Kim Seonho as Han Ji-pyeong in Start-up (2020) | A Character Study

Han Ji-pyeong also known as Mr. Han and “Good Boy” is a secondary lead yet extremely popular character in tvN’s Start-Up (2020), a drama about young entrepreneurs who aspire to achieve their dreams in the world of startup companies. Ji-pyeong grew up in an orphanage but managed to become a highly successful man with his brilliant skills in investment, earning the nickname, “Gordon Ramsay of Investments”. Due to a lie in the past and web of lies in the present, he got trapped in the lives of young dreamers while caught between pursuing or letting go of love. An in-depth look at his life experience and profile will show us his thought pattern and behavior in general.

Han Ji-pyeong, the brilliant kid.

One spring in Seonju, a good-looking young man named Han Ji-pyeong is looking for a place to stay. He wears a school uniform and his pair of shoes is worn-out. He lived his life without a family and he had to leave the orphanage at 18 with only two million won aid to start life on his own.

Mostly, grown-up orphans who are released into society face the most anxious moment in their lives. Since they live with rejection or abandonment since childhood, it’s hard for them to trust anyone or feel confident about being accepted with their background. Once they step out into the real world, they literally have no one to turn to and often no survival skills to navigate life independently. While some suffer from the stigma of orphanhood, others build a wall of self-protection by acting tough.

We have no glimpse of Ji-pyeong’s orphan life nor history about how he lost his parents, how he was raised by them, and what kind of family dynamics he experienced. But on a survival mode, it’s instinct for young Ji-pyeong to act tough, be wise and practical in dealing with strangers and matters of life in the real world.

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What’s inspiring about young Han Ji-pyeong amid his situation is that he is passionate about self-growth and life improvement. He also possesses essential qualities to rise to the top in whatever path he chooses. In particular, the young man holds on to his piece of achievement that reads “Virtual Investment Competition 1st Place” with a cybermoney prize of 100 million won. When he learns that his money will grow from stocks, he begins to read multiple books about trading stocks and signs up in an investment and security company. In one year, his bank money grows 10x more, which he uses for his studies as a university student in Seoul.

Young Han Ji-pyeong did not allow his background and lack of resources to wallow in self-pity. He is the type of kid who finds creative ways to survive and excel in life, while trying to develop a sense of independence and autonomy. Introspective and goal oriented, he handles his money wisely, and uses most of his time to study hard to earn admission in a university in Seoul while mastering practical knowledge about the world of business and the trends in market. He is meticulous and analytical with the way he thinks, and he wastes no time to succeed.

However, beneath this tough facade of young Han Ji-pyeong is a scared and insecure self. He hides sadness in his confident posture and mirrors a sense of fear in showing vulnerability every time he raises his voice. Remember, he had to be tough to survive life.

Young Han Ji-pyeong’s stoic exterior begins to gradually break apart upon meeting Ms. Choi, a corn dog shop owner, one rainy night who offers him a place to stay for free. He also gets free meals from her, a new pair of shoes, and his money is saved in a bank under Ms Choi’s name (since minors are not allowed to open bank accounts).

Ji-pyeong also gets a new pal, Seo Dalmi, through letter writing mainly orchestrated by Ms. Choi to comfort her granddaughter who lost her sibling by parental divorce and her father from an accident. Although he uses a fake name, checking the letters at the birdhouse under a cherry blossom tree and reading them somehow makes him smile. His “feel-good” neurochemicals depleted by childhood abandonment, are happily activated by this unexpected friendship in his brain’s reward system, creating hormonal imprints of human connectedness. They write each other letters for a year, becoming each other’s light in their childhood darkness, until he leaves for Seoul to pursue college.

Han Ji-pyeong after 15 years.

We have no glimpse of Ji-pyeong’s university life, how he survived Seoul and how he managed to navigate the cut-throat world of business and investment. But 15 years later, he becomes the Senior Manager at SH Venture Capital whose salary for the year is worth 200 million won with 1.5 billion in bonuses aside from making more on the side. He rides a luxury car, wears a crazy expensive watch that costs more than the price of a car, and lives alone in a high-end apartment facing Han River.

