Underwhelming Romance – The little things that make me cringe

Korean dramas. Whether you are looking for something that makes you tear up at the drop of a hat or for a little action before bed, there is something made for everyone. I often find myself sitting back to watch one every so often to pass the time. But, unlike most I tend to stay away from one of the most well-loved genres, romance. I just cannot seem to make myself ‘fall in love’ with it. Now I realise this might seem a little much for some drama fans but it’s simply something I must get off my chest. It has become so bad that I often find myself watching them just to laugh, and often cringe, even during the more serious dramas.

Ok. So, admittedly I have watched some that I’ve enjoyed immensely (Reply 1997 and Pasta to name a few) but the majority I just cannot seem to get into. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Independent, strong-willed woman? Not for too long.

You start a new drama to find a female heroine full of vigour and confidence, someone who is fully aware of what she wants and how she plans to get it, regardless of whether she is rich or poor. You see the struggles she has to face and find yourself rooting for her almost right away, hoping to see her character get where she wants in life and fulfil all her hopes and desires with no pitfalls. But get real! This is a Korean drama and a romance one at that!

It’s a fact that at some point in most dramas the female lead will bump into a guy that will change her path forever, and no matter how much love will come along with this her personality will suddenly be… drained. No longer will we see this strong character we found ourselves falling in love with right away. No, instead we will be left with a woman dependant on the love of her ‘one and only’.

But it’s not just the heroine that will become somewhat dreary and lost behind a man, it’s also her foe. There will be a point when the villain loses all that at first made her such a hateful person. They become captured by their love for the lead or lust for power and fall foul to the world.

2. The slut/bastard you just can’t seem to get rid of.

Every love story is bound to be plagued by a few issues: lack of communication, money worries or a crazy ass stalker who will do anything in their power to steal away one of the leads and have their wicked way with them!

A romantic drama just does not seem to be complete without a crazy or two thrown into the works (or even dozens if that’s what the scene calls for). But they won’t look like your typical bunny boiler/psycho at first glance. No, they could well come in under very friendly circumstances. For instance they could well start out as the protagonists’ school friend who has been known to be a shoulder to cry on or maybe even an old childhood friend they haven’t seen for a while. They slide into a close position right beside the person they aim to target and get in nice and comfy with the people around them.

Then the friendship starts to change and becomes a little cold. But wait! Out of the blue:

– They invite you to a party but say they will be late, leaving you alone with an unknown sexy counterpart. Oops, now you’re waking up half-naked beside them in bed!

– They start to hint that maybe your relationship is not as stable as you think it is. After all, they happen to have spotted your beloved getting close to another person. And look! They somehow happened to take pictures at that exact moment to show you also.

– They call you up crying and saying that they need help! It’s cold and they don’t know how they got there. But wait. They happen to have found the full address of this mystery location right beside them (despite being supposedly lost) that you should definitely go to.

But somehow this stuff almost never seems relevant to any of the main characters until the last-minute! That loving friend who has until recently always put them first suddenly starts to act a little cold and then pulls them close back into the grip of ‘friendship’ and they never once think to question it. Well until the relationship falls apart…

3. The best friend/childhood pal fall back guy AKA the guy bound to be left heartbroken.

You can’t have just one hopeful suitor for the heart of your heroine. No, there must be two! It appears to be the key to a ‘good’ drama to have a fall back guy who will come to the rescue as soon as the main:

– Becomes too forceful.
– Falls back in love with an ex.
– Gets hit by some form of transport.
– Ends up in jail for a crime he did not commit.
– Gets kidnapped by the enemy.
– Falls for the evil plot of the bitch/bastard of the drama.

You catch my drift! At some point the key relationship will fall short of the romantic bliss our loved-up couple had dreamed of and the main female lead will need a back-up plan to soothe her broken heart. This will usually be left to her awkward male friend. For those who can’t pinpoint the awkward male friend character at first just look in the background, he will be the guy staring at the female lead with a pouty ‘please love me’ look to him. But let’s not be fooled into thinking that this means romance dramas are full of love triangles because…

4. There is no such thing as a love triangle.

That’s right dramas are much less love triangle and more love squiggle which countless people could be involved in, becoming less ‘love line’ and more love mess. Dramas such as ‘You’re Beautiful’ have shown this to happen countless times with all 3 male main characters falling in love with the female lead at different points along the track to ‘true love’.

Love ultimately seems to come in many different shapes and lines in dramas and they are as far away from simple as you can possibly get. They have so many paths to them that I often find it impossible to keep up.

5. Haven’t I seen this somewhere before?

Now it’s no shock that dramas will always be influenced by one another, after all there are only so many storylines that can be portrayed on TV without making the public feel both lost and a little uncomfortable. However I often find myself somewhat lost between dramas.  From situations to roles, they seem to have a way of making me feel like I’m watching a continuation rather than an entirely different drama. Yes, the overall storyline may be different but at points you will find yourself making double takes at a scene and wondering if you have seen a certain place or heard a certain line before. It’s pretty likely that you actually have.

Although I list this as one of my faults with romantic dramas, it is also one of the things I find the most understandable. I mean it’s tough sometimes to put forward an idea or concept in a drama without it being compared to a previous drama (especially so if it is similar to something that has been highly popular with viewers).  But with romance dramas there are often so little options available to explore that, at points, I can imagine it would be hard not to take little things from here and there.

6. And with this kiss…

So it comes to that pivotal moment in the drama that we have been building up to. The big kiss! You know it’s coming, you have wished that it would come quickly so you can sit and squeal like a banshee… but all that waiting was for nothing.

