There are some K-drama tropes that we see coming a mile away, and dread like a migraine. We outline the warning signs of pain on the horizon.
The wrist grab
Who doesn’t love a bad boy? Especially one who has the habit of manhandling women when he’s angry/jealous/sort of annoyed. My least favourite K-drama trope is the wrist grab, especially when accompanied by the male lead dragging the female lead off somewhere for a private talk.
Kim Tan was a bit of a disaster as a boyfriend, and spent much of “Heirs” dragging the weepy Eun Sang around by the wrist (and forcibly kissing her and generally making her life hell). Kim Joo Won of “Secret Garden” did his fair share of manhandling, too, though in the instance above he weakly justified it by wanting to check on Gil Ra Im’s wound. Joo Joong Won of “Master’s Sun” also didn’t hold back when trying to get rid of Tae Gong Shil, since the obvious method of getting rid of a troublesome woman is to lay your hands on her.
Wrist grabs are even worse when they’re done by a character I like, as in Eun Oh from “Arang and the Magistrate”. Sadly, I’ve become so inured to seeing wrist grabs that they hardly register anymore. And it’s unfortunate, considering how startled I was the first time I saw it in a K-drama, and how unacceptable I found it then. – Only 만
The end of romance
The electrifying chemistry generated by the two leads made you cheer when they finally decided to be together. Little did you know that you had witnessed the climax of the romance, and it was all downhill thereafter.
In “Dal Ja’s Spring”, a cohabitation situation leads Dal Ja and Tae Bong to one hot night. Unfortunately, it was never to be repeated again, as Dal Ja and Tae Bong stayed safely in their respective bedrooms. Similarly, Soo Ha and Hye Sung grew closer while living together in “I Hear Your Voice”, but kissed just as Soo Ha was prepared to leave. When they returned to cohabitation, it was not the end of kissing, but attempts by Soo Ha at skinship were rebuffed by Hye Sung, who called him a pervert.
Sometimes the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Song Yi quickly finds out that alien, Min Joon becomes ill from human saliva in “My Love From the Star”. It becomes a good excuse for a lot of chaste hugging, and, pretty much, the end of kissing. – Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다
The problem with modern romance stories is the dilemma of how to keep a couple apart for the length of the story. Once you establish that two people have fallen ecstatically in love, there’s usually nothing to keep them from getting together, unless you rely on well-worn drama tropes, like amnesia or evil parents or sudden diseases.
My least favourite separation trope is noble idiocy, where one half of a love connection drives the other away for their own good. An example of this is “Fated to Love You”, where Lee Gun spent several episodes acting like an ass to drive away Mi Young, based on the slim possibility of his falling prey to a debilitating illness. I could list more examples, but I’ll stop there lest I pop an artery from leftover annoyance.
Let me just say this to writers of K-dramas (who, doubtless, carefully read our blog and take detailed notes), there is nothing sympathetic about a character who thinks making decisions for their loved ones without telling them qualifies as protecting their feelings. Also, we’re well aware that you’re just trying to fill time and add unnecessary drama. Feel free to think of a better way to do it. – Only
Zero personal boundaries
Just because someone is unconscious or unwilling doesn’t mean you can’t have your way with that person. To hell with what the other person wants when misguided romance is in the air.
Buoyed by memories of their past marriage in “Emergency Couple”, Chang Min decides to kiss his ex-wife, Jin Hee while she lays unconscious in a hospital bed. It is worth noting that Jin Hee is unconscious due to an injury she sustained thanks to Chang Min. So, Chang Min not only took advantage of the situation, but he also brought it about.
In “Fated to Love You”, Mi Young is dead to the world, probably due to the exhaustion of pregnancy. Her husband, Gun decides to take a selfie with her unconscious body. At best, the resulting portrait takes on a creepy hair-sniffing stalker vibe.