From being a homeless kid, he now wakes up to the stunning view of Han River. From the 2 million won possession to start life on his own, he now owns billions in his bank account. From walking around with a worn-out pair of shoes, he now collects expensive, well-polished shoes neatly lined up in his apartment. From riding a bus to Seoul, he now drives around the city in his high-end cars. From hardly anything, he managed to build and grow his life into something.

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Han Ji-pyeong, the eligible bachelor.

Han Ji-pyeong keeps home in good order. His expensive suits and well-polished shoes are lined up neatly in his closet, and he still keeps the pair of shoes from Ms. Choi 15 years ago. At the living room, he still treasures and displays the investment cybermoney prize he won when he was 18. He sleeps in a king-sized bed and uses an AI speaker named Jang Yeong-sil to check the weather forecast that often annoys him with a daily fortune or makes him laugh when he feels stressed.

A treadmill workout is a daily morning routine to keep himself in good shape and he finds being single in his mid-30s not a problem. He looks totally handsome and intelligent for a bachelor — tall, tidy, orderly, confident. His blood type is A, his dimples exude charms, his smile is simply irresistible, and he wears a neat side parted bangs that show half of his forehead.

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Han Ji-pyeong, the “Gordon Ramsay of Investments”.

Everyone at work calls him Mr. Han and he is known to be a respectable figure and extremely competent in the investment industry. The media recognizes him “a companion to start-ups”, “an investor like a sherpa”, and “an angel investor”, and the most influential investor in town.

Overall, Han Ji-pyeong looks efficient as a professional — well-dressed, presentable, meticulously groomed, and attractive. He carries an upright posture in the way he sits, walks, or stands, and he holds his head high, radiating confidence. His voice sounds deep and he speaks with authority and clarity. His leadership competence is always on full display whenever he talks, walks, thinks, or drives his car. From his visuals to leadership qualities, he presents a high value career-driven man, all in all.

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Mr. Han is the type of leader who is conscientious, serious of purpose, and dedicated in pursuit of order. So, he sets high standards, foresees problems before they happen, makes decisions based on logic, and counts the cost before building, “Sometimes isn’t good enough. It always has to be accurate.”

He also hates business plans without a clear picture and that will only do well in the beginning, so he often nitpicks when he sees risks, even the tiny details of errors, “How will you generate consistent profit? You don’t have a clear picture.” Under his watchful eye, his professional team seems nervous and edgy. Nevertheless, they highly respect him and trust his intelligent inputs.

Looking at how he mentors the aspiring group of entrepreneurs in Samsan Tech, he exhibits concern for the team with the way he gives smart and practical advice based on his expertise and best practices. He asks questions about details overlooked by the team and always wants to get to the heart of the matter, “This isn’t the car they’re going to ride. That’s why they just compliment it. On the other hand, I want to know about the tires, the lining. All of it. Because I might actually ride it.”

He points out issues that need to be addressed, even if it may sound hurtful and others may resent him, “Telling the hard truth. That’s my job.” When the team can’t make up their minds in times of crisis or unexpected situations, he always arrives to save them with a smart and practical solution.

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Perfectionist and goal-oriented, Mr. Han must correct wrongs but is often misunderstood with his criticisms. His constructive yet sharp words have the tendency to discourage people and shun their dreams. His gaze that pierces with passion for vision suddenly shoots with anger and he raises his voice with purpose when frustrated about business-related matters or when things don’t go as planned. He easily gets annoyed with entrepreneurs who don’t see the important details in a big picture, those who make rash decisions out of emotions, and those who easily throw tantrums without considering the risks and dangers, “Don’t be so mushy. Investors want to hear about facts and data.”

Mr. Han’s words may sound harsh but he gives the best advice if one has to look at it objectively with a strong mind, and if applied, will certainly reap great results, just like how it helped develop the leadership skills of Seo Dalmi, the CEO of Samsan Tech. Listening intently to his constructive advice, Dalmi has learned to set formal rules within her team and to speak with authority and confidence, “Whatever you choose, you’ll be criticized. You can’t make any decisions if you’re afraid of criticism. And if you can’t make decisions, you can’t be a CEO.

