Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Transformation Of Daniel Dae Kim From Childhood To Hawaii Five-0

While Daniel Dae Kim has many notable roles, both past and present, he definitely made his mark on network television through his time playing Detective Lieutenant Chin Ho Kelly in "Hawaii Five-0." Chin is a loyal and highly capable detective who works with the Hawaii Five-0 task force solving a variety of crimes, including robbery and kidnapping, among other things. There's no limit to what the crew is willing to do to stop criminals. 

Kim plays Chin from the pilot through Season 7, before he decided to leave the show due to pay disparities between his and Grace Park's salaries and those of their white costars. Since his departure from "Hawaii Five-0," Kim has only gone on to do bigger and better things, including new roles in "New Amsterdam," "The Hot Zone: Anthrax," and the highly anticipated live-action adaptation of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" on Netflix, in which he will play Fire Lord Ozai. He is also using his fame and platform to speak out against anti-Asian racism, even speaking to Congress about the intense issue plaguing the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, which you can watch on YouTube (via 88rising).

But Kim didn't just appear in the spotlight out of nowhere. Growing up in Pennsylvania, Kim went through quite a lot to be where he is now. Here's the transformation of Kim from his childhood to the role of Detective Chin in "Hawaii Five-0."

Born in South Korea, Kim moved to the U.S. as a baby

Although he was born in Busan, South Korea, Kim's family moved to the U.S. when he was around two years old (via TV Guide). Growing up in Pennsylvania, Kim faced ups and downs in terms of feeling like he fit in. Speaking with E. Alex Jung at Vulture, Kim recounted being around six or seven years old and finding a welcoming community, saying, "I made a lot of friends in the neighborhood, and we formed this posse that was fairly multicultural." 

But that shifted for him in sixth grade when the family moved to another local town, and "then I was an outsider and an Other, and my entire experience changed," and he faced a lot of racial stereotyping. Luckily, Kim developed a stronger sense of personal identity when he participated in a short program with Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea — which many young Koreans living internationally take part in — and this is also where he met his wife, Mia Kim (via Vulture).

Although it appears that he began college with the idea that he wanted to be a lawyer, he eventually discovered his love of acting and graduated with a bachelor's degree in both theatre and political science from Haverford College before completing a master's degree in theatre at New York University (via TV Guide). With the education and strong drive, Kim immediately jumped into work with television roles and theatre performances, and he had a particular love of Shakespeare. In fact, Kim played the role of Prospero in "The Tempest" in a stage production of the play in 2002 (via Vulture).

Kim immediately started working after getting a master's in acting from NYU

Shortly after graduating, Kim was able to book many guest roles on television, appearing in major shows like the soap opera "All My Children" and "Law & Order," when the latter show was only in its fourth season. A few other shows he made appearances in early on are "NYPD Blue," "Seinfeld," "The Practice," "Ally McBeal," and "Crusade," the last of which is the first part for Kim that lasted more than two episodes. Set in the "Babylon 5" sci-fi universe, "Crusade" features Kim as Lt. John Matheson, a member of Psi Corps and close friend of Captain Matthew Gideon (Gary Cole). Unfortunately, the show wasn't a hit, and it was canceled after one season (via post-gazette.com).

Looking back now, Kim blames his own naivety for being able to keep acting, telling Vulture that "I didn't realize how much the deck was stacked against actors of color and Asian American actors ... I'm glad I didn't know because, had I known, maybe I wouldn't have continued to pursue it." Thankfully, a young Kim had a lot of hope for his future, and he kept going and slowly got bigger and richer roles. Between 2001 and 2004, Kim had notable recurring roles in "Angel," "Miss Match," "Star Trek: Enterprise," "ER," and "24," and then in 2004, he nabbed his breakout role in the hit sci-fi drama series "Lost " on ABC (via IMDb).

