May-December Romance In K-Dramas: A Couch Kimchi Roundtable
Noona and oppa romantic relationships seem to be a standard in K-dramas. Every year, the networks roll out one or two, with either a rom-com or melo storyline, showcasing a female lead with a much younger leading man or vice versa. Since there are a couple of those airing right now, the Couch Kimchi ladies decided to discuss this issue.
THE APPEAL OF A MAY-DECEMBER ROMANCE
Clockwatcher: Generational gaps can be funny. Girls are often taught that they mature faster than boys, which is why women think that men their age are immature. Even though it’s becoming more commonplace in reality, there’s still a fantasy aspect of older women with younger guys, so, we like to see noonas go against the grain and stop fighting their feelings; likewise, we like to watch men stand up to society (and their parents) and date older girls.
Tessieroo: For me, it’s all about the chemistry – the sparks and sexual tension. If I don’t see it, then that tells me the actors themselves aren’t comfortable with the age gap. When I do see it, it helps me cheer for the OTP, no matter the age difference. I live in a society where the “dirty old men” thing was brought to my attention fairly young while the “cougar” idea is more recent. That might be the reason I’m okay with most noona relationships? I’m not sure; maybe it’s about woman power.
Goodange: I’m the same way, Tess. Regardless of the age, I always go by how good the couple looks together and if the story does a solid job of selling the attraction between them. I’m also for the empowerment of women. A month ago, I heard about a study that found that men in general (no matter how old) are hardwired to find women in their mid-20s the most desirable. So, be it in reality or fiction, when a smart, kindhearted, and beautiful older woman catches the attention of a younger man, it’s impressive to me. Romance is not a one size fits all.
Clockwatcher: Yeah, awhile ago I read something similar, that men from 15 to 45 all like girls in their 20s. LOL. It’s kind of silly and sad. I don’t know if an older woman dating a younger man is about empowerment, though, because there’s also a difference in their dynamics. Society has taught women to lean on their man or even submit to them which many find difficult to do with a younger man. But I think because of societal norms, it is nice to see younger men find older women attractive, even if society in general thinks that he shouldn’t.
Goodange: Yeah, I understand. There is that long-standing tacit understanding that women should only be with people the same age or older. It seems much more acceptable for men to be with younger women than the other way around, which I think the entertainment industry has had a hand in propagating. So, what I find empowering is some women past their 30s are no longer complying with the double standard and without any agenda, just by following their heart, they’re sending a message that they’re just as attractive as women in their 20s.
Tessieroo: So, if men prefer a woman in her 20s, what happens when I hit 30? Does that mean it’s all over? *Sigh.* I need to avoid reading whatever you guys are reading. LMAO.
Goodange: LOL. Tess, you have great genes. You still look very young! I’m sure when you hit your 30s, you’ll look like you’re in your 20s.
Clockwatcher: Well, once you hit your 30s, Tess, you can simply embark on your own noona-romance. �de00
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE APPEAL OF A MAY-DECEMBER ROMANCE
NOONA ROMANCE vs. OPPA ROMANCE vs. AJUSSI ROMANCE
THE PITFALLS OF MAY-DECEMBER ROMANCES
REAL vs. REEL AGE DIFFERENCES
OUR FAVORITE MAY-DECEMBER COUPLES
FANTASY MAY-DECEMBER PAIRINGS
WE’D LIKE TO SEE MORE OF WHAT?
NOONA ROMANCE VS. OPPA ROMANCE VS. AJUSSI ROMANCE
Clockwatcher: Noona romance is more fantasy or wish-fulfillment while oppa romance is more common and “normal” in most societies. Ahjussi romances can be disturbing and is what most people reject, especially with the stereotype that men like much younger girls because they are easier to dominate and control. So, there’s nothing really special about a man dating a woman who’s six years younger because that’s really common and if anything, the character who wants the oppa relationship is the second lead childhood friend who turns evil when she realizes her oppa is in love with someone else. So, when it comes to romances where age is a factor, many people prefer the noona romances in which no one thinks the younger man is being taken advantage of; he is even considered broad-minded or daring for dating an older lady. To be honest, I’m getting more depressed thinking about this and how significant age is in determining a woman’s attractiveness to the opposite sex.