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Mr. Han’s leadership traits may seem offensive to others, but for Park Dong-cheon, his loyal staff who takes care of his appointments and needs at work, he is a soft-hearted man who acts tough.

Han Ji-pyeong, the first love.

Han Ji-pyeong is Seo Dalmi’s first love, her childhood oxytocin, the old Nam Dosan, the Nam Dosan in letters whose handwriting is nice and neat. He is her wonderful memory of spring—the birdhouse under a cherry blossom tree, the rainbow after walking aimlessly on a rainy day, Mongsil the dog that reminds them how precious time is, and the Go-stop traditional game that binds families together. Although distance has set them apart, he lives rent-free in Dalmi’s head for several years, like a permanent fixture in her memory, alive and vivid.

Fifteen years later, successful Han Ji-pyeong attends a start-up relay lecture at Sandbox and unexpectedly encounters Seo Dalmi who is now a young lady. The “feel-good” neurotransmitters created during his pen pal days with Dalmi begin to activate as he remembers the highs and the gratifying experience of emotional connectedness. So, he secretly follows her going home and is surprised to see Ms. Choi and her food truck, Cheong Myeong Corn Dog, located by the Han River.

Feeling indebted to Ms Choi, Ji-pyeong grants her request to help Dalmi find the real Dosan. The lie in the past and web of lies in the present, mark the beginning of unexpected troubles in Ji-pyeong’s unbothered life, while being caught between pursuing or letting go of Dalmi.

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Mr. Han is the type of man who is extremely busy at work and doesn’t give time or chance to help anyone. But he suddenly finds himself going to great lengths for Dalmi — acting differently, thinking differently. For the first time, he volunteers to be a hackathon mentor for the 12th Sandbox Residency Program for start-ups to keep an eye on Dalmi and monitor the guys of Samsan Tech. He’s even willing to be her Plan B and invest in the project of her group if they don’t make it into hackathon.

Known to be a person who doesn’t express emotions verbally, he shows concern for Dalmi through subtle acts of service. In particular, he opens the car door for her, opens the bottled water for her, revises her pitch presentation, gives her tips on how to talk with impact to potential investors, reaches out the book for her, makes her coffee, drives all the way to Gapyeong to pick her up from a business proposal meeting, carries her shoe covered in cow dung, adjusts her seat so she can sleep well, gets her a new pair of sandals, lets her sleep soundly in his car, touches up her business plan, adjusts the aircon to a cooler temperature when he sees her feeling hot, sets up lunch for her, and mixes her noodles. It’s in the simple litle things that he does for Dalmi that makes him romantic. He cares for her quietly.

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As Dalmi’s mentor, Han Ji-pyeong trains her to be firm, decide, act, and speak with authority as the entrepreneurial team’s CEO. He teaches her smart investments according to his expertise and experience, and the right methods in dealing with business-related matters. Even though it is not his nature to give compliments, he always tries his best effort to boost Dalmi’s self-esteem, “Put aside all the pressure. Step on stage with confidence. Just show them how excited and enthusiastic you are now, and it’ll be a success. Don’t be intimidated.”

Han Ji-pyeong complains about Dalmi texting him 400 business-related questions and regrets being her mentor, all the while answering all her questions with eagerness and a smile on his face. “What’s with him? His actions don’t match his words,” Dong-cheon his staff notices. Dalmi makes Ji-pyeong laugh at her craziness. She makes him ponder about her inner thoughts. She makes his cold eyes turn warm when she’s anxious or in tears. She makes him feel bothered and sleepless at night.

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When confronted by Ms. Choi if he has feelings for Dalmi, Ji-pyeong denies it, as if the anxiety of living a life of rejection formed early in life, has warned him for another risk of pain—that all sorts of relationships, confession, and feelings are signals of childhood abandonment. Thus, the defensive response, the wall of self-protection is activated. He keeps denying that he has no feelings for anyone and avoids personal questions from Dalmi at all costs, all the while feeling helpless and bothered, and becoming competitive with his younger rival. But he tries his best to muster up the courage to confess. He has many chances to tell Dalmi about his feelings and the truth about the past, but he always ends up either getting blocked, changing his mind, or sacrificing self for the sake of another.

