In ‘Impossible Heir,’ underdogs thrive in their Machiavellian duality

In ‘Impossible Heir,’ underdogs thrive in their Machiavellian duality

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:25 AM March 02, 2024

Cast of “The Impossible Heir” —PHOTOS COURTESY OF DISNEY+

Cast of “The Impossible Heir” —PHOTOS COURTESY OF DISNEY+

A trio of attractive faces is taking K-drama fans on a roller coaster ride of Machiavellian intrigue and twisted romance in the Disney+ series “The Impossible Heir,” which began streaming with a two-episode launch last Wednesday.

With their complex duality, Han Tae-oh (Lee Jae-wook of “Alchemy of Souls,” “When the Weather is Fine”), Kang In-ha (Lee Jun-young of “Badland Hunters” and the K-pop group U-Kiss) and Na Hye-won (Hong Su-zu of “Sweet Home 2”) put viewers—and each other—through the emotional wringer as they wrestle for power in the cutthroat world of chaebols, a term used to describe powerful family-owned business conglomerates in South Korea. (There are reportedly around 80 chaebols as of 2023.)


After using his sharp wit and intellect to get his abusive stepfather thrown in jail, Tae-oh relocates to a new town to start fresh and launch his plan to rise to the top of the business world. Hot on Tae-oh’s power-grabbing heels is In-ha, the affluent town bully and much-put-upon illegitimate son of the head of the Kangoh Group.


In-ha intends to even the score against family members responsible for making him feel like a social outcast. But the quickest way for him to get from A to Z is to piggyback on Tae-oh’s brilliant mind, with his eyes on the plum prize: His rightful place at the top of his father’s business empire.

Getting in the way of Tae-oh and In-ha’s complementary goals and “unholy” alliance is Hyewon, who’s drawn to Taeoh’s traumatic past and In-ha’s power. It doesn’t take long before she finds herself torn between two dashing but sadly vengeful Prince Charmings. What to do?

Realistic story

“‘The Impossible Heir’ follows the story of these characters from when they were very young,” related director Min Yeon-hung during the virtual press con last week. “Taeoh, In-ha and Hye-won had to go through many difficulties almost at the bottom of Korean society, so they’re bent on clawing their way to the very top. “They’re constantly combating to achieve that goal. And whatever future they choose for themselves will keep viewers on their toes. With the lives and lifestyle of chaebols in the backdrop, I focused on creating realistic details and scenarios to make the story convincing.

“At the same time, I also focused on showing how the three main characters would overcome their difficulties to achieve their goals. I wanted to constantly pique the audience’s curiosity so they could ask themselves what choices they’d make if they were thrust into similar circumstances. That was the focal point of my direction.”

Choice of actors


The director addressed his choice of actors in a separate Q&A. He said, “Jae-wook’s most famous portrayal is probably the role of Janguk in ‘Alchemy of Souls.’ But compared to that character, Tae-oh is much more serious. He doesn’t have a sense of humor and his only goal is to achieve his targets and survive. There are moments where his emotions outweigh his reasoning, but in most cases, Tae-oh excels at controlling his feelings. “As for Jun-young’s character In-ha, he’s like a volcano whose eruption is impossible to predict. He’s led a crooked life because of the way the world has treated him. But he finds a way to set his course straight when he meets Tae-oh. The amount of pent-up anger within him fuels his drive to execute his plans.

The Impossible Heir Lee Jaewook

Lee Jae-wook as Han Tae-oh

“For her part, Su-zu is chic, down-to-earth, yet boyish—which made it easier to create Hyewon.

Hye-won is very ambitious, but she’s also someone you can’t hate because she’s pretty, strong and, like Su-zu, down-to-earth. I hope viewers relate to Hye-won’s choices as the story progresses.”

Jae-wook said that reading the script made a very strong first impression on him that he ended up reading its first four episodes nonstop. He stated, “It has a very intense first scene … and it’ll leave you wanting more. Tae-oh is the son of a murderer and everybody’s been finger-pointing at him all his life.