Back to dramas, what I don’t like about ajussi romances is casting young idols against men much older than they are, and then, not following through on the sexual aspect of the romance. I think this is because the idol’s fans are vocal about their displeasure in seeing her with an old dude.
Tessieroo: I know. I got depressed earlier, Clock, but you’re right. The viewers do not want to see their female bias kissing some old guy… No, just no. I think it comes down to who the man is: Are we talking about acting opposite Rain (who is 12 years older than his current leading lady) or Kam Woo Sung (who is 20 years older than his leading lady)? Does the number of years matter? Does it depend on chemistry or is it all about who the actors are?
I love the idea of noona romances. There’s a suggestion that she’s more experienced and can teach her (potential) young lover a thing or two. *Winks* It’s both fascinating and rewarding to me when she finally gives in to those feelings. Noona actresses are also usually okay with very passionate kissing scenes and don’t do the dead fish kiss.
Goodange: The fact that Rain can still pass for a person in his 20s might make it more acceptable than Kam Woo Sung who does look his age.
Men falling for younger women has been so common on screen. Even in the earlier days of Hollywood, actors were always being paired up with younger actresses, like Fred Astaire with Leslie Caron in “Daddy Long Legs” or Gary Cooper with Audrey Hepburn in “Love in the Afternoon.” However, even Cary Grant became wary of the “dirty old man” image (probably because he tended to be in relationships with women who were young enough to be his daughters) that when he agreed to do “Charade” with Audrey Hepburn, he asked that her character be the one to pursue him. None of those pairings ever bothered me. However, upon further reflection, I think Hollywood glamorized the idea of young women with older lovers because the men were usually rich, debonair, and worldly. They had the wisdom and the financial means to fulfill the lives of their younger counterparts; conversely, the young female leads had the ability to be the only ones to tame them. I would liken Lee Beom Soo and YoonA‘s characters in “The Prime Minister and I” to those types of Hollywood leads.
Noona romances seem to reflect the cougar movement, and I agree with Tess. I like the suggestion that noonas can teach an inexperienced younger guy some things;). And it is too bad that Yoon Eun Hye couldn’t have used her skills on Seung Ho and Yonghwa. With her fantastic reputation as good kisser, they could have learned something from her. LOL.
Clockwatcher: But in Korean dramas, the noonas don’t usually teach the guys much. The ladies of “What’s Up Fox?” and “Dalja’s Spring” were inexperienced before they met their guys. The woman in “I Need Romance 3” wasn’t inexperienced in love but was a complete mess and needed the younger guy to lead her. Romantic dramas are all about couples overcoming obstacles, and I think viewers like watching the characters get over their age prejudices because it’s something we all wish we could do.
Goodange: True, though I don’t mind watching a cable drama where a noona could be a “guide” in the bedroom. LOL.
THE PITFALLS OF MAY-DECEMBER ROMANCES
Clockwatcher: As much as I love noona romances, I wonder if there’s a limit. How big of a gap is too big? In reality, many women would balk at dating a man five years younger, so, using such an age difference in dramas makes sense. However, as they’ve become more typical, the difference has begun to widen to create a more believable obstacle; on the other hand, how many of us can believe that a 36-year-old woman would want to settle down with a 21-year-old? And how many people really think that they would work out? It’s like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher getting married, and then him eventually ending up with a younger woman (for now). We don’t know the intimate details of their relationship and why it didn’t work out, but it’s the ending most expect for this sort of May-December relationship.
