Friday Feature: Best and worst K-drama tropes

On Friday, July 31, we will take part in a KCON panel discussion on the best and worst K-drama tropes. Here is a sneak preview into what we will be discussing.

Only 만: I think I’m looking forward to this panel discussion at KCON the most, since I have much to say on the subject of tropes in K-dramas.

Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다: Yes, I also feel like my opinions will flow freely. Keeping in mind that we should save some of our thoughts for the KCON panel, do you like K-drama tropes?

Only: Not all of them, but for a large part, yes. I wouldn’t be watching if I didn’t. K-dramas live on their tropes.

Junggugeo Kaenada: “First Shop of Coffee Prince” is one of my favourite K-dramas, and part of the reason is their gender bending tropes. Eun Chan is the girl disguised as a boy, but Yoon Eun Hye makes her one of the most convincing boys in a K-drama ever. Plus, Eun Chan ends up being the one piggybacking drunken chaebol, Han Gyul.

Only: I love it when dramas use supernatural elements to throw an otherwise mismatched couple together. My favourite so far is “Queen In Hyun’s Man”, though “Oh My Ghost” is climbing up there. There is no way a scenario in which a Joseon scholar and a modern actress fall in love makes sense, and yet, K-drama magic makes it happen.

Queen In Hyuns Man Kim Boong Do shower

Junggugeo Kaenada: I agree, it is the ludicrous scenarios that make K-dramas so appealing to me. Yet, K-dramas are also at their worst when tropes create scenarios of ridiculous inequality. Case in point: “My Lovely Sam Soon”. You take the cold chaebol and the relatable every woman to the extreme, and what you get is a freak show.

Only: For me, it’s the random use of narrative tropes to keep the couple apart. Like in “Fated to Love You”, they threw amnesia, time skip and noble idiocy at us in rapid succession, and it made me feel as if the writer just hadn’t thought the story through. On the other hand, I kept watching until the end regardless. What do you think is the appeal in watching shows that repeat these tropes so faithfully?

Junggugeo Kaenada: They are like greatest hits plotlines. They made you feel warm and fuzzy the first time you watched them, and they can be relied upon to do it again. Then, it is just a matter of watching how each drama makes use of the trope. The charm is in the details.

Only: It’s true. I’ve seen every episode of “Law and Order”, so I’m obviously not averse to formula. It’s something about the way the story is reinterpreted every time that draws me back in. That said, I think I’ve hit my limit on Candy heroines.

Bride of the Century Na Doo Rim

Junggugeo Kaenada: Feel free to bitch a little about the Candy girl now so that you get it out of your system before we get to KCON.

Only: It’s not necessarily the Candy girls themselves that bother me, but more their prevalence. If there were more female leads who could give as good as they got, or were the smarter character, or weren’t defined by how hard-working and nurturing they were, I’d find Candy girls less objectionable. I won’t say it’s a trope that needs to die, but some more interesting female characters would be great too.

Junggugeo Kaenada: We have been fans of some bitchy second female leads, simply because they don’t allow themselves to be walked all over like the female lead. However, I hate it when they attempt to stack the odds in the female lead’s favour by turning the second female lead criminally insane. In “Me Too Flower!”, any enjoyment I got from the intense lead couple was soured by the crazy and desperate second female lead.

Only: Actually, that’s another trope I can do without. I’m not sure why every story has to be a love triangle or a polygon. It would be nice if we could skip the evil second female lead entirely. I’ll go one further, and say we can lose the infinitely supportive second male leads as well (please don’t kill me).

Fated to Love You Ep 11.9

Junggugeo Kaenada: I actually enjoy love triangles, but yes, I prefer the third wheel to be a viable choice, and I do not find agreeable suckers for punishment attractive. It goes back to my issue with tropes that create insurmountable inequality. When the second female and male leads have completely lost their dignity as a result of a trope, then that trope is no longer serving its purpose for me.

Only: What about tropes you’d like to see more of? Anything from English language TV that you’d like to see in Korean dramas?

