K-drama couples… do you believe they are actually realistic? A Look into the current portrayal of romantic relationships in K-drama!

Hello. This is a Korean in America. Today, I would like to examine the romantic relationships portrayed in K-dramas. I will be looking over some couples in recent and past series and discussing their merits. This may become a possible series of post if I find a lot of material.

Jane Austen created the foundation of all modern Romances through her novels such as “Pride and Prejudice.” Her romance formula include the oddly matched couple with a rocky start, trouble caused by misunderstanding and lack of communication, and a happy ending against serious odds. While romantic movies are in a slump in Hollywood, the Jane Austen tradition lives on in K-dramas.

The motivation for this post came to me while I was watching the recent crop of K-dramas. I notice that, while the couples and their love were cute as always, I did not really believe in the relationships on screen. As a veteran of many Meg Ryan romantic comedies and K-dramas, I accept that fictional relationships in K-dramas do not require the same degree of realism as real life romantic relationships. They are meant to be exaggerated, more heart wrenching at times, and ultimately be happy at the end. That is the reasons why romantic comedy is called “Women Porn”! LOL… If you are interested in Meg Ryan romantic comedies, go see the series of video reviews by Nostalgia chick.  

After some close examination of recent series, I noticed that the K-drama series were not executing the relationship properly. But what does this mean? Rather than developing the relationships, they seem to jump from one stage of the relationship to another stage without laying the ground work to make it believable. For a fiction to have a ring of truth, it needs to be logically reasonable to the audience according to the rules acknowledged by them. This applies to even romantic K-dramas. Characters have to fall in love because of who they are and not because the plot demands it. In my opinion, the current crop of K-dramas tends to forget that.

The relationships of the current crop of K-dramas are created and sustained by the wishes of the fans who are playing fantasy match-up! You know the game of linking actors and actresses together by their image alone. It does not matter that there are no actual evidence that they even know each other personally … let alone like each other. Somehow, by focusing on this aspect and casting actors accordingly to portray the romantic characters, the creators seem to have forgotten that they actually have to develop a relationship and not be totally reliant on the public’s demand for their fantasy match-up to create a relationship.

A creation of a relationship is the payoff and not the setup!

While some would say that isn’t it just good enough to get together two actors who have good chemistry, relationships need structural support to be realistic to the degree that it is believable. In the beginning of a relationship, the series has to setup the aspects of the characters that each other is attracted to. As you know, attraction and, consequently, love does not come out of nowhere. The audience has to understand the attractiveness of these aspects for the relationship to be believable.  

For example, with a relationship based on instant physical attraction, there is less that needs to be done since the series would likely have casted attractive people. Even if the characters do not have any other reason to be attracted to each other, the audience’s attraction to the actors would be enough to sell the relationship. If the actors have chemistry, it would be better although not a requirement.  However, in other circumstances, things are not that simple. A lot of leg works needs to done in order for a relationship the come alive.

Here are some examples of poorly developed relationships I have come across.
The Joo Joong-Won & Tae Kong-Sil Relationship (The Master's Sun)
This relationships starts with Tae Kong-Sil noticing that Joo Joong-Won Tae Kong-Sil could temporary nullify her supernatural powers which is basically a curse to her. And she stalks, and sticks to him like an especially determined ghost herself. Joo Joong-Won on the other hand is irritated but is curious about her powers. That is the relationship! Nothing else!  
 It is not that he is physically attracted to her from the start. Instant physical attraction is one of the simplest forms of love that is understandable to the audience. From seeing his ghost ex-girlfriend, Tae Kong-Sil does not seem to be her type.  At the same time, it is not that the two really have much in common other than they have some trauma that makes them feel lonely. This is a valid seed of a relationship. The problem is that there is simply not any visible process to develop a relationship from a seed to a full blown relationship in which Joo Joong-Won is suddenly entranced by Tae Kong-Sil. K-drama does have a trope that states sticking people of the opposite gender together creates love. However, this drastic skip is too much to be believable.
 The attempt to create a love triangle does not help the problem by creating ambiguity in Tae Kong-Sil’s intentions  There are enough hurdles in the possible relationship that devoting all the air time for Tae Kong-Sil to plow head on into the relationship with Joo Joong-Won may not be enough to make the relationship believable.  The result is that the sudden progress in the relationship is too drastic to be believable which a shame is since the two have chemistry. 

