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: