From budding actor to overnight success, Sang Heon Lee is the breakout talent stealing scenes (and hearts) in Netflix's XO, Kitty. BURO Malaysia travels to Seoul, South Korea, to discuss new beginnings, the price of fame, and fulfilling desires with the newly minted star.
Shearling jacket and leather jacket (layered underneath): Coach. Shirt and pearl necklace: Stylist's own.
Coming from a city where K-dramas reign supreme, one fresh South Korean actor has gone against the grain by making a breakthrough in Hollywood instead—on his first official acting gig, no less. Starring in American author Jenny Han's To All the Boys spin-off, XO, Kitty on Netflix, 27-year-old Sang Heon Lee has instantly caught the attention of viewers worldwide thanks to his character Min Ho's smug yet lovable charm. Oh, and his dashing good looks most definitely helped, too.

This month's photoshoot with the up-and-coming star was rather serendipitous. Fresh off the show's debut, Sang Heon was invited to spend a month in the United States for a series of press interviews. Nonetheless, he was scheduled to return to Seoul in the first week of July, making it timely for us to shoot our August cover story in South Korea. Now, back in Seoul for the summer, where he feels at home in the warm and humid weather, the actor plans to rest and reassess what he's achieved so far: "I want to look back at what happened these past few months to make sure I didn't miss out on anything. And if I did, I'll use this time to think about what I should be doing the next time it gets this busy," he declares.
Our meeting takes place early in the morning at the trendy Side Note Club on the rooftop of RYSE Hotel, overlooking the youthful, vibrant neighbourhood of Hongdae. At the time, a second season of XO, Kitty had just been picked up, and I congratulate the actor on this feat. "Thank you," he says with a beaming smile. "It's always weird to see yourself on screen. The first time I saw the show, I was cringing at myself and thinking about how I could have done certain scenes better. But it was also just a proud moment for me. Whether or not I think I did well, I'll always be honoured by my first role and the fact that it was a Netflix gig," he adds modestly in a delightful British accent, which he picked up from studying Performing Arts at the University of Northampton in England.

I prod on what lies ahead for Min Ho in the new season, and he muses, "Perhaps he'll find true love or someone who loves him back as well—not just a fling. And hopefully, he finds inner peace with his friends and gets love from his family."

That being said, the actor does not know what will happen to his character just yet. "That's a good thing. I'm glad I don't know because I'm not really great at keeping secrets. But at the same time, it just makes me question even more how Jenny Han will continue the story," he wonders aloud. "So, yeah. I'm just as curious as everyone else is."
Leather coat and heart-shaped crossbody: Coach. Sunglasses: Stylist's own.
Call it talent or luck, but Sang Heon can't help but feel like it was his destiny to star in the show. For him, acting has been a long-time dream but was never prioritised. "I've wanted to become an actor since I was in high school, but I didn't really think of pursuing it seriously until I graduated university," he recalls. Then, his dream had to be put on hold due to compulsory Korean military service. "I had to enrol for two years. After I was discharged, I realised there was no money in acting initially, so I started modelling for a year and a half. After being somewhat stable, that's when I considered acting again."

He then shared how he stumbled upon the Netflix opportunity through an Instagram post and eventually secured the role after several auditions.

"My sister Gia (who also has a leading role in XO, Kitty, btw!) sent me this Instagram link about an open casting call and suggested I go for it. Before even heading to the audition, I thought there was no way I'd get picked. What are the chances, right? They would also be filming in Los Angeles and I didn't think they would fly anyone out there. However, just three days before the deadline, I decided to give it a go. What did I have to lose? That's why I went for it. After three rounds of auditions, I landed the role and we subsequently did 15 to 16 weeks of filming in Korea."
When asked about his experience shooting an English-speaking TV show in Seoul, and if any challenges came with it, the actor expresses his gratitude for the chance to film in his hometown and showcase the country's culture and locations. "I'm just glad that the cast, staff members, directors and producers got to see a bit of Seoul, the culture, food, and everything, really. It was just a blessing for all of us," he shares.
Shearling denim jacket: Coach. Shirt, jeans and necklace: Stylist's own.
Now, life has completely changed for the rising star. Sang Heon mentions the rapid increase in his social media followers (from 14 thousand to three million and counting!) and how he now regularly receives lovely interactions with fans on the streets. "In the States, people were coming up to me saying, 'We love the show,' 'We love you,' or 'We love Min Ho,'. And every time they approach me, they'd come with these glowing eyes and the biggest smiles—and that really makes me all warm inside. I don't mind it at all. If that happens to me every day, I won't take it for granted. I am grateful and appreciate every encounter," he remarks kindly.