Meanwhile, Dalmi shows the same concern for the old Dosan and her mentor, Mr. Han. She chooses him to be the group’s mentor, makes his dream come true of playing Go-Stop with people, gets him an incombustible waste bag, a takeout pine nut kalguksu from Gapyeong, tells him that she likes him for being nosy, tells her grandma that she chooses the old Dosan who wrote her letters, calls him to ask how he is feeling, leaves some abalone porridge at his door when she senses he’s not feeling well, and puts a blanket on him. While everyone abhors Mr. Han’s criticisms, Dalmi always values his advice and compliments him for his leadership, “We wouldn’t be where we are today without your nitpicking.” Such gestures from Dalmi have flooded the reward center of Ji-pyeong’s brain, causing high levels of dopamine and giving him a sense of direction toward the positive.

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Constantly thinking and bothered about Dalmi, Han Ji-pyeong begins to realize that he wants her and feels unfair about his situation. So, he decides to visit Ms. Choi to inform her about his true feelings for Dalmi and his plan to reveal everything to her. Ms. Choi stops him from interrupting Dalmi who has started to enjoy feelings of positive attachment — forming new chemical bondings, new neural connections, new fireworks across her gray matter, with a new partner. Han Ji-pyeong’s ego and pain of rejection explodes, “Why can’t it be me?”

In the end, Dalmi finds out all the lies and begins to keep her distance from the two guys, feeling frustrated and confused. Han Ji-pyeong who hopes that she would notice him and look at him one day, regrets it. Although feeling nervous inside, he tries to act cool in front of Dalmi while confessing his true feelings, “I like you. I didn’t know I’d say this while mixing noodles. I have feelings for you, Ms Seo. I’m telling you this to be honest, not to make you uncomfortable. It’s just how I feel. I don’t expect an answer, don’t let it bother you. I don’t want us to end up avoiding each other because of this.”

Han Ji-pyeong maintains professionalism around Dalmi and Samsan group. He tries to set boundaries, control his emotions, and respect Dalmi’s situation like a mature gentleman. For three long years, he becomes a real part of Dalmi’s family, enjoying meals and playing games with them during holidays. When he finally decides to step up his game, Dosan arrives from America and unexpected situations bring the former lovers to reunite and rekindle old love.

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Seeing that Dalmi’s heart is still hung up on Dosan long after the relationship has ended and getting the security that Dosan will constantly love her no matter who she chooses, Han Ji-pyeong makes a conscious choice and decides to set her free. Although he knows that he is Dalmi’s first love, he tries his best to play fair and act mature as the older one, all the while feeling in pain from the rejection and finale of a childhood friendship.

What’s admirable about Han Ji-pyeong in this heartbreaking situation is that he handles his emotions maturely. He knows when to show vulnerability, who to share his vulnerability with, and how to be honest with himself in dealing with his own insecurity and pain of rejection. He tries to avoid the cause of his heartache, which is a natural part of grieving, but he knows how to acknowledge his pain and maintain professionalism and act cool.

Han Ji-pyeong, the “good boy”.

In the heart of a brilliant and sharp investor is a “good boy” first recognized by Ms. Choi who saw him for the first time in front of his corn dog shop counting his money one spring in Seonju and for the second time one rainy night while looking for a shelter. In both instances, Ms. Choi senses that the young man is devoid of the warmth of food and warmth of home. So she offers her warm place and prepares him warm corn dogs.

Ms. Choi becomes Han Ji-pyeong’s sense of family for a year. Although it annoys him all the time, Ms. Choi loves to call him “good boy” because she discerns a tender heart beneath his tough facade, a warm trait in a cold exterior that knows how to empathize with pain and extend kindness.