Tessieroo: Very true. I was sad their marriage didn’t work, but I can’t say it was a surprise. I remember thinking he might eventually want children and Demi was already past that age. I could see a 36-year-old woman dating a 21-year-old for a year or two, but I can’t picture it as a longterm.
Goodange: Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his wife haven’t been together long, but they already have two daughters. I think he was only 19 and she was already in her 40s when they hooked up. Somehow they’ve made it work. Who knows if it will last, but he comes across as being very mature. Meanwhile, I’m not sure Ashton and Demi were ever on the same level of maturity because I also remember thinking that she seemed to be trying to match his sophomoric behavior. It came across as though she was dumbing down her maturity to fit his. Despite the age difference, the maturity of the partner certainly plays a role in the success or the collapse of a relationship.
Clockwatcher: I think you can even see this play out a little in “The Greatest Marriage.” The relationship between Park Si Yeon and No Min Woo‘s characters was written to fail, and despite there not being a huge age gap, you can see how different their levels of maturity are. Hence, for successful relationships, the writers need to make sure that despite the age disparity, both characters are at a similar maturity level, or if they aren’t, it’s actually a positive where the younger one encourages the older one to be more daring and less rigid.
Goodange: Both of your observations seem to be on point. They correspond with the hypotheses of the Finnish scientists who conducted the study we mentioned. They believe that women like men closer to their age or older because of the kind of resources they can provide that a regular young man who’s just starting out in the world can’t. On the one hand, it is believed that men’s attraction to women in their 20s is biological; it’s the age range when women are most fertile, allowing for men to expand their lineage.
Clockwatcher: I think with dramas, even though we all want to believe we aren’t prejudiced, most of us are all right with May-December relationships as long as the actors don’t physically look too far apart. Great writing and chemistry can overcome it, but the operative word here is “great.” I think this is why someone like Song Seung Heon can easily be paired with younger actresses. Even if the drama sucks, many wouldn’t attribute it to the age difference because it’s easy to believe that a 19-year-old girl could fall for him.
Tessieroo: This is what I’ve been saying about “My Lovely Girl.” It’s so easy for me to understand why the lead female is falling for the older guy instead of the kid who is around her own age.
REAL VS. REEL AGE DIFFERENCES
Clockwatcher: This might be in line with what was previously mentioned, but I think sometimes, real life might make reel age difference romances more or less palatable. For example, “Flower Boy Ramyun Shop” features a teacher and a high school student, but the actors are only two years apart in reality. The story is between a high school kid and a woman in her twenties in “King of High School,” but I think it was acceptable to some because Seo In Guk is well into his twenties. The reverse is true for Do Hee and Kim Sung Kyun; their 14-year age gap became an inside joke because her character was two years older than his in “Reply 1994.” International fans enjoyed the hot kiss between Yeo Jin Goo and Ha Yeon Seo in “Potato Star 2013QR3,” but I heard some domestic fans weren’t so keen on it. Even though their characters were the same age on the show, he was underage in real life.
Tessieroo: There’s always that fine line. If either of the actors are underage, then it’s uncomfortable for everyone. Look at “High School Love On.” The main actor is 23 years old in real life while Kim Sae Ron is only 14 years old; that gives people the ickies. LOL. Both are supposed to be around 18 in the drama, but her real life age is just something viewers can’t get out of their heads.
Goodange: There’s no other way to put it: It’s gross! It’s disturbing that with the amazing popularity, talent, and the ever-blooming prettiness of these underage actors, the industry seems impatient for them to grow up. I wouldn’t be surprised if as soon as she turns 18, Kim Yoo Jung becomes a romantic leading lady for Lee Min Ho, Kim Soo Hyun, or someone so much more advanced in age than those two. Producers, casting agents, or directors might think that it’s enough that the story resolves the age difference, but really, when the viewers watch the show, they’re just overwhelmed by the idea of the creepy reality. The viewing experience is basically ruined.
