Saturday, February 26, 2011

Deal Breakers

If you're one of those who got caught up with the hallyu phenomenon that swept the region in the past decade or one of those still riding high and enjoying the tremendous influx of Korean dramas as a result of the said cultural wave, then, chances are, you've already seen a good sample of the male leads and characters that come with every popular television hit. They've probably made your heart beat faster, turned your knees into jello and brought a smile to your face with every romantic gesture...but how do these dream boys, with their so-called sensitivity and depth as seen on t.v., really fare under close scrutiny?

Well, to follow up on this harebrained-idea of a post that I came up with last  November [but somehow never managed to finish in time for the new year], I've put together this short list of well-loved male kdrama characters, who don't appear to be as desirable or winsome once you take a good, hard look at the big picture. There's certainly a few things here and there that would give pause to any rational-minded girl. Things that would make you stay up at night and wonder about what it was that made you so enamored as to miss out on character flaws so material, that in real life, they would no doubt be considered as deal breakers.

*** WARNING : The rest of this post is full of spoilers. Reader discretion is advised ***

Forgive me for this rather trivial post. I know it's totally uncalled for, especially for those who've come to love their kdrama heroes, but characters in such dramas, more often than not, do come with a number of complications---whether they be Byronic heroes, over-privileged men afflicted with the Peter Pan syndrome, socially maladjusted bigwigs who don't know the real score or emotionally insecure men in dire need of parental love and affection---bottom line is most of them spell trouble. And while I, myself, may have been swayed by an actor's good looks, innate charisma or magnetic performance at one point or another, what I have below is my top ten picks for kdrama heroes that, in hindsight, would have sent any practical, level-headed girl running to the nunnery or else swearing off problematic male archetypes that make up kdrama fodder.
Winter Sonata (2002) - Kang Jun-sang/Lee Min-hyung 

Amnesiac with Rust-colored Hair
Love comes with the onset of winter and melts away slowly as the  love of your life allegedly dies before the season's close.  Just when you thought you've lost him forever, you get to meet his doppelganger---who turns out to be the exact same person, it's just that he has this crazy mother who gave him a new identity and a makeover.

Open Your Eyes: Now, if the idea of having a mother-in-law eager to exact revenge on you on account of your parents doesn't turn you off, then also consider the fact that the man before you is so accident prone that he's hit his head too many times, enough for him to go blind as a bat, shortly after recovering from long-term memory loss.

Rooftop Attic Cat (2003) - Lee Kyung Min

The No-good Leecher
Picture this---you're strapped for cash and this guy lends you money, thinking that you're best friends with the girl that he wants to hook up with. He later incurs some gambling debt and gets into trouble with some loan sharks/gangsters, and suddenly he's shacking up with you in a cramp oktabbang, enjoying free room and board.

The Ugly Truth:  The guy may be a future prosecutor but don't forget the fact that he's immature, unreliable and a total douche. He lies, cheats and steals. Yep, he even steals pennies from that tea canister that his poor "roommate" has hidden in the kitchen cupboard to impress that obnoxious chick that he's been chasing after.

I'm Sorry, I Love You (2004) - Cha Moo Hyuk

Dead Man Walking
An exciting and dangerous encounter with a tall, dark and handsome stranger in the Land Down Under leads to a sad, bitter ordeal as the man in question later shows up eager to take revenge against his mother who allegedly abandoned him.

Final Prognosis: This scruffy dude might clean up nicely but he harbors a deep resentment over his younger brother, who appears to have been given all the love and attention that he's missed out on as a kid. Not only does this man belong to a long line of misinformed revenge-seekers in the kdrama world, he's also a certified goner since he has two bullets in his head. Stay away from this dude, lest you want to find eternal slumber on the lips of a red bottle.

My Name is Kim Sam Soon (2005) - Hyun Jin Heon

Torn Between Two Lovers
A guilt-ridden restaurateur, who's nursing a broken heart and recovering from a series of personal tragedies, contracts a fake relationship with a plus-size employee in need of financial assistance in order to avoid being fixed up by his mother.

Bad Business: For starters, the said love contract could very well be the subject of a sexual harassment suit. Another area of concern would be this guy's inability to let go and move on, channeling his angst and anger on things such as his ex-girlfriend's first name or his pretend girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. Stubborn and possessive, he's one hell of a mess when it comes to relationships---being the type that likes to have one's cake and eat it, too.

Goong/Princess Hours (2006) - Lee Shin

Prince Not-so Charming
A smug and socially inept Crown Prince gets rejected by his long-time girlfriend suddenly agrees to marry a girl from an ordinary family with whom he was betrothed. Sounds like a fairytale scenario but in truth, it's more like a repeat of the drama that happened in the House of Windsor. Throw in some political intrigue and there you have a media circus. 

A Royal Scandal: This sought-after prince has the ability to turn  ordinary, bright and outgoing girls into one giant, pathetic, weepy mess, who at one time or another will attempt to take one's life or starve one's self to death. Don't forget that he's also so isolated and unable to express himself that he talks out loud to a teddy bear...

The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince (2007) - Choi Han Kyul

Clueless Bastard
Cocky, rich kid is sent home to Korea to manage a family-owned coffee shop after prodigiously wasting his grandmother's money abroad. As a marketing strategy, he hires an all-male staff to lure female customers in, totally unaware of the fact that the person he considers his wingman and blood brother is a girl who's only pretending to be a guy in front of him.

Sexually Suspect: It takes a mature, open-minded and progressive person to even consider the possibility of being attracted to the same sex  and to come to the conclusion that love does not discriminate, but this kid isn't earning any points because after all that roughhousing and skinship, there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to distinguish a guy from a girl. 

Strongest Chil Woo (2008) - Kang Chil Woo

The Cosplayer
Low level civil servant by day, masked avenger by night.  Along with his merry band of cosplayers, he protects the weak and dispenses justice on the corrupt, evil men that are left untouched by the system. He's but one of many masked heroes in kdramas of late and  like all of them, he has a compelling reason to take the law into his hands and wear a ridiculous striking outfit.

The Magic Hour Approaches: I know I'm being a tad superficial here but seriously now, don't tell me that the idea of a 17th century Joseon hero clad as Zorro with a matching bullwhip, roaming the streets at night, doesn't have you arriving at a number of unsavory conclusions.

Queen Seonduk (2009) - Bidam

A Charming Psychopath
He's the bastard son of the royal consort and the king's brother, who later grows up to be the disciple of a retired general. Deprived of his mother's love and forever seeking the approval of his mentor, he joins the fight to reinstate a long lost princess to her rightful position, only to fall in love with her and later plot her removal from the throne.

It Runs in the Family: He's an excellent swordsman and an able-bodied fighter, too bad he also inherited his mother's penchant for cruelty and creativity in convincing people to do as they're told. When he was a kid, he poisoned a community of hobos; as a grown-up, he gets to slay his master and commit high treason. 

Boys over Flowers (2009) - Goo Jun-pyo

A Big Bully
Poor, little rich boy in dire need of his mother's attention lashes out by imposing a reign of terror in his prep school. He's lonely, he's misunderstood, doesn't have any other friends aside from his posy of equally over privileged and bored peers, who have nothing better to do than watch his fist do the talking. He's the poster boy for bad boys in need of some tough lovin' and girls can't resist the idea of reforming him.

Beyond Help: He's terrorized members of the student body for years, enough to scare some into attempting suicide and others to seek vengeance no matter what the cost. Forget about the domineering mother, this guy has a long list of enemies awaiting their turn. Furthermore, if the way he gives instructions to his lackeys is indicative of his management skills, you can very well say goodbye to the family fortune.

Prosecutor Princess (2010) - Seo In Woo

Mr. Here, There and Everywhere
A capable and meticulous lawyer, who has a reputation for doing anything to win his client's cause, provides special assistance and attention to a ditzy prosecutor in furtherance of his personal agenda.

Alarm Bells:  Smart, funny and sweet, he's the best friend who can anticipate your every need, one who always comes to the rescue when you're down and out because he's a stalker, you see. He has you investigated and followed 24/7 and he's cooking this elaborate albeit circuitous way to get revenge against your family in the course of clearing his father's name. Surely, there's a better way to beat the statute of limitations; being all rich and influential, he could have taken a safer course, one that didn't involve the possibility of being slapped with a restraining order.

   *  *  *

And that's pretty much all there is to this list. I'm sure there are a number of characters that are arguably more vile or repellent than the ones listed above, but I personally steered clear of the ones that were designed as such. Yes, I know it's a kdrama and that it shouldn't be taken seriously, you can even accuse me of nitpicking but don't you find it rather interesting how a lot of these characters get away with things that would normally be considered unacceptable behavior in a real world setting?

Photo credits: Pretty Boy Power, Korean Drama, The Pink Connection, and Dramabeans.


  1. Lol! Entertaining post, zooey! Love the epithets and pun-filled section headers, very clever! xD

    Er, are these arranged in any order? ;-) I'd prolly rank 'em thus:

    Jun-sang (the medical bills would wipe me out; and why I would live with a blind guy who still insists on wearing glasses is beyond me, lol) >>>>>> Chil-woo (black leather+mask+whip = I guess I'm just not that kinky, lol) > Kim Rae-won in ANYTHING (is it just me, or mukha ba talaga syang dugyutin in everything he's done?) > Moo-hyuk (terminally ill, I'll pass) > Jun-pyo (cute but a mean ruthless SOB, I only have one heart to break, yo)

    But to be honest I think I can actually put up with Shin-goon, Sam-shik and Han-kyul's character flaws... coz they're just too darn cute, hihihi =P

    (Have not seen Queen Seon-deok or Prosecutor Princess, btw)

    And if I may add a man to this menacing mix: Lee Seung-gi in Brilliant Legacy. The most repugnant drama male lead like, EVAR. What did the world see in him, WHAT. Ugh ugh gughhughughhg

  2. Thanks E.G. :)

    I initially thought about ranking them but in the end I just listed them down by year. People at home got tired of me picking on their favorite kdrama leads so I had no other recourse but to blog about it.

    Nice top 5, btw. Have to agree with your observation of Kim Rae-won, I honestly didn't get the hype over this dude. The only series I liked him in was Gourmet.

    As for Lee Seung-Ki in Brilliant Legacy, I actually considered putting him in but he got beat out by Jun-pyo. I tried hard to get an assortment of male archetypes and I only had limited room for a filthy, rich bastard. I also considered Cho In-sung's character from Memories in Bali but he was too obvious a choice. Song Seung-Hun's Jun-suh from Autumn Tale almost made it as well, unfortunately the girl didn't turn out to be his real sister.

    Threw in Shin because (hello!) as cute as he may be, he talks to an inanimate object; Sam-shik because I needed a two-timer, though technically they weren't in a "real" relationship and Han-kyul because no one is THAT flat-chested especially in a wet shirt.

    I'm sure I've missed out on a lot more but for some reason these dramas were the ones that easily came to mind. It's all in good fun anyway and I still find it amazing how much we let things go when we're captivated by a show.

  3. Love this post, zooey! Partially because the fool that is Goo Joon Pyo got a good bashing :D :D lmao @ "beyond help" True! True! Could not agree more lol I think I forever remain of of those immune to his "charm."

    While I loved MNIKSS, I never really loved the character Sam Shik because his arrogantly possessive nature you mentioned was simply not cool ( *shakes head* it was kinda creepy actually.)

    I love Moo Hyuk dearly but never once dreamt of bagging him because, as a misa lover <3 <3, I wanted only Eun Chae for him. And whadduya know I got my wish -_-; (btw, I think it's Cha Moo Hyuk & not Lee Moo Hyuk^^)

    Prince Shin I would take in a heartbeat. What? Talking to inanimate objects isn't normal?? lol I guess I can cut him some slack because he's Royalty after all & doesn't really live in "the real world." xD

    I think as long as the pros outweigh the cons, I'm all good d(^_^)b

    And can I please be a loser & stick up for Hwan oppa!!! X___x *runs into pole on street*

  4. You're right about Cha Moo Hyuk, jicks. Thanks for pointing it out, got it fixed already. I obviously cut and pasted it from the entry above and neglected to change the character's last name. (lazy me @_@)

    Re Misa, well they did end up together. Would you believe I skipped attending my graduation to see Eun Chae go all Romeo in the end of this series? >_<'

    And you don't know how glad I am to know that I'm not alone in my indifference to Jun-Pyo. Like boohoo, so your mum ignores must suck to be that rich. What I didn't really like was how he got the rest of the people to bully others for him and how his friends just stood by and let it happen + the lead girl got assaulted, which is totally inexcusable.