For the majority of “Let’s Eat”, neighbours Soo Kyung and Dae Young are platonic eating buddies. So, Soo Kyung’s alarm is understandable when Dae Young initially tries to take a photo of her messy face, then grabs her hands to clear the way for a kiss. Since Dae Young is always giving food lectures, Soo Kyung should have treated him to a lesson on the importance of a willing partner to a good smooch. – Junggugeo Kaenada
If you want to set my teeth on edge, give me a female lead who can neatly be categorized as a Candy: a nice, slightly dim, hardworking woman stuck in bad circumstances. Unfortunately for me, this is the most prevalent kind of heroine in K-dramas, though as a fan, I’m usually willing to put up with it if the rest of the drama holds some appeal.
What really bothers me is the idea that female viewers can relate better to a one-note character whose defining characteristic is her niceness. Personally, I can relate better to a female lead who, like me, is a bit of a jerk and openly cackles at overly angsty K-drama moments. Or, just a female lead with some complexity, like Ji Hae Soo from “It’s Okay, It’s Love”, or the mercurial Cheon Song Yi from “My Love from the Stars”. Or Jang Hye Sung from “I Hear Your Voice”, who couldn’t even play cute convincingly (see above). – Only
Gauntlet of humiliation
In an attempt to make the female lead an underdog that the viewers can root for, K-drama writers like to initiate her with a gauntlet of humiliation. This hazing ritual is a widely used device that the audience must also suffer through to get to the rest of the series.
The otherwise excellent “King of High School Savvy” started on a dubious note with awkward Soo Young embarrassing herself repeatedly. The worst is saved for the object of her affections, office director, Jin Woo, whom she meets one-on-one with after unknowingly smearing lipstick across her face. Later, Soo Young barges into the men’s washroom in order to confess her feelings to Jin Woo. Jin Woo is polite and cold as he rejects her. Soo Young drowns her sorrows and humiliation with alcohol and popcorn, only to wake up in Jin Woo’s apartment. Fortunately, Jin Woo saves them both an awkward morning encounter by leaving a terse note directing her to leave before he returns.
Embarrassment at work seems more popular a device than embarrassment in one’s personal life: “Big”, “Babyfaced Beauty”, “Dal Ja’s Spring”, “Emergency Couple”, “Greatest Love”, “Miss Korea”, “My Lovely Sam Soon”, etc. Though, personal humiliation can be more devastating. One of the worst that comes readily to mind is “The Color of Woman” in which a teenage So Ra is abandoned at a love motel by Joon Soo. She manages to catch him running away in the rain, and hears him scream, “I don’t want to sleep with you!” That kind of humiliation in one’s formative years can scar a person forever, and in So Ra’s case, it appears to do exactly that. – Junggugeo Kaenada
Readers: which K-drama tropes drive you insane?
List the source of your irritation in Comments below.
Excellent post!!! Here are my additions, which I also blogged:
The Fated First Love.
Admit it, how many times have you gnashed your teeth as a perfectly reasonable hero or heroine ends up with the knucklehead they first noticed in third grade, regardless of the fact that a much more suitable lifetime companion is waiting longingly at the sidelines?
Only the Good Die Young. And Usually of Cancer.
If a parent or grandparent is kind and understanding, they are sure to be dead soon. If a love is perfect, surely one of the couple is going to cash it in in the final episode.
Redemption at All Costs
Kdramas often have the meanest, nastiest, most conniving and evil villianesses on the planet. Women in kdramas will commit murder and beyond if it is required for their often ambitious and aggressive goals. You can develop towering levels of hate for these characters, but then you are always left unsatisfied because they NEVER get the amount of retribution they truly deserve. A woman can leave a trail of blood, gore and broken hearts and end the drama with a slap on the wrist and a devoted man determined to help her stay on the straight and narrow. I don’t want redemption, in this case I want vengeance with extreme predjudice, and I never get it.
Thanks for reading. It sounds like you are watching more melodramas than I do, because I don’t encounter the good and dead, or the unpunished villainess as much. In fact, those tropes are probably the reasons why I don’t watch melodramas, because they would drive me insane.
Gu Jun Pyo had many wrist grabs in Boys Over Flowers. One instance, when he mistakenly grabbed his fiancée instead of his love interest and dragged her for quite a long way in the cold, was the one which horrified me the most.
That sounds awful. I’ll add it to my list of reasons not to watch “Boys Over Flowers”.