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The letter writing dictated by Ms. Choi brought the two closer as grandmother and son. They have formed a special bond and have grown comfortable with each other amid bickering. In the past, their relationship got tested when Han Ji-pyeong accused Ms. Choi of stealing his money from the bank, only to find that she put his full money aside in a black plastic bag. Not used to express saying “I’m sorry” but feeling guilty, he rushes to leave with a heavy heart at the time.

At the bus station, he is surprised to see Ms. Choi arrive with a pair of new shoes and she puts it on him, “Promise me. If you become successful, don’t call me. Don’t call me if you become rich and get married. Don’t call me if you’re happy. I don’t want to feel jealous. But call me if you’re going through a rough patch. Come to me if it’s raining and you have nowhere to go like you once did. Don’t just stand in the rain. You know where to find the keys.”

Ji-pyeong sobs and hugs Ms. Choi tightly. It’s as if for the first time in his life, he genuinely feels what home is—the human connection, the warmth, the belongingness, like a real family whose love needs no condition and never abandons but always understands and reaches out.

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Fifteen years later, their special bond is still the same, bickering and orchestrating a story to save Dalmi. While Han Ji-pyeong hates to be called “good boy”, Ms. Choi feels annoyed everytime he insists on getting her a new restaurant or a new home. She’s still the same Ms. Choi who prepares him good food and doesn’t want anything in return from Ji-pyeong, except to help Dalmi. She’s still the same Ms. Choi who rushes to give Ji-pyeong a warm embrace when he feels hurting and accepts him for who he is when he is at his worst.

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From giving Han Ji-pyeong a shelter one rainy night in the past, this time Ms. Choi gives him an umbrella to protect himself from the raindrops of pain falling on his tender heart. She remains the only one person who knows the vulnerable parts in him, has seen him break down in tears, and he feels comfortable with showing his brokenness. She is his constant and he remains her beloved “good boy”.


Han Ji-pyeong, although prickly, inspires to create and achieve something of value with his nuggets of wisdom and best practices as a business expert and mentor, combined with his passion, resourcefulness, and resilience in life. He uses a lot of metaphors and practical scenarios that allow an individual to put value at work, sharpen skills, scrutinize important details and risks to better achieve the vision of a start-up company, and to think and act professionally in the face of trials. He wastes no time to be productive and build something new for his self-growth, career growth and improvement despite his background and amid pains in life.

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No matter how many times I rewatch the drama, Han Ji-pyeong always appears to be a standout with that strong, intriguing yet promising backstory and impressive career leadership traits and skills. He is deeply connected to the drama’s powerful symbols of spring, cherry blossom, birdhouse, corn dog, letters, and to the lives of youngsters in the field of start-up companies. He’s a compelling character whose bar is set high at the beginning of the story suddenly catapulted aside, it seems, to play the tension to the plot and achieve the envisioned finale. Putting aside romance that is just a slice of the whole cake, Han Ji-pyeong is actually not a pathetic subject, overall. In fact, he is an unbothered highly successful, self-made investor, and independent bachelor who is perfectly fine without it.

And yet, no matter how Han Ji-pyeong’s life is highlighted so sad, he stands out because Kim Seonho’s scene-stealing performances made him iconic, likeable, convincing, compelling, powerfully dominant as a subject all in all. He made Han Ji-pyeong appear to be a story in another story, a stand-alone story in a predicted story. His excellent portrayal of Han Ji-pyeong even earned him the “Character of the Year” at the 2021 Seoul International Drama Awards, a nomination for “Best Supporting Actor in TV” and a win for “Most Popular Actor” at the 2021 Baeksang Arts Awards. It also marked his rise to global fame.

Overall, Start-Up (2020) is a good drama that tackles entrepreneurship and provides relevant insights on matters of business, following the lives of aspiring young entrepreneurs, their struggles and growth in all aspects of life. It shows how start-ups can make it big in the cuthroat world of business with leadership mentoring and guidance from the experts. It is written by Park Hye-run and helmed by Oh Choong-hwan, and available for binge-watching on Netflix.

Copyright Myra Bansale for KORB Blog | Instagram | Twitter

Images: tvN, Salt Entertainment