    While I loved MNIKSS, I never really loved the character Sam Shik because his arrogantly possessive nature you mentioned was simply not cool ( *shakes head* it was kinda creepy actually.)

    That's one of the things I didn't like about MNKSS---how Hyun Bin's character would always tell SS not to look at anyone else, not to be with someone else but then again it's not like he's readily committing himself to her.

    ...he's Royalty after all & doesn't really live in "the real world." xD

    LMAO. Point well taken. I'll let Shin slide being a prince in a make-believe constitutional monarchy.

    As for Hwan, I have a theory that people generally don't like him because of his mess of a hair... at least he changed by the end of the series. Took him forever to clear things up with Seung Mi but at least he finally did it. :)

  5. Would you believe I skipped attending my graduation to see Eun Chae go all Romeo in the end of this series? >_<'
    ^^Bravoh for commitment right there! lol @ "going all Romeo." I didn't have to go to such measures but I do recall entering the state of what they labeled as "misa depression" post-watching the series. But re your diagnosis on Moo Hyuk as someone not to love- I think that was what made the series as beautiful & as heartbreaking as it was <3 *sniffs*

    And you don't know how glad I am to know that I'm not alone in my indifference to Jun-Pyo.
    ^Right backatcha sister!!! *HIGH TENS* *double fist pump to heart* I can deal with the pre-turning-better days where he does act like a complete jackass but my problem with the character was that he NEVER did anything really that extraordinarily substantial for any of his F4 mates or silly girl Jan Di. Seriously, what did he do??? NOTHING.

    Re Hwan, well you probably know by now I am a fan of messy hair lol *coughs*Eita*coughs* xPP

    Looking back I can see that Hwan was a totally useless silverspoon jerk in the beginning, I guess the fact that he was always looking out for Seung Mi as her oppa shows to me he is a man who cares for his responsibilities i.e. someone you can depend on. Also think Shining Inheritance would've benefited from being shorter.

  6. Also think Shining Inheritance would've benefited from being shorter.

    Definitely. It's unforgivable how the storyline about the missing brother got wrapped up in the second to the last episode. >_<

  7. Totally loving this post! For the life of me I never really understood how some girls fell for the male leads when they should send you screaming in the opposite direction (just in reading HanDan, Goong, and Hot Gimmick I wondered why any sane girl would want the lead). I think one of the worst in terms of rich, bored playboys would be what's his name from What Happened in Bali, the one who isn't So Ji Sub (boring and slow to start with a horribly depressing end where no one...yeah)

    The good guys are all farmed out into the best friend who's perfect for the girl thus they don't stand a chance against flawed bad boys who seem to worm their way under the lead girl's skins.

    Hwan grew on me, but I did really root for Junsu who we all knew never stood a chance.

  8. This is hilarious, zooey! I was chuckling throughout the post. Although I only lasted through episode 1 of Prosecutor Princess, my fav was "Mr. Here, There and Everywhere" heheheheh

    Out of your list, the only one that I would go easy on would be Han Gyul coz of my love for Coffee Prince.

  9. @asianaddictsannon,
    To be fair, EVERYONE in What Happened In Bali was messed up (one reason why I loved the series, lol) so I don't feel like Jo In Sung's character Jae Min was any lesser than any of the others, So Ji Sub's In Wook included.