Throughout the filming process, Sang Heon has learned so much about himself. Much like his character on TV, he tends to overproject confidence in most situations. "I'm the sort of person who will tell myself that you've got to fake it till you make it," the actor confesses.
However, he acknowledges that there are moments when he needs to be real, vulnerable and mentally strong in this relentless industry. This self-reflection has helped him understand himself better and keep a positive mindset for the future.

"That's what I learned about myself recently. Of being exposed—and being okay with it. Dealing with the pressure and getting to know how I truly feel about the fear of failing. The 'What-Ifs.' What if the fans don't like it? What if I started this career too big? What if I don't deserve it? All these are questions I ask myself in order to find a true way of thinking things through moving forward."
Leather jacket and purse: Coach. Shirt, pants and pearl necklace: Stylist's own.
Despite being a global citizen (the actor spent most of his childhood in Hong Kong), Sang Heon professes his love for his hometown, Seoul—the polite people, the amazing food and the compactness and convenience of the city are what he loves most. In fact, living in Korea has largely influenced his fashion choices, too. "Even if I go to Los Angeles or elsewhere abroad, my sense of style is obviously so Korean, and people can tell that right away."

In terms of dressing, Sang Heon draws inspiration from the people he sees on the streets. He also gives credit to his friends in Seoul, who are generous with their fashion advice. "They're like, 'Please don't wear this,' or 'Can you please wear this and that?' So, thankfully, I've learned a lot from them as well," he shares with a laugh.
During this pivotal moment in Sang Heon's life and career, he is careful not to let this sliver of success get to his head. He holds on to the saying, "This, too, shall pass," reminding him to stay humble and grounded in both good and challenging times.

"It's something that I picked up from an actor's roundtable on YouTube featuring Tom Hanks, and it has stuck with me ever since. He said, 'If you have a happy moment, remember this, too, shall pass. If you had a sad moment, don't worry— this, too, shall pass. If you feel like you're the sh*t, don't worry about that. Because it, too, shall pass.'

"And because I keep telling myself this, it keeps me humble in some ways. If I feel like I'm too up in the clouds, or if I feel depressed or a bit too lonely, I'll tell myself not to worry about it as it will eventually pass. It's helped me so much!"
Shearling and leather jacket, jeans, pink shoulder purse and red lip handbag: Coach.
We discuss his next project, a role in an upcoming feature film, Gran Turismo, based on a true story of a gamer who transitions to a professional race car driver. "I play one of the gamers who manages to participate in the GT Academy. The cast is amazing. We were filming in Budapest and I had a lot of fun on- and off-set. From the nightlife to experiencing the food, so many good memories were made," he tells me excitedly. The movie is slated to hit the cinemas this month.

As he's just starting out, the universe is the limit for Sang Heon. Ultimately, what drives the star on his acting journey is not a desire for awards or recognition; rather, financial stability as it enables him to enjoy doing things he loves such as travelling and spending quality time with his loved ones. "As long as I can be happy and take care of the people I love and make them happy as well, then I'm fine with that," he concludes.
Shearling jacket and leather jacket (layered underneath): Coach. Shirt, pants and sneakers: Stylist's own. Makeup: Perfecting Veil Base SPF29/PA++ in Pink Beige, Perfecting Foundation in Ivory, Perfecting Powder in Transparent, Essential Lip Serum Stick in Blossom / All Sulwhasoo
Editor-in-chief, TEXT & STYLING / Sarah Hani Jamil
layout design / Sarah Tai
Photography / Mihye Kang I LEANTE STUDIO
Videography / Dennis Kho
Makeup / Jingyun Ahn I Sulwhasoo
Hair / Hye Mi Chun
LOCATION / RYSE Hotel, Seoul