Hello. This is a Korean in America. Today, I’m looking into a new Korean drama, ”Cunning Single Lady”. This is after watching the first two episodes.
Korean society and Korean dramas are not well known for their stance of ‘gender equality’. To be frank, there is a lot of sexism all around although they have been getting better. If I were to judge, the gender equality in Korea seems to be at the level of 80s U.S.
In Korean dramas, this aspect of Korean society is rather evident in the core elements of the plot. First, the 3rd wheel girl of the now common ‘love rectangle’ is the poster child of gender bias in Korean drama. Even when they start out as interesting and assertive characters, they devolve into slavish caricatures of THE weak woman. This is also true for the female antagonists who are the big bad of the show. Their motivations are always petty ones that can be easily faltered by the male protagonist.
Second, this can also be applied to the female protagonists who either have to be pure or have to be repentant of their ‘unchaste’ behavior and devote themselves to their men. This is generally applicable to all Korean dramas. Even when the male is subservient to the female, this is seen as a perversion and a negative thing.
It is natural that females sacrifice for their males.
Some Korean dramas are more subtle than others in how this cultural perception is embedded in themselves. ”Cunning Single Lady” is one of the more subtle ones that somehow pisses me off.
Before anything, the title, ”Cunning Single Lady”, is not a faithful translation. It is more like “The conniving childless-divorcee (Bitch)”.
See what I am getting to?
Our protagonist is a female divorcee who is played by Lee Min-Jung. If you have seen her other shows such as “All About My Romance” you will know what character she is playing here. Our divorcee is energetic and a slightly over the top personality who has some slight humorous clutz tendencies but nothing too outrageous. She is not a deep thinker but you cannot call her shallow. It is rather she is willful and prideful.
Our female divorcee had married an engineer who she thought was a “Good guy” but really he was more of a ‘duface’ without a personality.
You know the type.
In Korea, introverts or people without any personality tend be mistaken as “good guys”.
I think it is somewhat similar in the U.S.
In any case, the thing that she was attracted to was the belief that he would not make her starve. This motivation is understandable since all the men in her family are those type of ‘low lives’ that are always chasing after the next big score that will instantly make them rich but never does. It only makes everyone around them poorer.
Also, I heard something similar from a relative in regard to why she married her husband.
It is not an uncommon motivation for marriage.
That is telling…
However, the husband gets bit by the ‘business bug’ and quits his job without any discussion. Thus, our female divorcee, before the divorce, had to bring home the bacon and also pay for her husband’s research by doing menial jobs. After 3 years, she calls it quits.
Another 3 years after the divorce, obviously, our female divorcee is pissed. However, her ex is also resentful because he thinks that she did not support his dreams. Now, because of a lucky break, his business is booming.
So, now we wait for the shenanigans to happen because our female divorcee is THAT person who creates shenanigans.
Females as a creator of shenanigans
While shenanigans in Korean dramas are not solely created by females, most shenanigans created by a lead character are frequently created by a female. In regard to the side characters, … it is their jobs to create shenanigans. So, it is another matter.
It is the perception that men, at least leading men, do not get into silly thing. It is the purview of the feminine mind to be silly. Even when a leading man acts silly, it is directly because of a female. ”Cunning Single Lady” is faithful to this concept.
While the show conveys what happened to the couple via flashbacks, it is more biased towards the male even though objectively the male was in fault.
As a man, I say that he was almost solely his fault.
He is selfish and self-centered. It does not matter if he has an innocent looking face while he is being selfish. He is ‘passively’ chauvinistic as he sees a wife solely as his support system.
At this point of the show, it is obvious how the show will go. After a lot of shenanigans, the couple will end up back together with the female protagonist learning to be more supportive and less shallow. The male may learn something but it will only be superficial. He will still think that his wife should sacrifice for him.
Support the male dominant status quo with a little twist for the female audience!
At the end
”Cunning Single Lady” is nothing special. I have seen literality a hundred movies or books with this basic plot. However, other than what the show is about, ”Cunning Single Lady” is pretty solid in front and back of the camera. The actors are pretty decent with no one obviously terrible. The main divorced couple has decent chemistry with the ex-husband playing the straight man to our female protagonist’s over the top comedic figure.
The camera work and editing is decent. While the scenes are energetic, they convey all the information required concisely without any confusion. This is actually becoming rare in recent Korean dramas.
Personally, I do not know why the chauvinism of ”Cunning Single Lady” is irritating me so much. It is not like I’ve never seen it before in Korean drama or Korea. I am a Korean born in Korea. While I was living in Korea, I was more of a passive closeted chauvinist. After living in the U.S. for years, it seems that I am becoming more of a passive closeted non-chauvinist.
What do you call a non-chauvinist?
Not a feminist!
I think it is the comedic angle of the show that does not mix well with the chauvinism. With the ex-husband as the straight man, it feels more insulting since we are laughing at our female protagonist and with her ex, the so called “good guy”. The so called “good guys” tend to be “passive closeted chauvinist”.
As a former ‘passive closeted chauvinist’, I feel offended.
In any case, leaving aside the theme of the show, ”Cunning Single Lady” is decently made.
Streaming link: Viki