Tessieroo: The only one that didn’t work for me was “Secret Love Affair,” but I still can’t exactly explain why. I know the initial connection between Hyo Won (Kim Hee Ae) and Sun Jae (Yoo Ah In) was their music, and I had felt that, but when they got close, it became less believable. It’s very strange because I definitely saw chemistry in their Elle pictorial, which was done around the same time the show aired!
Clockwatcher: I’ve already mentioned this drama as a plus, but there were some people who couldn’t deal with the age difference portrayed on “King of High School.” This was another drama where the woman was older but the younger man was more mature and put in a position of authority over her. Regardless of their dynamic, he was underage, which ruined it for some.
One that I remember as not being particularly successful was “Oh! My Lady.” I liked it okay, but the chemistry was lacking. I’ll also say “The Prime Minister and I” didn’t work out. While international fans liked it, something must have gone wrong because the plot seemed to change halfway through to accommodate audience sentiment. “How To Meet A Perfect Neighbor” is an ahjussi romance that flopped given that it switched the romantic pairing halfway through. I liked “My Fair Lady,“ but lots of people had a problem with it. Was it the plot or just that people preferred to see Yoon Eun Hye with a leading man with fewer wrinkles?
Goodange: Aww. I actually liked “Oh! My Lady.” I just kept wishing for Chae Rim‘s hairstyle to improve to help her chemistry with Choi Siwon. LOL. “How To Meet A Perfect Neighbor” is a perfect example of an ahjussi romance that didn’t work out. It was one of those few times that production heard the audience preference, and so, they swapped Bae Doo Na‘s love interest from Kim Seung Woo to Park Shi Hoo.
Tessieroo: I agree with “Prime Minister and I.” I watched that one and it was fun to watch the bickering, teasing, and flirtation between Lee Beom Soo and YoonA. However, it was also the one time in a drama I didn’t want to see the leads kiss!
OUR FAVORITE MAY-DECEMBER COUPLES
Tessieroo: My favorite would have to be Shin Joo Yeon (Kim So Yeon) and Joo Wan (Sung Joon) in “I Need Romance 3.” Although it was somewhat disturbing when she mentioned changing his diapers when they were younger, the chemistry between these two was off the charts, and I ended up cheering for them. I also loved Ban Ji Yeon (Uhm Jung Hwa) and Yoon Dong Ha (Park Seo Joon) in “A Witch’s Romance.” They were adorable. I love it when the female character is the aggressive one, like when she licked her lips and purred for him to kiss her during the beer kiss. I lost it!
Clockwatcher: I really enjoyed “Dalja’s Spring,” but I like it as a whole, so, I don’t know if it’s the romance itself that got me. Meanwhile, I became Park Hae Jin‘s fan because of his character’s relationship with Lee Tae Ran‘s in “The Infamous Chil Sisters.” They had such a sweet, beautiful relationship.
I still haven’t finished watching “I Can Hear Your Voice,” but I feel like someone should mention it. LOL. I got annoyed by the legal aspects of the drama, but you could understand why many people fell in love with them: She was headstrong, and he was a match for her. Even though we don’t get a lot of it in dramas, I think viewers like to see the woman take a leadership role in some way.
Despite it not being the best drama in the world, I also like “Snow White.” It was another drama about a girl who needed guidance, but I felt that that fit the story very well, and the OTP learned a lot from each other. Of course, their chemistry was also great.
My favorite oppa romance is from “Reply 1994.” Their chemistry was a delight, and while the younger female lead was the one hopelessly in love with her oppa, she was still able to teach him a few things.
Goodange: The roles of Hyun Bin and Kim Sun Ah on “My Lovely Samsoon” top my list. *Smiles.* Outwardly, Binnie’s Sam Shik was more polished whereas Sun Ah’s Sam Soon was uncouth, but other than her age, her experiences gave her a very mature outlook on life. I think her wisdom was one of many things that attracted him to her, and it’s one of the reasons I also like “Flower Boy Ramyun Shop.” Of course, the sexual tension between Jung Il Woo and Lee Chung Ah‘s characters was also riveting. And although I’ve never seen “Big Man,” I thought Jung So Min with Kang Ji Hwan was exciting, and apparently, it worked for some viewers, too.
