured his spot in UNB with a total of 165,302 points. UNB made their debut on April 7, 2018, with their EP Boyhood. The group held their debut stage at Yoo Hee-Yeol’s Sketchbook performing double title tracks “Feeling” and “Only One.” 

Solo Activities and Continued Acting Endeavors 

After UNB disbanded, Jun-young leveraged his popularity in Japan and released his first solo, “Phenomenal World.” The solo song earned the seventh spot on the list of best-selling Japanese singles by a Korean artist in the first half of 2019

The second half of 2019 was busy for Jun-young, as he starred in the OCN drama Class of Lies, and released several more solo songs in Japan and Korea. The series followed Kim Moo-Hyeok (Yun Kyung-Sang), a lawyer who goes undercover at a high school to uncover the truth of a murder case. Jun-young, a member of the supporting cast, played Yoo Beom-Jin, the President of the Veritas Club. His character uses the club as a front to fake awards on student records and help members get into elite universities. 

After Class of Lies finished airing, Jun-young released a Japanese and Korean version of his single “My Way.” He released his first Korean single “Tell” on November 28 and on December 5 he made his Korean solo debut with “Curious About U”. His first single album Gallery featured both songs. 

Later during the remainder of 2019 and leading into 2020, Jun-young featured in the action comedy Good Casting and made a cameo in Backstreet Rookie

First Leading Role of Many

Jun-young landed his first lead role in 2020 with the romantic comedy Please Don’t Date Him. The drama stars Song Ha-Yoon, as Seo Ji-Sung, an AI software developer who accidentally creates an AI fridge that can detect bad men. Jun-young plays Jung Kook-hee, a firefighter with no social media presence, providing no data the refrigerator can use to analyze him. Along with playing the leading man, he lent his voice for the original soundtrack “To you who will be tired.” 

In 2021, he continued landing lead roles in dramas like Imitation and Let Me Be Your Knight. On March 20, 2021, Netflix announced the release of a “different romance film”, Moral Sense, and confirmed the casting of Seohyun of Girls’ Generation and Lee Jun-young. Moral Sense, internationally known as Love and Leashes, follows two office workers who begin a secret BDSM relationship. Jun-young played Jung Ji-Hoo, a seemingly normal office worker with a secret. 

Love and Leashes was not Jun-young’s first appearance on Netflix. He played a recurring role in the military action series D.P. Jun-young rounded out 2022 with a leading role in the series May I Help You? with leading actress Lee Hye-ri. Jun-young played Kim Tae-Hee, who runs errands for 100 won (about 10 cents). He teams up with funeral director Baek Dong-ju (Lee Hye-ri) to help grant final wishes for the deceased.  

Current and Upcoming Projects

In 2023, Jun-young made an appearance in the Netflix series Mask Girl and starred in Brave Citizen alongside veteran actress Shin Hye-sun. With four projects and counting, his acting line-up for 2024 is extensive.

On January 26th, Badland Hunters, his first project of the year, was released. The dystopian action Netflix film starred veteran actors Ma Dong-seok and Lee Hee-joon. The film is a sequel to Concrete Utopia and takes place in a post-apocalyptic Seoul, referred to as the “badlands.” 

Lee plays Choi Ji-wan, the right-hand man to Nam-san (Ma Dong-seok). Nam-san and Ji-wan are skilled hunters who team up with special forces agent Lee Eun-ho (Ahn Ji-hye) to rescue Han Sun-na (Roh Jeong-eui) from the clutches of the twisted doctor, Yang Gi-su (Lee Hee-Joon). Badland Hunters was an immediate global hit, racking up 14.3 million views in two days and placing first on the Global Top 10 weekly list of the most watched Netflix TV films (Non-English)

A few days after the premiere of Badland Hunters, the first trailer for his second project of 2024, The Impossible Heir, released. The upcoming South Korean television series is scheduled to release on Disney+ on February 28, 2024. Alongside Jun-young, the main cast features Lee Jae-wook and Hong Su-zu. Lee Jun-young plays Kang In-ha, an illegitimate child of a conglomerate owner. He teams up with Han Tae-oh (Lee Jae-wook) and Na Hye-won (Hong Su-zu) to take down the company from the inside and rise to the top of society. 

His other upcoming projects for the year include, I Openly Dream of Cinderella, starring Pyo Ye-Jin, and When Life Gives You Tangerines, starring Lee Ji-eun (IU) and Park Bo-gum. Other future projects to look forward to are Weak Hero Class 2 and Melo Movie

Seven years ago Lee Jun-young decided to take a leap of faith and begin his acting journey. Each year he has challenged himself with a variety of roles and has gained recognition for his astounding portrayals of a variety of characters. Having shown immense growth in a short period, there is no doubt that Lee will continue to be a rising star! Be sure to follow Lee Jun-young on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with his future projects!

Want more insight into amazing actors in the Asian diaspora? Check out this piece about Taiwanese American actress Ashley Liao here!