Ooh la la Couple: You see a Korean woman seen reflected on the glasses worn by Korean society and it is ugly!

Hello, this is a Korean in America. Today, we will be looking back at a K-drama called “Ooh la la Couple” which provide a glimpse on how Korean society view women.

It is not uncommon that a society’s views are reflected in even its lowest and broadest entertainment products. As K-dramas do fit into this category, this could also be applied to this entertainment medium. However, this may not be obvious because of the manner in which these views are formularized and the polish that goes into its presentation. We, the audience, may just accept the formula without any further deliberation about the views being displayed. Then, a series comes along that displayed certain views so blatantly that it is like getting hit by a sledge hammer. The series “Ooh la la Couple” is one of those cases in which the views of Korean society regard women are blatant and it is not a pretty sight.

The series “Ooh la la Couple” follows a married couple whose relationship is at the brink of destruction. Not only is the wife being treated as a maid by her family in law but also the husband has a mistress who is urging him to get a divorce. It is this instance in which mystical god like being intervene to save the marriage by switching their bodies. The wife is now in her husband’s body and vice versa.

The most obvious sin of this series is that, for a romantic comedy, it is neither funny nor romantic. The plot is convoluted and the acting is over the top without being funny. The less blatant sin is that it is really sexist. This comes from someone that does not consider himself a feminist. I was born a male in Korea and did not notice any problems with how the genders were treated. I was born into a more privilege side and I accepted it as a given. I was only after I removed myself from Korean society that I noticed it. Compared to the U.S., Korea is currently stuck in the 1980s America in many areas which includes gender equality.

Let’s see the plot of the series. The series does acknowledge that the husband is the offending party and the wife is the victim.  The series shows how the husband and his family treat her. So, you would expect that the series would take the wife’s side as the series’ protagonist. And to a degree this is true. However, at the same time, the series never fully commits to stance and tends to waver between the husband and wife especially in the later episodes. The actions of the gods are also problematic. Not only do they intervene when the wife is trying to break away from this abusive relationship and better herself, the reasons for doing so is rather biased towards the husband. While they claim the reason for changing their bodies is love, it is clear from the plot that true reason is the defense of the institution of marriage which fundamentally biased towards the husband in Korea.

The common reason for body swapping in fiction is to basically walk a mile in the others shoes. This is appropriate in the case of the husband who was always more of a dick and a sexist. He has something to learn. It is not the same for the wife. She had really nothing to learn from the experience of changing bodies. She was already on her way to getting proactive and breaking away from a bad relationship. In addition, she did not really get the fantasy of succeeding in a male’s world with the body switch. Rather, even with the body switch, she was still on the weaker side as she had no marketable skills.

The series as another interesting thing related to gender roles. The gender roles between the couple never really changes. The wife tries to go out in the world in her husband’s place but does not do well. The husband also goes outside to work and never really takes on the role of the care taker other than some haphazard attempts. At the same time, the two seem to fall into their new genders’ sexuality without much problem. For some contrived events created by the gods, the two fell into bed quite fast without even needing a manual for how to work their new sexual organs.

However, what I found most interesting is the views of gender reflected in the gender bending performances.

The series “Ooh la la Couple” can be categories as a “gender bending body swap” romantic comedy. The series has actors playing characters that match the actors’ gender. Then, the actors exchange character roles that are the opposite gender.   In other words, there are two versions of the lead characters. The version established by the actor of the matching gender and the version portrayed by the actor of the opposite gender. The ideal situation for a body swapping series is that these two versions of the characters are the same other than having different actors playing it. They should have the same mannerism and speech patterns. Their motivations and emotions should be the same. However, reality is never close to the ideal. It is the actors’ ability and interpretation of the character that determines whether the audience believes that the two versions of the character are actually the same person but in different bodies.

When the body swap include gender bending, this becomes more difficult to do. Not only do the actors need to understand two characters, they need to understand the opposite gender.  In the case of this series, you do not believe that the two versions of the characters are the same even for a second. A considerable amount of the blame should be put on the acting which is terrible. However, a majority of the blame should be put on how the series and the actor perceive genders.

Before anything, it would have to be said that both the characters in their correct gender base versions are over the top. When the actors transition to the gender bending character version, the characters become just gender stereotypes. Many gender bending K-drama has similar problems including the more popular K-drama “Secret Garden” which I am thinking of covering in a later post. And, in those cases, the originally male character tends to come off better as male gender stereotypes include aspects that tend to be viewed positively by society. It is the originally female character that gets the shaft.

This is especially true for “Ooh la la Couple” because of two things. The first is that the male actor is not good at his craft. As a result, he has to act in extremely over the top to try tom convince the audience that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. The second is that what he and the show understand to be female characteristics are not really characteristics displayed by the original female version character. It is more like a warped imitation of a female done by a teenage boy who has never kissed a girl in his life. This makes the series rather uncomfortable watch at points.

Even now, Korea is not an easy place to be at if you are not a member of the privileged gender. The series “Ooh la la Couple” does not provide anything positive to the situation with its bad acting, unfunny script, and its sexism. The combination of all these points creates a sense of revolution and being insulted even for a non-feminist male. So, just read this post and do not see this series.

Score: D

Series Streaming link: Good Drama Net


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