More Korean Drama Characters Who Deserved Better

We’re back and joined by Tatiana, our site’s other kdrama aficionado, for another round of “kdrama characters who deserved better.” Since this is the second go-round on the topic, some inclusions this time around might not be a straightforward “x character was done wrong by their drama.” So let’s dive right in.

Lee Soo Kyung, Let’s Eat

As intimated, Lee Soo Kyung is an unusual case. She was done right by her drama – so right, in fact, that it made what came after all the worse. What came after was a second season, involving none of the original characters except for male lead Goo Dae Young. Soo Kyung and Dae Young break up at some point between the two seasons, with Soo Kyung mentioned maybe once.

Now, I actually liked Let’s Eat 2, and all that is down to Seo Hyun Jin’s performance (and the fact that I’m totally here for the food porn). But the fact remains that Soo Kyung was the primary point of view character of Let’s Eat and such a good heroine – allowed to love eating, divorced and not ashamed, introverted without being portrayed as a recluse – and she doesn’t deserve to be so utterly erased from her universe’s narrative. We could go down the rabbit hole of many “why’s” as it relates to Let’s Eat 2 (and the possible forthcoming Let’s Eat 3 smh), but those aren’t the focus of this article. The focus is Soo Kyung. If we’re going to find out about the end of her relationship that we spent 16 hours rooting for, we deserve to explore the breakup beyond just a one-off line, and, more importantly, from her point of view. Let’s Eat was Soo Kyung’s story more than anyone else’s, and she deserves so much better than to be reduced to a footnote in its narrative.

Angela

Yoon Wol, Queen In Hyun’s Man

Starting with a golden oldie, but as Queen In Hyun’s Man is one of the first kdramas I ever watched, Yoon Wol’s tragic fate has had me ill at ease for many years. A kindhearted Gisaeng who was nothing if not loyal to her previous ‘master,’ Boong Do, Yoon Wol’s story made me uncomfortable on many levels. Without going into the way her life and Min Am’s harsh treatment of her is glossed over at first, the fact that she’s in unrequited love with Boong Do exacerbates the power imbalance in their relationship from the start.

Not only is she his servant and somewhat indebted to him for her current position, but she also feels excessive loyalty to him due to romantic feelings which there is never any hope of him reciprocating or even acknowledging her feelings – even if it is to spare her pain, addressing the topic may actually help more than ignoring it. Why make her lovelorn for the sake of a talisman – that he uses to see another woman, natch – when she could have instead made the talisman out of the same loyalty and platonic love that fellow servant Han Dong feels for their master? And then, of course, there’s what happens to her by the end of the story.

Boong Do’s story at the beginning of Queen In Hyun’s Man already contains a dead wife who partially motivates his actions. So why the need to have the innocent Yoon Wol murdered – is it simply to fuel him even further? It drives home the point that she’s never once been in control of her own story, despite being the one who sets his story and the main romance in motion. You’d think the writer and the protagonist would try to work out a better ending for her, considering this is a drama that deals in time travel and the main character himself manages to escape death several times.

Tatiana

answer me 1997 forever 90s

Yoon Jae heavy on Joon Hee and Shi Won’s backs.

Sung Shi Won and Kang Joon Hee, Answer Me 1997

I’m going to catch heat for this, but I don’t care. While I really loved Answer Me 1997, I felt that both Shi Won (Jung Eun Ji) and Joon Hee (Hoya) deserved better, although for different reasons. In Shi Won’s case it’s yes: she deserved better than Yoon Jae. The two of them were fantastic as bffs from childhood, with all the snapping, bickering, scuffling, “they’ve seen you at your worst and your best and everything in between.” It’s a setup I can really adore (see Fight My Way), but that drama is actually a great example of where it can go right, versus where Answer Me 1997 goes wrong in the romance department.

Compare the main couples from both dramas. Consider how the female leads are treated by the male leads, and where their lives are/how happy they seem to be about them after getting in their relationships. To refocus specifically to Shi Won: I do believe she loves Yoon Jae and that he’s one of the most important people in her life. But she never ever seems comfortable with the physical affection he initiates; he’s almost always leaning over her, pushing her into it. It’s a problem common in kdramas to have the man initiate all physical contact while the woman barely moves, so it’s not exclusive to Answer Me 1997. Here it’s probably meant to be an extension of their bickering relationship, but it’s beyond time to demand enthusiastic consent from all relationships, real or fictional.

The show does such an incredible job of grounding the concept of being a diehard fangirl as a real part of many teenagers’ experience that doesn’t deserve just to be laughed at. Why, then, couldn’t the show do the same for other aspects of Shi Won’s life – her two unplanned pregnancies, her feelings on her physical relationship with Yoon Jae – instead of playing them mostly for laughs and mystery?

Joon Hee, on the other hand, deserves something very different. Answer Me 1997 did the best they could by him, and I commend the writing and production team for it. What Joon Hee – and more importantly, all the real people he represents – deserves better is more than implications. To be shown in a fulfilling relationship with the man coming to pick him up at the end. Joon Hee, or characters for whom he paves the way, deserves a fully fleshed out main storyline, a requited romance.

Angela

Ho Rang, Because This Is My First Life

This drama was one of my favorites of the past year, so it pains me that one of its three stories wrapped up in such a relatively unsatisfying way. As much as I wanted all three best friends to get their happy ending, there was so much more work Ho Rang and Won Seok needed to do before they could be a functional couple – if they should even get back together at all.

First, there was the fact that Ho Rang’s primary dream in life was to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, as every woman has the right to choose what lifestyle suits her best. But she spent the entirety of Because This Is My First Life working – work she was good at, mind you – to support Won Seok’s entrepreneurial goals, while he kept postponing marriage plans or never thought of proposing in the first place. How was it that she never told him what she wanted, or else that he never thought to notice she was unhappy, over the course of seven years? And for that matter, did Ho Rang ever take the time to wonder if she actually liked working? Maybe she didn’t know herself as well as she thought.

Diving even more deeply into their extensive communication problems, the most heartbreaking moment of Ho Rang’s story for me was when she checked their joint bank account only to find that Won Seok never put money in the way they both promised to. All this time she was working towards a life together that he wasn’t even considering – and yet they still wind up together only a few episodes after that. If more time had been devoted to how they changed and learned about themselves after the break-up then I would have been happier with the reconciliation, especially as I loved Won Seok’s Windows vs. Mac comparison in his scene with Bo Mi. But instead they both jumped into lukewarm rebound attempts before falling back together almost by default.

Tatiana

The malaise of life in a Kim Eun Sook drama.

All The Women In Kim Eun Sook Dramas

OK, so I’m being a little hyperbolic here – I don’t have any giant bones to pick with the portrayal of the female characters in Descendants of the Sun or City Hall (although I only remember Kim Sun Ah’s character from the latter). But, generally, all women that have the misfortune to find themselves characters in a Kim Eun Sook drama deserve better. Yoo Inna deserves better twice over – from her disgusting objectification by Hyun Bin’s character in Secret Garden to having little else to do other than sit and sigh in Goblin. Gil Ra Im deserves better than being presented as a take-no-shit tough-as-nails kind of woman, only to instantly turn into pushed-around putty by the male lead. Go Eun Tak deserves better than continually being in creepy relationships as a teenager with someone hundreds of years older than her. I didn’t see Heirs or A Gentleman’s Dignity, nor do I care to, but I haven’t heard much better about those.

All of Kim Eun Sook’s fictional women deserve better than Kim Eun Sook.

Angela

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