Choi Ji-woo debuted as an actor in 1994 MBC morning drama ‘The Traveler in Heaven’ and went on to appear in more MBC drama series like ‘Three Families Under One Roof’, ‘Campus Uproar’ and ‘War and Love’ the following year. She made her film debut with the comedy movie ‘The Adventures of Mrs Park’ in 1996, and the same year, appeared in the MBC Best Theatre ‘Love, Just That One’, the KBS2 soap opera ‘First Love’ and the MBC youth sitcom ‘Three Guys and Three Girls’.
Choi Ji-woo’s first major role was in the 1997 thriller ‘The Hole’, for which she received the ‘Best New Actress’ honor at the ‘34th Baeksang Arts Awards’ and the ‘21st Golden Cinematography Awards’. In the following years, she had a main role in the romantic melodrama film ‘First Kiss’ (1998), a supporting role in the crime drama film ‘Nowhere to Hide’ (1999), and a bit part in the comedy film ‘Hallelujah’ (1997), apart from a small voice role in the crime drama film ‘Taekwondo’ (1998). Her television credits during this period included drama series such as ‘Happiness Is in Our Hearts’ (1997), ‘Love’ (‘Sarang’, 1998), ‘Love In 3 Colors’ (‘Yujeong’, 1999), and ‘Love Story’ (1999).
During the early 2000s, Choi Ji-woo gradually gained popularity as the “melodrama queen” of Korean television thanks to her portrayals of tragic heroines with a pure and innocent image in dramas like ‘Truth’ (‘Jin shil’, 2000), ‘Beautiful Days’ (‘Areumdawoon naldeul’, 2001) and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (‘Cheongookeui gyedan’, 2003).
Choi Ji-woo also starred in the 2000 drama series ‘Mr. Duke’ and had cameo appearances on series like ‘We Are Dating Now’ (2002) and ‘Full House’ (2004). However, it was another romantic melodrama, ‘Winter Sonata’ (‘Gyeoul yeonga’, 2002), which became an instant hit throughout Asia and is often credited for ushering the Korean Wave. The series not only earned her various accolades including the ‘Most Popular Actress (TV)’ honor at the ‘38th Baeksang Arts Awards’, but also made her particularly famous in Japan as ‘Ji-woo Hime’ ("Princess Ji-woo") after it was released in the country in 2004.
She would later reprise her role as a voice actor for ‘Winter Sonata Anime’ in 2009. Ji-woo, who previously starred opposite Ahn Sung-ki in the romantic comedy film ‘The Romantic President’ (‘Piano chineun daetongryeong’, 2002), attempted to break her innocent image with a risqué role in the sex comedy ‘Everybody Has Secrets’ (‘Nuguna bimileun itda’, 2004) and also played a terminally ill heroine in the romance film ‘Now and Forever’ (2006). While both were successful at the Japanese box office due to her rising popularity there, they failed to impress local audiences. She also had a special appearance as a female martial arts gosu in the 2005 epic martial arts film ‘Shadowless Sword’ (‘Muyeong geom’), which was filmed in China. She further spent time overseas while shooting for the Chinese drama series ‘101st Proposal’ (2004) and the Japanese action drama miniseries ‘Rondo’ (2005).
Shortly after returning to Korean television with the 2007 series ‘Air City’ (‘Eeo siti’), Choi Ji-woo became the highest paid Korean actress for her role as pan-Asian star Lee Ma-ri in the SBS romance drama series ‘Star's Lover’ (‘Seutaui Yeonin’, 2008-09). Also in 2009, she was one of six actresses who came together to portray themselves for a Vogue Korea magazine photo shoot in the mockumentary-style drama film ‘Actresses’ (‘Yeobaeudeul’), which was arguably her most significant film at the time.
She reiterated her willingness to shed her pure and innocent image while promoting the 2011 romantic comedy series ‘Can't Lose’ (‘Jigoneun Motsala’). The following year, she appeared in the Chinese drama ‘City Lovers’ and promoted Korean cuisine and culture as the host of the miniseries ‘Choi Ji-woo's Delicious Korea’. In 2013, she starred in the titular role in the mystery drama series ‘The Suspicious Housekeeper’ (‘Soosanghan Gajungboo’). She next played a mischievous hotel heiress in the 2014 drama series ‘Temptation’ (‘Yuhok’). Following a guest appearance on ‘We Broke Up’, she earned critical acclaim for her role as a shy 38-year-old housewife who joins college with her 20-year-old son in the 2015 drama series ‘Second 20s’ (‘Doobunzzae Seumoosal’). The same year, she was a cast member on the travel reality show ‘Grandpas Over Flowers’, in which she backpacked through Greece with several veteran actors.
After seven years, Choi Ji-woo returned to the big screen in 2016 by starring in the ensemble cast romance film ‘Like for Likes’ (‘Joahaejwo’). Also that year, she had main roles in the legal romance drama series ‘Woman with a Suitcase’ (‘Kaerieoreul Ggeuneun Yeoja’) and the fantasy-comedy miniseries ‘Seven First Kisses’ (‘Cheot Kiseuman Ilgopbeonjjae’). Her final role before taking hiatus due to marriage and pregnancy was in the family melodrama ‘The Most Beautiful Goodbye’ (‘Sesangeseo Gajang Areumdawoon Yibyeol’, 2017). Her only television appearances during the next few years were as a cast member on the reality show ‘Coffee Friends’ (2019) and in a cameo role in the romantic comedy series ‘Crash Landing on You’ (2020). She recently returned to acting in 2022 in a supporting role as a legendary 90s actress in the romantic comedy series ‘Shooting Stars’ (‘Byeolttongbyeol’) and starred in the made-for-television horror thriller ‘The New Normal’.