Kim's breakout role as Jin-Soo Kwon in Lost propelled him to stardom

In 2004, Kim joined what would go on to become arguably one of the biggest television shows of all time, "Lost." Created by Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams, and Damon Lindelof, "Lost" follows the passengers of fictional Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, who crash on a deserted island and are forced to work together to survive. As they slowly build a community, the group faces deeper and deeper mysteries on the island as they try to find some way back home. 

In the series, Kim plays the character Jin-Soo Kwon, mainly known as "Jin," a South Korean businessman and enforcer for his wife's father, a mobster. His wife is Sun-Hwa Kwon, or "Sun," who is played by Yunjin Kim. It's safe to say that based on the first impression Jin gives off, no one really likes him much (both on screen and with viewers), as he strongly believes in a sort of stereotypical, controlling position for himself as the husband, expecting Sun to be submissive and obedient. Kim knew that his character would be badly perceived, and he voiced concern about this to the show's creators when he first took the job. Kim told Vulture that he remembered "sitting down with Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams and saying, 'Guys, this character cannot progress in this same way.' They basically said, 'Trust us.' I did, and it turned out for the best." 

Thankfully, Jin grows a lot as a character, becoming compelling and three-dimensional, and the pairing of Jin and Sun becomes a fan favorite for many as the seasons of "Lost" go on. In fact, people are even writing about their relationship in 2022, with Entertainment Weekly calling them "EW's No. 1 TV romance of all time." 

He had to relearn Korean for Lost and gained many accolades

Luckily for Kim, "Lost" was a true ensemble show, and it does a great job highlighting its diverse cast and giving each person their chance to shine. Kim also mentioned two writers, Monica Macer and Christina Kim, who helped to save him from getting written off in the first season and stay on throughout the show's entire run. But by accepting the job, Kim faced another challenge beyond overcoming racial stereotypes, as he had to basically relearn how to speak Korean fluently, trying to overcome his American accent and his history speaking the Busan satoori (사투리), which is the Korean word for dialect (via Vulture). Jin is born and raised in South Korea, while Kim is Korean-American, so he wanted to make sure that he was playing the character accurately. 

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in 2007 on a rare return visit to Korea, Kim described his language skills at the time of his casting, saying, "My Korean got rusty. I would call my Korean level 'household.'" But thanks to his hard work, Kim goes a great job authentically portraying Jin in "Lost," who almost always speaks Korean. His work in the show would go on to get a lot of recognition, both from fans and the entertainment industry as a whole, as well as the Asian community internationally. In 2010, the year "Lost" ended, Kim was awarded the Influential Asian American Artist Award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, while the ensemble cast won a Screen Actors Guild award in 2006 (via IMDb). Kim also received a KoreAm Achievement Award, a Multicultural Prism Award and a Vanguard Award from the Korean American Coalition, and an AZN Asian Excellence Award, among others (via ArtsQuest Foundation).

The attention of Hawaii Five-0 has allowed him to direct and produce

When Kim joined "Hawaii Five-0" in 2010, shortly after finishing up "Lost," he hoped that the show would become the same sort of rich ensemble drama that the ABC series was. While Kim starred in seven seasons of the CBS series, this never ended up being the case, and he eventually decided to leave and explore other projects. But even then, Kim made a huge impact with his portrayal of Detective Chin, expanding Asian representation in network television, and the experience even allowed him the opportunity to try his hand at directing (via THR). Kim also credits the show as the reason why he was able to open up his own production company, 3AD (via Vulture), which signed a first-look deal with Amazon in 2019 (via THR).

Now Kim has moved on to producing, but he's still acting in many projects, like the Netflix Original movie "Stowaway," which came out in early 2021, and a bunch of voice work, like the role of Benja in Disney's "Raya and the Last Dragon." One of the biggest (at least so far) projects Kim's produced is "The Good Doctor" for ABC, which is based on a Korean drama called "Good Doctor." Next up, 3AD is producing the upcoming dramedy TV series "Shoot The Moon," which will star Ken Jeong, who will also executive produce (via Deadline). While Kim has already made his mark on the world with expansive, impactful characters and projects, there's clearly plenty more he has left to show everyone, so keep an eye out for what's to come.