There’s no doubt that actors and actresses in their 20s are wildly popular with K-Drama viewers. And as with actors worldwide, some will be offered less substantial roles as they age. But then you have Hyun Bin and So Ji-Sub, who have not only maintained their popularity, but thrived in a highly competitive market filled with young models and idols.

What’s the reason for their success? Certainly, their classic looks haven’t hurt. And whereas women are often criticized for getting a wrinkle or two, men have the leeway to age gracefully. But the main reason is because they can take whatever role is thrown at them and make the character come to life.

Hyun Bin

Age: 36

Iconic roles: Many fans have been pondering the ambiguous finale of Hyun Bin’s latest hit series, “Memories of the Alhambra.” Playing a weary tech entrepreneur unable to escape an addictive world of augmented reality, Hyun earned some of the best reviews of his career. He’s come a long way since his breakthrough role in “My Lovely Sam Soon,” which shot him to fame. He was a 23-year-old actor with a spiky haircut that looked like it belonged on a rooster. The role he played was that of an immature, selfish restaurateur who engages in a sham relationship to get his chaebol mother off his back. As his character matured and fell in love with the titular character, fans began to root for him to win Sam Soon over. It was a testament to his acting skills that even though he didn’t treat her very well, fans still wanted to see them paired up. At the 2005 MBC Drama Awards, he won three trophies, including the award for best actor. He followed those roles up with the perennially popular “Secret Garden” and Hyde, Jekyll, Me,” all of which are available to watch for free on KOCOWA.

So Ji-Sub

Age: 41

Iconic roles: Actor and rapper So Ji-Sub was just 18 years old when he gave modeling a shot. He had little interest in the runway, but when he had the opportunity to model jeans alongside hip-hop artist Kim Sung-Jae, it was an offer he couldn’t pass up. So said that even though modeling held little interest for him — and he never viewed himself as being particularly good looking — it was an easy way for him to earn money. It wasn’t surprising that one of So’s earliest K-Dramas was the SBS series, “Model.” As he grew into his role as one of Korea’s favorite leading men, he played a street-wise adoptee abandoned by abusive parents in Australia (“I’m Sorry, I Love You“); a former police officer using his cyber skills to uncover his friend’s death (“Ghost“);  a chaebol who is intrigued by a woman who talks to ghosts (“Master’s Sun“); and the heir to a fortune, who would prefer to live his life quietly as a physical trainer (Oh My Venus“). Last year, the talented actor made his presence known on both the large and small screens. He starred opposite the radiant Son Ye-Jin in the heartbreaking feature film “Be With You.” And he played a deadly secret agent — and babysitter! — in the comedic spy series, “My Secret, Terrius.”

With their age-defying looks and continual stream of meaty roles, these actors are proving that they are still in their prime. Have you seen their work? If not, which are you looking forward to viewing the most?

Be sure to follow @GoAwayWithJae, where I tweet about all things Korean.🇰🇷

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    hi!,I love your writing so so much! this is such a great article on two of my favorite kdrama actors. thank you!

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  5. Avatar

    Unni,
    I enjoy watching both actors. Agreed that they age well and most of their performances stand up to criticism. However, project choice is questionable (ISILY/HJM) and not always praiseworthy. Thank you as always for sharing. 😍

    • Jae-Ha Kim

      Thanks for sharing your views. People either love or hate ISILY. It wasn’t my favorite, either, but it introduced a lot of viewers to So Ji-Sub, so …

      I would like to add that Lee Hye-young was so good at playing the mother. That’s kind of become Lee’s calling card in so many dramas — playing a strong-willed character who is easy to dislike.

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