    I've been thinking more and more about the topic and... well, I am usually a "leading man" kinda lady myself (i.e. I've fallen for my fair share of these Deal-breakers) so I think I can explain (or at least give it my best shot.) Yes sometimes when you look at it from an objective outsiders point of view, it's a bit of a WTF why would you even??" scenario but I believe it is a common fantasy for many women to want to be be the reason a bad boy turns good- FOR them. Of course I can't say this is a sensible ideal to live by in everyday life but in a dorama world, I'm all for it baby! I know it may be superficial of me but it's super fulfilling seeing to see the perfect jerk turn into the perfect lover, and very sweetening to watch them express their love and care without trying to show that they love and care xDD

    But I don't necessarily think second fiddle guys are perfect too, for one, sometimes they can be a little too passive. Shoot the feminist within me (if there is one, lol) but sometimes it's good to have some alpha-maleness around to you know, make you feel like the lady^^ I also don't feel that there is often much of a transformation with the second fiddle guys either- they usually start off nice and stay nice, and while I do feel a bit of sympathy for them, many have turned a little sulky "poor me" syndrome when they don't get the girl (think Lee Yul in Goong, Han Tae Hwa in Stairway To Heaven, Tuo Ye in Autumn's Concerto & then some.)

    That said, there have been a small handful of second fiddle guys that I've wholeheartedly loved- Hanazawa Rui in HanaDan, Han Tae Suhk in Autumn In My Heart and Hong Tae Sung in Bad Guy, to name a few- but these are the ones who I feel did show immense growth and when they did realise they lost the girl to "a better man" they remained gracious men.

    P.S. Forgot to say, if you think about it Moo Hyuk was automatic to go for in MiSa since the other option was the Mummy's boy Pop-tastic Yune. No more words of explanation required I'm sure.

  10. @ wolforion - Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. :)

    I do have an issue as well with HanaDan but I do somewhat get what jicks is trying to say about how these shows/stories just sell the fantasy. As far as I'm concerned, I can tolerate brats, bullies and bad guys as long as they at least show some redeeming qualities or they're not portrayed in an extreme manner. There's bad and there's BAD (like wtf, this the point of no return BAD). I mean squandering your parent's money/picking fights is one thing but compelling a student body to harass other people is a no-no, same with telling your gofers to "take care of" a girl--which pretty much translated to sexual assault.

    Like you said, the perfect example of an undesirable character in a drama would be that of rich kid in What Happened in Bali. But as jicks pointed out, it's only fair to say that all three characters were scum so it's not surprising that the show ended the way it did.

    As for the second leads, there are those that I liked as well but I usually don't root for them anymore since dramas tend to have an OTP from the very first episode. Have to agree though that it's somewhat tiring to see the same bad boy-good girl scenario over and over again, it's especially frustrating when the 2nd lead is made out to be a saint.

    @ doozy - I swear, Park Shi Hoo's character was all omniscient and omnipotent--he'd win most romantic stalker hands down. Lol ^^ And despite complaining about his insidious scheming, would you believe that he's the only reason why I finished Prosecutor Princess? (hangs head in shame*)

    @ jicks - Don't really know how to say this without contradicting myself and feeling like a hypocrite... I understand what you're saying about how such scenarios are okay in dramaland where these characters exist and act a certain way for our viewing pleasure but a part of me also thinks that one's appreciation of a show might be diminished if certain boundaries are crossed. Whether it be a lapse in logic or a question of principles, it's equally important to put things in perspective from time to time. I think wolforion's concern stems from being an educator and how the stuff that gets put out propagate undesirable notions of love and relationships. I'm gonna stop now since I'll be opening a can of worms if I go on about television, children and socialization... So yeah, all I can say is that I get it. It's all cool.

    Oh and about the second fiddle guys you mentioned, I think you hit the nail in the head in terms of coming to love them because of the "immense growth" they've shown. I don't think though that the ones you mentioned necessarily lost to a "better man", they probably just took the high road, knowing that the girl they loved was in love with someone else. It's like the ultimate sacrifice, which makes their love all that greater.

    But alas, gone are the days when you watch a drama and see a neck-and-neck competition. Most of the second leads nowadays as wolforion mentioned are doomed from the start. They're passive, wishy-washy and they don't have as much screentime. I kinda miss the old days...isn't it part of what makes Tae Suhk in Autumn in My Heart unforgettable the fact that he's not only a reformed bad boy but a martyr as well?