Junggugeo Kaenada: In addition to being a K-drama fan, I love American cable television shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad”, but I can’t picture what a hybrid of one of those shows and, say, “Prosecutor Princess” would be.

Whats-breaking
If you’re wondering about this image, see our Drama Blender Friday Feature.

Only: Maybe “Bad Guys”? I must admit that wasn’t entirely successful, despite its use of every anti-hero and vigilante trope ever.

Junggugeo Kaenada: The thing is, I think tropes are looked down upon in Western television. Their writers don’t want to be seen as following a formula, even if they are. K-drama tropes are just easier to spot, because there is no effort to hide them. They are a guilty pleasure, because we are being manipulated by such an obvious formula, but we lap it up, anyway.

Only: That’s what makes K-dramas so much fun to write about, I think, though occasionally frustrating to watch.

Junggugeo Kaenada: It will also make for a fun discussion with other K-drama lovers at KCON.

Come join us at our KCON 2015 panel discussion: Shower Scenes to Wrist Grabs: The Best & Worst K-Drama Tropes – Friday, July 31.


Readers: what are your favourite and most hated K-drama tropes?

6 Comments

  • As a professor of mine used to say, it’s practically impossible for wide audiences to watch certain entertainment products w/o the standardised formats . Even twisting the most common and old-fashioned ones still counts as using them.
    Viewers all over the world have the psychological reaction of Pavlov’s dog. When the opening musical score of, let’s say, a telenovela starts on our screens, our brains come in tune with the genre. We tend to expect certain stories plot-wise and even a certain acting from all the characters. Then, do we want our cliches right to our faces or in a more sophisticated manner? Can’t quite say; it depends on the viewers, their tastes, their age range and sometimes, their experiences. Can we watch TV products that do not roughly apply to any known genre or category? Yes, but not for long; our brains have been programmed to enjoy things we’re familiar with, especially since childhood. It’s easier, more relaxing and lets our brains to be put on “save and safe mode”.
    So yea to never-ending props! May be forever well-executed and never once dull! Depending on the genre, the culture and our personal cravings, of course 😉

      • For me, I don’t really have a problem with tropes as long as it is used wisely. Like you mentioned above, the reason why “Law & Order” is a great series and continues to draw viewers is the format is comforting but the ripped from the headline stories manages to flip our expectations.

        The worst use of tropes is when the writers is backed into a corner with their setup and throws in, oh say… amnesia to keep the drama moving. Yes, as a viewer, we may have our comfort zones in what we ingest as entertaining but we can also see when the writer is trying to be manipulative. It’s the latter that doesn’t sit well with me.

      • I wish I could watch you live in KCON! I’m afraid it’s out of the question right now because I’m enjoying the hot Mediterranean summer with my family. I’m usually between three countries (and a half) the last few years but they all are in Europe. Nontheless, I’ll be impatiently waiting for your posts from KCON 🙂
        I wish you good luck and although, I envie you I hope you, guys, have a wonderful time talking about tropes and k-dramas, 😉 !

  • The Odysseus gambit always annoys me. A character (usually a troublesome second lead) goes walk-about for 1,3,5,10,15 years sending nary a Christmas card. Then they return and expect to pick up their romance where they left it. They then get miffed and spend many episodes sulking and doing what they can to make everyone miserable.

    I’m not sure if it’s used in newer shows, I can’t think of an example anyway, but in older ones it turns up with grim regularity. My Lovely Sam Soon has it twice. Once with the second lead woman in the middle and then at the end when the lead guy spends 3 months in the US on a whim, of course never phoning or writing.at all.

    • I think it happened in “Master’s Sun” towards the end, as yet another stupid reason to keep the couple apart. If I recall correctly, something similar came up in “Angel Eyes”, but I’m not sure, since I stopped watching it then read a recap for the last episode to find out what happened.

      This is one of those narrative tropes that always leaves me scratching my head. My only thought when it comes up is, “Where are you going? Is it somewhere with no phones and internet?”

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