The Ko Young-Chae & Jang Hoon-Nam Relationship (Wonderful Mama)
The problem with this relationship is the fact that the series’ denies the truth about the relationship. It is a rebound relationship on the part of Jang Hoon-Nam. It is evident from the fact that Jang Hoon-Nam’s previous relationship ended badly and this new relationship just started only like a few days later.
 On the side of the Ko Young-Chae, it is clear where she is on her character arc. At her current state, falling in love with a man like Jang Hoon-Nam is totally reasonable.  For her, this emotion was developed from a seed to a bloom. You see what she is going through. You see her emotions develop.
 This is not the same with Jang Hoon-Nam who does not really know her other than the fact that she is a spoiled rich person who may be worse than his previous relationship. However, suddenly she is the love of his life worth risking his family business.  It is clear that this is a rebound relationship. And if the series treated it as a rebound relationship, the relationship would be believable. However, in the world of K-dramas, any relationship with any scrap of merit cannot be a rebound relationship.    

The Yang Si Ohn & Cha Gun Woo Relationship (Who Are You)
This is the worst case of forcing a relationship on to the audience. You have two characters that do not have anything in common even an underling sexual attraction. Cha Gun Woo is more of brute character who does not respect women in general. Then, suddenly he kisses her at night without any build up. This is a rather weird timing since he just found out she has supernatural powers.
 Is he a supernatural groupie? He goes from hating her because she is determined about looking into crimes and acting generally weird to attraction. I get that Yang Si Ohn is attractive but this is such a sudden change. It is more off putting that Yang Si Ohn is shaken. I mean she is not a tween! She is an adult. K-drama has a bad tendency to use any kind of psychical contact as a device to create a relationship which is a little “Rapey”.

The Moo-Young & Yeon Choong Relationship (Sword and Flower)
While I have not seen much of the relationship, the sudden attraction between princess Moo-Young and assassin Yeon Choong was off putting because of the circumstance they were put in. You have this clash between powerful parties within the country and the princess Moo-Young, who is treated as being a very astute and intelligent individual, is carelessly attracted to a suspicious individual… This is rather unbelievable based on the character setup. I mean you cannot have it both ways! If this was based on a more physical attraction, it would be more believable. However, K-dramas tend to imbue a spiritual aspect to love and not leaving them as being purely physical. The problem is that spiritual love takes more time to be believable than physical love. In addition, instant physical attraction of both parties warrants instant physical actions which are not …um…recommended in K-dramas for various reasons. If they just “gotten a room quickly”, I would believe this relationship which would not be that impossible since a princess is just wondering around the market without any guards or supervision. Overall, this series seem messy.         

The Lee Soon-Shin & Shin Joon-Ho Relationship (The Best Lee Soon-Shin)
In a previous review, I mentioned that the Shin Joon-Ho character was totally destroyed after the creators’ decision to make him constantly pine for Lee Soon-Shin. The problem with this relationship is on the Shin Joon-Ho. The basic setup the relationship is all standard stuff in which you have a CEO of the Entertainment management firm being interested in a young new actress wanna-bie. It is a story as old as the beginning of the modern entertainment industry.
 The problem is that the Shin Joon-Ho character becomes such an idiot that, not only is the fact that he is a competent CEO unbelievable, but also it is unbelievable that Lee Soon-Shin does not find him extremely creepy.  So, rather than saying the relationship is unbelievable, I should say that the character is unbelievable.

This trend in storytelling is a weird turn since I do not really see a reason for it. In Hollywood movies, a similar thing is happening but with basic story-telling. This is happening primarily to find room to fit in all the action and spectacle that is expected of a Hollywood blockbuster. There is simply not enough room to fit it all in. However, this is not the case of K-dramas since they are notorious with how much fillers are included in even the miniseries. Recent K-dramas still have the characters not doing much in many scenes to fill up the air time.

A possible cause of this trend may be the fact that K-dramas are trying to be more ambitious in regards to their plots but are required to fit in a romantic relationship as an audience’s requirement. For example, “Master’s Sun” is pretty ambitious in its attempt to mix horror and comedy. However, in regard to the development of relationships, K-dramas are actually very restricted in their story choices. K-dramas have a rather fixed set of romantic character and relationships archetypes that need to be used to satisfy its audience. If you've seen some K-dramas, you can list the common archetypes: the rich guy, the poor good “Candy” girl, the poor gold digger, etc.

As a result, there are conflicts between the story lines required by the plot and by the romantic relationship. At the moment, it seems that the romantic relationship is getting the short straw. The creators assume that the relationship can be sold to the audience purely on the actors. So,  they cut corners with the development of the relationship. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you. The romance aspect of a K-drama is its weakest link, even in the romantic genre. The characters have very little chemistry, most of their interactions are situational and limited. They don't have anything in common with each other and its off putting to see the cliches played out so uncomfortably- man wrist grabbing woman, drunk piggy backs, awkward kisses, man hugs woman who stands limply besides him and so on.
    I understand the conservativeness of the culture- hell even here, the censors go to extreme lengths with blurring private parts.. but seriously, how can you believe a couple in love when the interaction is so forced and painful.