‘Concealed’ character

“But he is a genius, so he comes off as elegant because he’s so quiet, always poker-faced. He isn’t the expressive type, so there was little leeway as to how I could convey his thoughts and feelings. Compared to my previous work, my character’s personality is more ‘concealed.’ So you can’t really see what he’s thinking—that’s what makes him very different from the other characters I’ve played so far.

“Luckily, director Min knew how to express parts of a character by using different camera angles, like he would focus on like my hand gestures or the way I look at things. This time around, my character is more sensitive.

Cast of “The Impossible Heir” —PHOTOS COURTESY OF DISNEY+

Hong Su-zu
as Na Hye-won

“My favorite line is, ‘If you want attention, steal something bigger. Don’t waste your time on such petty trash.’ It’s a line that really serves as a trigger for my character’s ambition.”

What was it like working with Jun-young?

“It was great!” Jae-wook quipped. “We had so many conversations discussing our character dynamics because the series has so many twists and turns.” On the other hand, Jun-young felt it wasn’t so hard for him to relate to In-ha because they have something in common.

“While In-ha was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he wasn’t really raised that way,” he explained. “So when I read the script, I thought I could breeze through it because, like this character, I didn’t [really grow up wealthy] …”

“In-ha always looks cheerful and playful. But inside of him, he has different thoughts and ideas. So I had a lot of fun bringing that duality to life. Out of the three characters here, I’m the one who is the most energetic. He comes off as a bit wild, so they might not like me so much because I tend to be annoying. “More than that, I loved working with Jae-wook because we’re the same age. I haven’t always worked with actors my age, so I was initially nervous but also excited [about that prospect].

“Fortunately, we had so much fun on set, and Jae-wook would lead me all the time, which I liked. His character is like the dog who raises his owner—and that was the same dynamic in real life on the set because Jae-wook is such a good leader.”


The role, in fact, presented an opportunity for Jun-young to develop his “bromance” with Jae-wook.

“So, on the set, if Jae-wook looks a bit tired, I want to make him feel better. So, I would do something fun to make him laugh. And as we spent more and more time together, that dynamic was also translating well on the screen. We had so much fun that we made a lot of bloopers because we would end up laughing whenever we’d lock eyes (laughs)!

“In terms of characterization, I tried to let the script guide me and just followed the character’s timeline. People like seeing me play villains, so I had to conceal my nice side for those roles. In-ha rarely reveals his pain, often making him come across to others as a closed book. But during his younger and more free-spirited phase, I tried to loosen up a little and explored various ways to portray his adult years.

Lee Jun-young as Kang In-ha

Lee Jun-young as Kang In-ha

“And this time around, In-ha is also a friend and a good guy. So it was easier to just be myself, instead of preparing for something different that’s required by the character. I could just let my cheerful and playful side come through.”

‘A bit nervous’

Su-zu had a slightly different “concern,” however.

“I’ve never been to big events like this [press con], so I’m a bit nervous,” the actress admitted. “You know, this is my first time to get cast as one of the main leads in a series. But the director and cast made me feel at home. And it didn’t hurt that my coactors were amazing, so I really had a lot of fun on set.

“I was drawn to Hye-won because she’s an ambitious and proactive woman. I love how smart, driven and confident she is, despite her family background. At first, I was scared and concerned whether I could pull it off. To overcome that fear, I studied that script intently and repeatedly so I could absorb as much of the character as possible.”

Jun-young was “worried” about looking convincing as a student. He explained, “I feel like this is going to be my last role in a school uniform (laughs). But thankfully, I’m always given another chance. Since I really wanted to be believable in the part, I shaved twice daily because my facial hair grows quickly. It was quite a challenge to look the part.”

Chiming in, Jae-wook said he felt the same way.

“I also worried about not looking convincing in a school uniform,” he recalled. “That was at the back of my mind because it’s been a while since I was last cast as a student. We shot in a school, so we would share a meal, chat among one another, play badminton … It’s that kind of vibe and chemistry that helped us get into character organically.

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“But Jun-young was so natural at it and gave off such a fun energy. He has been an athlete for a long time. In my case, not so much. We had about two days to shoot our sparring scene, and it’s just so satisfying when the chemistry is there. I loved it, and I felt it!” INQ

TAGS: Entertainment, Korea

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