Different Faces, One Class Act: Im Siwan’s 6 Most Iconic Roles

Im Siwan is probably one of those gems from the pool of K-pop idols who has found their true calling in acting. Of course, he’s well-remembered and loved for debuting under the group ZE:A in 2010 (which also has skilled actors like Park Hyung Sik and Kim Dong Jun). At first glance, Siwan looks like your typical pretty boy next door: clean cut, handsome face, and gentle features. He’s not your typical brooding leading man who’s usually tall, muscular, and manly. In fact, he mostly looks like the underdog. But what makes him a force to be reckoned with is the depth of his acting — there is a maturity that belies his young age and his good looks. With his chameleon-like acting skills, he is able to transcend idol-turned-actor stereotypes and make big-time directors and viewers take notice. Here are some of his groundbreaking dramas and films:

Incomplete Life

In “Incomplete Life,” also known as “Misaeng,” Siwan plays the role of Jang Geu Rae, whose dream when he was young was to become a professional baduk (boardgame played with black and white stones) player. But real life happened, and without a college degree and armed only with a high school equivalency certificate, Geu Rae gets hired at a large trading company as an intern. With practically no work experience, he has to struggle being outcasted because his co-workers think of him as a nepotism hire. He tries to deal with his everyday challenges by using strategies he learned in baduk. 

This role gained Siwan critical acclaim because one, it was a great drama: it showed the realities of working in the harsh Korean corporate world and a lot of people were able to relate to the situations that every average salary man encounters. Second, Siwan was able to portray a young man who hasn’t been corrupted by office politics, and the audience got to see this new world from his fresh perspective. The story showed the growth of his character from a naive newbie to a team player and a man with integrity.

Stages of Geu Rae’s cluelessness in “Misaeng”

Watch his fish-out-of-water story here:

The Merciless

Can you imagine Siwan as a badass prisoner and gangster? In “The Merciless,” he plays a new prisoner who is not afraid to break the rules of Jae Ho, the most powerful inmate played by Sol Kyung Gu. The story shows the gritty world of prison where hierarchy rules, and the ruthless and bloody crimes of Korean mafias. The film was even invited for screening at Cannes Film Festival and received a standing ovation from the audience. Perhaps this is the movie that showcased the duality of Siwan’s acting — that he can be both the good guy and the bad guy at the same time. He was able to star alongside a veteran actor without being overshadowed. In a movie review by Jordan Hoffman for The Guardian, he mentioned Siwan in particular, “I will say that Im Siwan does have a great deal of natural charisma, and the movie does have a little more crackle when he is onscreen.” Hoffman wasn’t completely convinced by the film, but he was taken by Siwan, whom he wrote was “the charismatic young actor that showed promise.”

See Siwan in a different light as a badass character in “The Merciless” in this trailer:

The Attorney

Another game changing role for Siwan is in the movie “The Attorney,” a story about a group of teachers, students, and civilians who were arrested and detained on fabricated sedition charges against an authoritarian regime. This was inspired from the true story of the 1981 “Burim case,” where former Korean President Roh Moo Hyun defended the arrested groups with a team including the current President Moon Jae In. The film was an absolute hit and raked in a record of being the second highest grossing film in 2013. Siwan garnered attention for his method acting, even losing a ton of weight for the role. He said in an interview, “I went on a diet for the torture scene in the movie ‘The Attorney.’ I could not even drink alcohol while on my diet . . . I felt like I had to first show self-restraint in eating to portray the mentally exhausted and gaunt image.” This role showed Siwan’s dedication to a role, even at such a young age.


The story is about three brothers who get separated, with the oldest played by veteran actor Lee Bum Soo and the second brother by Kim Jaejoong. Siwan plays the youngest brother who gets adopted into a chaebol family.

This drama proves that Siwan can definitely hold it out against co-actors that are more experienced and recognized in the industry. Lee Bum Soo provided the strong backbone to the story, while Jaejoong was the character the story mostly revolved around. But Siwan was the fresh face with impactful acting that stole scenes. It also helped that Siwan and Jaejoong could pass off as brothers, and the touching story of their reunion touched the hearts of many viewers.

Watch the inner conflicts and reconciliation of the three brothers here: 

Man From the Equator

Siwan started off his acting career by playing the younger counterpart of the lead actor in dramas. In “Man from the Equator,” he starred as a genius student who becomes friends with a carefree classmate, played by another golden boy, Lee Hyun Woo. Later they grow up to be rivals, but the back story of them as young friends was perhaps one of the reasons why people stayed glued to the screen, eager to find out how their characters would play out.

Siwan plays a young genius in the early episodes in the drama:

Watch Now on Viki

The Moon Embracing the Sun

In the beginning of his support-acting gigs, Siwan often played the genius type roles, and “The Moon Embracing the Sun” was no different. He played the young and handsome Heo Yeom, a smart civil servant from the Joseon Dynasty who captures the heart of the capricious princess. Siwan literally glowed in this drama as he showed the image of a wise, well-mannered young man. Again, Siwan always lands the best roles and the right kind of dramas that are expected to become hits. His trajectory to becoming a serious actor is combined with his skills, luck, and stellar projects.

Go back in time and check out his first sageuk drama:

Watch Now on Viki

He has played several other roles onscreen, but whether he’s the lead or a supporting actor, he’s sure to ace it. Which is why it will be exciting to watch how he fares in the upcoming drama “The King Loves,” and even more interesting to see his chemistry with Girls’ Generation’s YoonA. It will be amazing to see Siwan grow into one of Korea’s most sought after leading men — but for now, we can just enjoy the many faces he will make as a crown prince in his new drama.

“The King Loves” is reported to be Siwan’s last drama before he enlists in the army, so don’t miss a beat and look forward to its premiere on Viki!


DP_Kim is an English magazine writer and fashion fan whose goal in life is to wear heels and find the best OOTD locations while living in the farm outside of Jeonju, South Korea. Follow her Korean adventures here.

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