FANTASY MAY-DECEMBER PAIRINGS
Tessieroo: I want a repeat of Yoon Eun Hye with Yoo Seung Ho, but with him as her leading man on their next project.
Goodange: Since seeing her in a CF with So Ji Sub, I’ve always wanted Jung So Min to be cast opposite lots of older veteran actors. She’s someone who seems to pull off a chemistry with any actor regardless of age, but I would love to see her coupled up with Lee Jin Wook and/or Lee Dong Wook. She was very charming and witty during her “rebellious” improv with those two on “Strong Heart.” She’s already worked with their best bud Kim Ji Suk in a drama special, so, I hope she gets to try out the other two. I am living vicariously through her. LOL.
I’d also add Shim Eun Kyung to my short list of actresses whom I’d like to see opposite Lee Jin Wook. Their age gap is huge, but notwithstanding her performance in “Tomorrow Cantabile,” she’s an exceptional actress and displayed it so in “Miss Granny.” It’s one of those times that the acting and the story worked so well that you forget about their actual age difference. It’s funny because in the film she’s a senior citizen who physically changed back into her young self, and during her temporary youthful phase, Lee Jin Wook’s character began to fall for her. They were cute together, and it was adorable how he found her old soul and frank thoughts on sex quirky but endearing. She was a charming oddball to him. LOL. Anyway, I’d like to see them in an oppa romance project.
Clockwatcher: It’s rarer to find a noona romance between a woman in her 40s and a man in his 30s, so, I would like one like that with maybe starring Kim Sung Ryung with Won Bin.
Goodange: LOL. I remember when you initially wanted her with Choi Jin Hyuk in “The Heirs,” but I would actually enjoy that kind of noona romance, too. Maybe with Lee Jun Ki as the lead.
Clockwatcher: Yes, I’m still pissed we didn’t get that! Instead he was in a relationship that went nowhere.
WE’D LIKE TO SEE MORE OF WHAT?
Clockwatcher: I don’t really think we need more of these pairings because even when the character is 400 years old, producers can still find a way of making it a noona romance. LOL. I really do prefer it when the woman isn’t just older but also more established, confident and comfortable in her own skin. I think that’s when the dynamic is truest and the age barrier has more of an impact.
Tessieroo: I’d like to see more of those types of leading ladies period! I’m over the female lead who is a 30-year-old woman but has never dated or even kissed; it’s just silly. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but it’s pretty rare to me. I don’t mind the idea that they’re older yet naive or unfamiliar with feelings of love (like Shin Joo Yeon in “I Need Romance 3”), but that shouldn’t mean they freak out when the guy kisses them. So, I agree, when she’s established, confident, and comfortable with her own sexuality is when it works best for me.
Goodange: Whether it’s a noona, oppa, or ajussi romance, I also want a strong and successful (though not necessarily rich) female lead. I don’t mind her being quirky and still be vulnerable, but over all, I want her to leave the impression of having her ducks in a row and having immense self-esteem and self-respect. If there’s a story that involves such a female who happens to be more put together than her leading man, then, I want to see his character evolve to overcome his insecurity with that fact.
I would also like to see underage actors with romantic interests who are of similar age to them in real life. There’s no need to rush their on screen maturity by partnering them up with older actors that they elicit ickiness despite a good show.
Clockwatcher: When it comes to age difference dramas, noona romances rule. Age as an obstacle can be great when done well because most of us can relate to it. The chemistry between the actors is important, but most of all, we love watching two people of different generations help each other grow to become their best selves. Now, tell us about your favorite age difference couples and join us next time when we’ll be discussing second lead syndrome!