Tell me — which girl doesn’t want to be rescued from difficult situations by a handsome and charismatic man? That’s not all! This flawless man will go to great lengths to pursue you. Pleasant surprises, fun dates, and endless adventures — he’s got the whole package. A crisis will come, but don’t panic! This man has everything under control. He will brave physical and emotional pain just for you, and somehow emerge unscathed. And at the end of it all, he will get down on one knee with a beautiful diamond ring in his hand, and you will squeal and cry because, somehow, it’s the one you have always wanted and you know you will both live happily ever after. The end.
You might laugh, or even cringe, at this elaborate fairy-tale. But surprise, surprise! No matter the packaging, this is the basic plot of most K-dramas.
A Certain Toxicity
I admit that K-dramas really have a knack for creating stories that make a girl smile or blush uncontrollably at the screen (tsk tsk!). Despite knowing what to expect with every new drama, there is still a desire to watch it anyway because K-dramas skilfully capitalise on one of the innate desires of females — to be loved and pursued wholeheartedly by a certain special someone.
As innocent as these dramas may appear to be, there is a certain toxicity in K-dramas — they present a twisted definition of love.
Here are three things that K-dramas have taught me about love:
1. “He is THE solution!”
If you are a damsel in distress, fret not! A prince is on his way to rescue you.
Surprisingly (or not), the main actress often lands herself in predicaments too overwhelming and complicated for her to handle alone. Family complications,troubles at work, or even hanging off a cliff in a car (nice one, Song Hye Kyo); all of these perfectly crafted scenarios provide the perfect opening for the male lead to step in and prove his enduring love for her by showcasing his bravery, ‘cause you know what? He can handle anything.
All the way from the time when The Heirs and Boys Over Flowers were popular, Lee Min Ho was already risking his life for his dream girl. The recent dramas do the same. In Descendants of the Sun and Love in the Moonlight, Song Joong Ki and Park Bo Gum are depicted in the same way. A girl can only wish (sigh).
But we know that guys in real life are only human and don’t have all the solutions to our problems! If our first reaction to tough issues in real life is to turn to our romantic interests to solve them for us, we will be sorely disappointed.
2. “As long as he loves me!”
I don’t know why, but there are usually at least two men in most dramas who compete with each other to out-love that lucky girl. Oh — and out of the two men who pursue the same girl, the male lead (a.k.a. the bad boy) always wins.
While he isn’t usually the one who is the sweetest or gentlest toward her, that’s fine, because his charm is all that matters. Take for example Kim Tan in The Heirs — he was mean, rude, and cold towards the female lead Cha Eun Sang, but she fell in love with him anyway because she saw his ”softer side”.
“As long as he loves me!” becomes the only criteria for winning the girl over. Other factors take a back seat (who cares if he’s a jerk to her face? He’s nice to her when she isn’t looking!), and instead of focusing on the man himself — his character, values and beliefs, treatment of friends and family,maturity in handling situations etc. — we give so much weight to the manner of his pursuit of the girl instead.
In obsessing over K-dramas, have we allowed the romance of the chase to obscure the chaser’s character?
3. “He doesn’t have to ask!”
Korean dramas never fail to have me exclaim, “Omo! (Korean for “oh my goodness!”) Did you see how sweet he was?” As girls, our hearts are prone to flutter at cute gestures and endearing comments. We love a good love story, and we secretly wish to be swept off our feet.
But as I watched drama after drama, I noticed an interesting pattern. You know the scene: the female lead starts to walk away, but the male lead suddenly grabs her by the wrist, pulls her into his embrace, and as her eyes widen in surprise, he leans over and plants a gentle kiss on her lips. Her eyes close as she gives in to the moment, and we all swoon in contentment at this true love’s kiss.
But wait … What?! If a guy did this in real life, far from thinking that it is romantic, we’d probably slap the guy and run for our lives! Doesn’t it shock you that “just because he loves her”, the guy doesn’t need to ask for permission and wait for it to be granted when he wants physical intimacy?
It appears that in K-dramas, if a guy wants a girl's body, it is his. She may pull away in apprehension and shock. But more likely, she will not resist, protest, or question his actions. Eventually, she gives in, and even enjoys it.
Is This Love?
When I realised that Korean dramas have warped my perception of love with a scripted and unrealistic model, it did not mean that I immediately banned myself from watching any more of them. In fact, I have just finished watching the legal thriller Innocent Defendant and enjoyed it thoroughly for its well-thought-out plot, excellent acting, and good values.
In fact, K-dramas should be applauded for their brilliant cinematography and beautiful soundtracks. But when I became aware that my idea of romance had largely been shaped by what I watched on the screen, I thought it would be wise to take a step back to re-examine my uncritical consumption of Korean romantic dramas.
While I still allow myself to enjoy a good romantic drama, I am learning to practise discernment and awareness of my reactions to certain types of scenes. Instead of mindlessly accepting all I see, I am learning to look beyond scripted expressions of love and not blur the line between illusion and reality.
After all, I’m not a mermaid, a Goblin’s bride, or a weightlifting fairy — so I shouldn’t expect to live out their stories!
This article first appeared in Issue 21. To purchase a copy, click here.