You see when that moment arises it’s much less kiss and more two people placing their faces as close together as they can get without actually touching. The tender moment is little more than facial planking! Funnily enough though there are a range of kisses that seem to crop up in Korean dramas from the ‘I’m sorry I’ve just fallen from a height and landed on your face lips first’ to the classic ‘this is my best impression of a dying fish struggling for survival’.

And let’s not forget the loving face that our special couple shows one another at their most pivotal point of expressing love for one another:

Yes, it’s the classic deer in headlights look!

7. A lack of basic communication skills…resolved by alcohol

As much as the media, directors and executives who pump mounds of money into dramas would like to deny it, even with the most popular dramas there is quite often a slump in ratings. This is often due to the 3-4 episodes that will simply revolve around the characters being…well awkward as hell! I mean awkward to the point of not knowing even how to communicate with their own reflection without having some kind of a mental breakdown.

Secrets are kept, relationships are broken and overall this is usually the most dramatic part of the drama, but it still drags and becomes uncomfortable viewing. But never fear! There is a quick (and cheap) solution to it all in the form of alcohol.

8. General abusive and unhealthy behaviour by the male lead.

This particular point has previously been brought up in an article written by one of my fellow writers, which did the overall topic justice. Give it a read here.

9. Would you like some Engrish with that rich guy?

You know if has to happen at some point when it comes to Korean dramas. The rich guy will be showing off to everyone about just how rich and knowledgeable he is and out comes the information that he also knows numerous different languages! But let’s make it clear that no matter how many languages he knows it is almost vital that he be an expert when it comes to English. You see, in Korea it is a symbol of status to be fluent in English, which is why you will find it often crops up in dramas.

With this the viewer is led to believe that Mr Know-it-all will at some point wow us with this knowledge and make us fall even deeper for his character (if we have to begin with). However when it comes down to proving it you better believe he is as far away from fluent as you can possibly get. Yes, I am fully aware that the transition from Korean to English (or in fact English to Korean) is quite a handful even for the best of linguists, but we are usually led to believe that our handsome hero has spent YEARS honing his bilingual skills. As small as it is, this is usually something that bugs me for countless hours after the actual scene has finished.

10. If all else fails throw in an accident.

It seems to be a must in drama land to throw in a life threatening accident or two. The couple is having a few issues in their relationship and is on the verge of breaking up and one of them is going on an urgent business trip. They move from one side of the room to another and BANG! An accident that causes the entire drama to come to an instant standstill. Will they survive? What will happen to the once happy couple? When will it stop!?!

I’m not saying that from time to time I don’t mind seeing a part in the story that sees the couple and characters thrown together (nothing seems to do that better than an accident) but I don’t enjoy it when it is used to draw out the drama by another few episodes. Because more often than not, this is what ends up happening.

We all have our opinions on Korean dramas (romance and otherwise), this is just a list of some of the things I dislike but there are, of course, also things that I love. What’s your opinion on Romantic Korean dramas? Do you love them or do they make you cringe? Let us know.

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Co-founder and Editor at Beyond Hallyu
Lover of Korean hip-hop and indie music...and Unicorns.
  • http://twitter.com/chinche09 Cincinn

    I think my love affair with Kdrama’s has dwindled.. my first dislike is the white truck that shows up and commits a hit and run in almost every drama I have watched.
    Next is the “who am I?”,”where am I?” amnesia victim. I would hate to be part of the royal family cause back in the day everyone plotted to kill or overthrow the king and his family. The chaebol family always have one son who doesn’t give a rats patooty about taking over the company. The rich guy always falls for the poor girl…why? I totally hate the stomped on toadfrog look when kissing, arms at the side. I am screaming “HUG HIM BACK!” Also the deranged mother in law who is very abusive and the husband says nothing to defend his wife.
    Korea TV portrays their women as pure and delicate but in reality I think that is far from the truth. #js.

  • NewKDramaAddict

    So true! I find I gravitate to non-romances more (crime, police, suspense, murder/mayhem, historical). I so rarely like the romances, so it takes me awhile to watch them. I like fantasy genre and I don’t care if there is no romance (I just have to like the characters and story).

    The only exception to the rule is revenge dramas; romance or not, I watch those. I have noticed as I branched to JDrama, TWDrama, Spanish, Filipino, etc, I like JDramas (for the stories), TWDrama (romances tend to be better), and all are pretty good with the genres I love. I absolutely hate love triangles and too much of the normal cliches (like Cincinn mentioned).

    I have not gotten tired of dramas because of my preferences and the fact that I don’t watch them for the romances But sometimes I am pleasantly surprised (Queen InHyun’s Man, for example). QIHM may remain for a long time the most romantic drama I’ve seen recently. And what’s really funny is when the second lead couple romances are more interesting than the lead; call it chemistry. A lot are lacking that!

  • Arhazivory

    The predictability is certainly a turn off which is why I’m into other genres for the most part. It’s refreshing to see romances that the mold and minus the love square. The square is overplayed.

  • http://orion21.blogspot.com/ Orion

    If you can watch most series and accurately predict exactly what comes next, what all character arcs will be, the twists, the problems etc, then you know there’s a problem. Cloning dramas is done because it sells. But no matter how easily satisfied a viewer is, it will eventually become stale.

    Repeating things cannot be avoided. The medium, genre, premise all inevitably lead to certain similarities. But instead of avoiding any further copying of the other works, they seem hell-bent on directly lifting as much as possible. A shortsighted approach.

    Thankfully, the premise, cast and makers involved often give a good heads up on whether you can expect another BOF clone or whether there is potential. But even that can mislead, not to mention the filming system and possible changes might give you a whole other series than you bargained for down the road.

    Romance is wonderful and can be done in so many ways and using so many stories. For crying out loud, Koream TV people, get your head together.