Queens Of Duality: 14 Fierce But Loving Moms Of K-Dramas
Every K-drama needs a good back story, particularly about the lead character’s early upbringing, which provides a glimpse into the reasons behind how situations came to be. One important factor that influences the lead’s sense of belonging, self-esteem, and personality is their family dynamic, and most of the time, the biggest influence is their mother. We are familiar with K-dramas that have “fierce moms”: those who often seem scary and unapproachable at first. No matter how overbearing they can be, you can trust that they’re only out to protect their children and do what’s best for them. Here are some of the most unforgettable, strong yet lovable moms in K-dramas:
Warning: contains minor spoilers for the dramas below.
Oh Dong Baek of “When the Camellia Blooms”
Oh Dong Baek (Gong Hyo Jin) is the definition of inner strength. In this drama, she endures all the gossip-mongering and bullying by the townspeople in order to provide a normal life for her son. She moves from a different city to escape her past and singlehandedly opens a resto/bar with little help. As she makes a fresh start, she encounters obstacles and tries to overcome them by being patient and compliant with society’s standards. But along the way, she learns to become outspoken and to fight for what she believes in, especially when it comes to protecting her son.
The “tiger moms” of “Reply 1988”
It must first be noted that in the early ’80s and ’90s, women in Korea were just starting to find their voice in the home and in the workforce. These three moms, played by Lee Il Hwa, Kim Sun Young, and Ra Miran, are the backbones of the home. They do everything in the backend so their husbands and kids can reach their full potential in their day-to-day lives. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, or making household decisions, they’re the ones who are on top of everything, oftentimes receiving little to no appreciation. But because of them, their kids grow up having good values, independence, and even a strong-willed personality!
Start watching “Reply 1988”:
Choi Won Deok of “Start-Up”
Kim Hae Sook is widely known as “Korea’s mother” because of her decades-long career and prominence as a loving mother in several K-dramas. In “Start-Up,” she may be Dal Mi’s (Suzy) grandmother but she assumes the role of a mother and provider at the same time, no matter how hard their life is. She doesn’t let her age and condition stop her from working day until night so they can survive. She’s also the very definition of generosity and forgiveness, because she takes in a young stranger, Han Ji Pyeong (Kim Seon Ho), and makes a big impact in his life. She also welcomes Dal Mi’s mom again in her house despite the mom abandoning them in exchange for a rich, comfortable life. With her guidance, it’s no wonder Ji Pyeong grows up to be a “Good Boy” and Dal Mi becomes a kindhearted, smart, and go-getting woman!
Cha Yu Ri and Oh Min Jung from “Hi Bye, Mama”
What makes a mom… a mom? Is it simply someone with blood relation or the one who raises the child for many years? This is the question that this drama addresses, with Cha Yu Ri (Kim Tae Hee) unjustly passing away before she can take care of her baby, Seo Woo, while Oh Min Jung (Go Bo Gyeol) takes over as the stepmom. It’s hard to choose between the two as Yu Ri literally goes to hell and back just to watch over her child as a roaming spirit come to life while Min Jung has to endure challenges, her husband’s feelings of loss, and ultimately give up her career to be with a growing child. Both moms are equally admirable for their dedication and unconditional love for Seo Woo. This is what makes “Hi Bye, Mama” a tearjerker and worthy must-watch because it explores the different meanings of being a mother!
Kim Hyun Ja of “Because This Is My First Life”
On the day of her “fake wedding,” Ji Ho (Jung So Min) says some pretty harsh words to her mom, implying that her family doesn’t have anything to offer and blaming her for having gone through so many hardships growing up. But she doesn’t know that it’s her mother who sacrificed a lot for their family. When it comes to the big day, Hyun Ja (Kim Sun Young) tells her daughter’s husband-to-be some touching yet realistic advice. She stresses that Ji Ho is an independent woman who is capable of her own happiness, and that as a husband all he has to do is support her all the way. It’s a heartbreaking scene that reminds us that most of the time we take our moms for granted and think they’re “hovering” over us — but all they really want is for us to be happy.
Start watching “Because This Is My First Life”:
No Seung Hye and Lee Soo Im from “SKY Castle”
No Seung Hye (Yoon Se Ah) marries a domineering, controlling, and overall difficult husband who pushes his children over the edge when it comes to their studies. Because of fear, she endures him for so many years. But when she finally gains her courage, she does what she has to do for the sake of her children: leave him and teach her sons and daughter that one’s true value is not measured by high grades or titles. She encourages her kids to pave their own paths without fear of judgment by others.
Meanwhile, Lee Soo Im (Lee Tae Ran) has always brought up her son Woo Joo (Kang Chan Hee) in an upright way, even when they are surrounded by competitive moms and their kids. This is why he thinks maturely for his age and never resorts to bringing others down for the sake of getting ahead.
Start watching “SKY Castle”:
Soo Jin of “Mother”
Sometimes, our teachers or mentors can be our moms. They guide and teach us in the classroom but also prepare us for the real world. There are times when their care for us extends beyond the school. This is the case with temporary teacher Soo Jin (Lee Bo Young), who takes in an abused child as her own, healing her of both emotional and physical wounds.
Start watching “Mother”:
Jo Kang Ja from “Angry Mom”
Jo Kang (Kim Hee Sun) is a typical mom who’s experiencing issues with a rebellious teenager who won’t open up to her. She takes everything into her own hands by disguising as a high school student to uncover injustices in the school. She’s the kind of mom who would go through lengths to protect not just her daughter but every other teen who’s afraid to speak up against the wrongdoing of adults.
Start watching “Angry Mom”:
Kang Soon Duk of “It’s Okay to Not be Okay”
There’s nothing more comforting than a mother’s warm, home-cooked meal and wise words. This embodies Kang Soon Duk (Kim Mi Kyung), the mom of Joo Ri (Park Gyu Young), who works as a cook in the psychiatric hospital. She welcomes the two brothers Kang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun) and Sang Tae (Oh Jung Se) into her home and treats them like her real sons. She is often the one they go to for advice, and in the end, she makes them feel truly loved and cared for despite all challenges they face.
Hong Hyun Sook from “True Beauty”
Jang Hye Jin is also another recognizable actress who’s played a lot of memorable moms in K-dramas. In “True Beauty,” she plays Lim Ju Gyeong’s (Moon Ga Young) tough, hardworking mom who becomes the breadwinner of the family after her husband gets scammed. She often nags the family and is quite hard to please, but from her point of view it’s understandable because all she wants is to keep her family together and provide for them despite the hardships of operating a salon all by herself. At first, she is resistant to Ju Gyeong’s dream and has no clue about her daughter’s past as a victim of bullying, but once she knows, she is ready to fight for her at all costs. She is one of the people who sees Ju Gyeong’s “true beauty” even though she is tough on her at the beginning. She also has some of the most memorable lines in the drama!
Start watching “True Beauty”:
There are so many more unforgettable K-drama eommas that we can’t help but love, and sadly we can’t list them all! Who is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
DianneP_Kim is an English magazine and online editor based in South Korea. She is the author of a K-pop style book published by Skyhorse Publications, New York, and has recently released her second book about BTS. Check it out on Amazon, follow her on Instagram @dianne_panda, and subscribe to her YouTube channel at iwonderkorea!