If I could write my own K-drama, how would it go? To be honest, not very well. (Shout out to all the writers – we wouldn’t be K-drama watchers, fans, and lovers without their amazing talent!) But I can guarantee you one thing: My drama would not include the following overused, extremely frustrating, not-even-vital plot devices.
This is the worst one. Unless it’s skillfully written into the plot as a crucial part of one’s background – for instance in “Healer” or “The Legendary Witch,” a childhood trauma causes the main character to lose their memories before a certain age – having someone lose their memories is a ploy for more viewership, more episodes, and filling in time. Yes, it’s a test of love, and that moment when they remember is so refreshing, but the whole process is absolutely frustrating and usually unnecessary. Recently with “Fated to Love You,” I was basically traumatized. I’m sure there are other, much healthier, and more entertaining ways to “test the couple’s love” or “overcome an obstacle” or “establish that one love interest matters more than the other.”
This has been a running theme for a long, long time; it’s basically a staple in K-dramas. “Secret Garden,” “Boys Over Flowers,” all the way to “Fated to Love You,” our male leads seem to be chaebols quite frequently. (Chaebol refers to a business conglomerate in Korea – specifically in K-dramas, young, hot, rich, and able men.) My peeve with this? It’s unrealistic. Yes, K-dramas are already unrealistic. And yes, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to watch if the poor girl suffering from an unfair society ruled by money didn’t have her extremely expensive makeover and have her swept off her feet by a young, attractive, rich man… but read this sentence again. How absurd (but incredibly romantic) does that sound?
The Poor Heroine… Is Actually Rich
If there is a rich hero, then there must be a impoverished heroine. But if chaebols are necessary to save poor girls from their penniless misery, then the girls should be living like they’re actually poor. When “The Heirs” aired, viewers noticed that Park Shin Hye‘s character had the latest phone, despite the fact that she was supposed to be struggling financially. “Tomorrow Cantabile” was also criticized for the size of Shim Eun Kyung‘s apartment because she basically had to be filthy rich to live in an apartment that spacious.
It’s overused for a good reason: it’s an interesting plot point, it forces characters to take action, and there’s a race against time, which is always exciting. There’s emotional attachment and growth, usually accompanied by secrets (and secrets shared). It’s also realistic. But overused? Undoubtedly, yes.
So far, the list above could categorize under the general term “star-crossed lovers.” The hero and heroine are forbidden from being together because of something that’s keeping them apart. (Please choose one of the above.) Of all the reasons, socioeconomic differences are the most common, whether the drama is set in the past or in modern times. The following are only a few examples: “The Night Watchman,” “The Moon that Embraces the Sun,” and, again, anything with chaebols involved.
This doesn’t require much explanation. The idea of crossdressing and forbidden male-male relationships is something that K-dramas have adapted from Japanese mangas for the most part… but they don’t seem to take into account how pretty the Japanese male characters in mangas are. Or female anatomy, for that matter.
I mean, who are you fooling?
Hate Turns Into Love
“Affection grows out of fighting.” A common saying, but not a good enough reason to have every K-drama couple start out hating each other. When is the last time you had romantic feelings for someone who was an arrogant, over-privileged, selfish jerk who usually leaves the worst first impression on anyone ever? Personally, when I see a subplot in a K-drama where two people naturally get to know each other, with mutually positive feelings, and eventually fall in love, it resounds more in me than the main couple that has blossomed out of dislike for one another. Example: “Surplus Princess” (Disclaimer: This has nothing to do with my love for Song Jae Rim.)
In this picture, we see a kiss in “The Legendary Witch” between Han Ji Hye and Ha Seok Jin after he slips on soap in the bathroom and pulls her down with him. Her lips just happen to land on his. Because this happens all the time in real life right? (Never.) So perfectly coordinated to kiss the man of your dreams.
Confession: I changed the title from “Things K-dramas Need to Stop Doing” to “Beloved but Overused K-drama Plot Devices.” Why? Because this list contains the essence of K-dramas as we know them — dramatic, unrealistic, and completely romantic and exciting. I understand that the factors listed here are not the only overused clichés in K-dramas (finding long lost parents, finding out you and your loved one have been connected since childhood in some crazy history, car crashes, and “fate”), but all of the above are exactly what we love about K-dramas.