Okay, hear me out. I’m not one for non-sensical plots and over-the-top acting, but when it comes Korean TV, they’re on to something that makes these factors moot. I stumbled upon Kdramas about two years ago through Netflix, and since then I’ve been hooked.
There are several points you should know about Kdramas: 1) the underlying themes are mostly the same, that is opposites attract; the main leads always come from different socio-economic statuses2) the main leads begin by despising each other and gradually one lead begins to take interest in the other 3) love triangles or squares are the norm, as well as unrequited love (that’s a biggy!).
What makes these shows such a guilty pleasure is how the Koreans depict their ideal of love. I liken it to a piece of sour candy – the bitterness is so extreme that you almost can’t withstand it until the sweetness rides in, then all is right with the world. And that’s how most storylines begin and end – combative, unfiltered, and wrenchingly painful, but with just the right amount of fluffiness and humor to make the plight of the main characters fun and interesting to watch.
Here are my top four favorites:
4. My Princess
This is a modern Cinderella story where a college student works part-time playing the role of Korean princess at an amusement park and, ironically enough, discovers that she is actually the royal heir to the last Korean Dynasty. The grandson of a rich business group is put in charge of preparing her to accept her royal responsibilities, and slowly begins to fall for her.
What’s to love: amazing chemistry between the leads, and the soon-to-be princess is quite hilarious with her displays of affection toward her suitor. The development of her character is quite realistic too; she isn’t awed by the riches and glamour of her position, but is more fearful and unsure on how to handle them.
A lowly kitchen assistant in an upscale Italian restaurant dreams of becoming a top chef. However, she struggles to maintain her job when a seemingly misogynistic new chef is hired to run the kitchen. Both battle in the kitchen and with their hearts for what is best in their lives.
What’s to love: there is an irresistible charm and likeability that the actor, Lee Seun-gyun, brings to the male lead character. Yes, he’s a pompous ass but a loveable one! The same can be said for the lead actress, Gong Hyo-jin, who is incredibly natural and honest in her role. As a result, their interaction makes for some highly tension-filled scenes (ex. their kitchen scenes are so intimate that you almost feel like you’re eavesdropping on them!).
2. Flower Boy Ramyun Shop
A 25-year old woman aspires to become a teacher and is hired as an intern at a private, all boys school. She is confronted by a spoiled, 19-year-old man-boy (snicker) whose father happens to be not only the owner of the school but of a booming food corporation. Her dreams of financial independence and finding a good guy are foiled by this man-boy, and after a several mishaps at the school, both end up working at a ramen shop owned by a handsome, but lazy 30 year-old man.
What’s to love: unlike many Kdramas where the heroines are martyrs and overly dependent on their love interests (a very common theme in these shows), this heroine is strong-willed, logical, and self-governing from beginning to end; there are few woe-is-me moments, and those few are substantiated and make sense within the storyline. Metaphorical talk abounds and is beautifully interweaved into the angsty relationships among the characters (eg. convenience store ramen can’t compare to sharing real ramen alluding to infatuation vs. true love).
After her father passes away, a tomboy, Eun-chan, is the breadwinner of her family and works an array of odds-and-ends jobs just to get by. A privileged, irresponsible 30-year-old man, Han-kyul, who mistakes her for a man, hires her (the tomboy) to pose as his gay lover to spook off the blind dates his grandmother has arranged for him. Later, the tomboy continues to pose as a man so she can work at Han-kyul’s coffee shop. Han-kyul begins to develop feelings for Eun-chan, and is conflicted by the realization that he may be gay.
What’s to love: Out of all the kdramas, I’ve watched, this is the only one where I have been completely invested in all of the characters and subplots. The premise of the story is a bit contrived, but it works thanks to the actress who plays the tomboy. Her performance makes the storyline believable. From her mannerisms to physical appearance, she’s all boy. I was also blown away by the lead actor’s portrayal of Han-kyul, there are some pretty heart-breaking and poignant moments as he battles to make sense of his feelings. Oh, and the indie soundtrack of the show is amazing.
Kdramas are not for everyone, but if you enjoy simple storylines, have a cultural curiosity for the Korean mindset, and don’t mind the subtitles; then give them a try. You’ll find them a treat! 오늘은 이만 Sue