Why We Love Bromances: A Couch Kimchi Roundtable
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Harold and Kumar. Crown Prince Sohyeon and his Musketeers. Ahhh, bromance! We enjoy it as much as watching the OTP kiss, and K-dramaland has some of the most memorable ones!
Come and join our roundtable as the girls of Couch Kimchi study the charm of bromances and gush over our favorites.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What attracts viewers to bromances?
Why are bromances more appealing than sistermances?
What makes a bromance work for you?
Surviving a love triangle
What we would like to see in the future
WHAT ATTRACTS VIEWERS TO BROMANCES?
Leila: Bromance is a word I discovered watching Korean dramas. It’s a different kind of love. It draws the audience’s attention because they are as sweet as the OTP in a drama.
Clockwatcher: It’s certainly not limited to Korean dramas given how popular the “buddy cop” genre has been. I think it’s because we get to see men in healthy, fun relationships without the hidden agenda of wanting a physical relationship. It’s pure love without strings – an unconditional love that is rare to find in romantic relationships. In dramas, the central romance is usually dramatic; it’s full of angst and complications, so we like it balanced with a fun, stress-free relationship that also gives us a glimpse of another facet of our male lead’s character.
Goodange: I completely agree, and because we also often see male rivals act like jerks to each other, it’s a relief when there are guys who are shown getting along, being goofy together, and inspiring each other. I really get a kick out of seeing men bond in a way that we’re more used to seeing between women like in “Discovery of Romance” when Director Yoon (Lee Seung Jun) had to feed Kang Tae Ha (Eric) because he was crippled by his breakup with Han Yeo Reum (Jung Yu Mi); he was kind of a mother to him in that moment.
Leila: The tandem of male characters might be so dynamic that on occasion, I look forward to their scenes more than the OTP’s. LOL. I remember the great chemistry between Yoo Ah In and Song Joong Ki‘s characters in “Sungkyunkwan Scandal.” KBS even awarded the actors the Best Couple Award in 2010.
Clockwatcher: Yes, sometimes, the bromance is more interesting and chemistry-charged than a typical romance. “School 2013” featured one such bromance. Other times, it might even overshadow the romance like in “Cruel City” as fans were more interested in the friendship between Paksa (Jung Kyung Ho) and Kim Hyun Soo (Yoon Hyun Min) than his romance with Han Soo Min (Nam Gyu Ri).
Leila: I haven’t watched “School 2013” in full, but I did hear about the chemistry between Lee Jong Seok and Kim Woo Bin. I watched one scene, and it felt like a break up as the guys cried and went their separate ways.
Goodange: Off-camera, I don’t think they have to worry about any drama breaking them up. It’s awesome that they are good friends in real life.
WHY ARE BROMANCES MORE APPEALING THAN SISMANCES?
Clockwatcher: I think it’s because bromances are loved by both genders while sismances are enjoyed mainly by women. In Hollywood, bromances are often comedies while sismances are labeled “chick flicks” even when they are comedies. Korean dramas often focus on a romantic relationship between a man and a woman, but even then, you rarely have two female friends as lead and second lead. The lead might have a funny best friend who gives her advice, but we need two, solid characters to get invested in their relationship. Despite the vast majority of writers being women, I think male characters are often better written than female ones. As a result, it’s rare to find several well-written female characters with a strong connection and engaging dialogue.
Goodange: Clock, there are those certain kinds of sismances that are a part of some men’s fantasies, but I digress. LOL.
Clockwatcher: LOL. Yeah, let’s not go there. Though it is funny that you mention that because in several fandoms, women are into slash relationships between male characters. I have to say that from a Western perspective, the men are a lot more touchy-feely in dramas than we’re used to. So, perhaps another reason we love bromances is that for a while, we get to see hot guys feel each other up while the writer is being stingy with the skinship from the main romantic couple. Or is it just me?
Goodange: I’ve read on a lot of blogs that in Korean culture, there’s no stigma or homoerotic interpretations attached to these public displays of affection between the same sex. So, K-dramas reflect the social norms regarding physical closeness between men.
Leila: Seeing female bonding is normal; there’s nothing special about it. When it comes to the guys, I get a different feeling. It seems like there’s more to explore in their relationship when I see them bonding.
Clockwatcher: I have to disagree with you. I think seeing male bonding is also normal, and society even deems those relationships more supportive and long-lasting than female friendships. There’s this idea that many women give up their friendships when they get into serious romantic relationships while men retain theirs. However, the nature of their bonding is different. Society discourages men from expressing their feelings, so for example, while it’s normal to see two female friends crying together, one might raise an eyebrow if they see two male friends doing the same thing. Hence, the intimacy between two men in a bromance is still different from what we see in female relationships on screen. Not that I agree with this, but the perception is that women might hold grudges while men can easily move past their issues over a cold beer. According to the movie “Love Story,” “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” and that’s how bromances are written, which makes them very appealing.
Goodange: Female bonding is always special, and because we’re women, we’re just more used to it, but men connecting with each other is just as common. I do get what Leila is saying: Sistermance and bromance produce different viewing experiences for the female audience. Perhaps one of the reasons bromances might seem more appealing to a female viewer is due to women’s inherent emotional curiosity about the mysteries of the opposite sex. The adorable, touching interactions between the male characters in dramas somewhat fill in the blanks for us. Guys bond over sports talk, but we do wonder if they have the same emotional discussions that women have when they’ve got personal troubles? Do they cry around their guy friends? We’d like to think so, and watching a bromance is like seeing big, tough men softening up and acting like giddy three-year-olds when they’re in cute puppy heaven; witnessing the moment makes us feel fuzzy inside. Like Clock said, in general, men have been taught to suppress their feelings, so, male characters shedding their cool and having a heart-to-heart might seem like an extraordinary occurrence.
In “Misaeng,” the office culture is overrun by men, and in front of their colleagues, they’re viewed as tenacious and hot-tempered especially under pressure, occasionally giving in to physical violence. However, those scenes are balanced by private rooftop moments between the male leads, with one giving sage advice to another.
Leila: Yes, true. It is normal to see guys hanging out, and I enjoy the fun they have when they’re being drunk together. It’s also when they’re getting wasted that they’re the most straightforward about their feelings. As long as it’s not an R-rated male bonding moment that will make me cringe, give me lots of bromance!
WHAT MAKES A BROMANCE WORK FOR YOU?
Clockwatcher: Love, for starters. A pivotal moment in a romance is the confession, but with bromances, actions speak louder than words. “The Three Musketeers” is a recent drama with tons of male bonding. We get to see the longterm friendship between the prince and his loyal guards and the budding one with Dal Hyang (Jung Yonghwa). They joke around, but they also go to great lengths to protect each other. I love bickering between couples, and bromances have them in spades, so, that’s probably another reason I like them.
Leila: For me, a true bromance between male friends is complete acceptance of one another. In “Reply 1997,” Yoon Jae (Seo In Guk) was initially confused when he learned that Joon Hee (Hoya) was in love with him, and instead of running away from the friendship, he respected his best friend’s feelings. That was a defining period in their relationship that underscored their enduring bond.
Goodange: I am a sucker for gruff men demonstrating their gentle side through actions. I’m especially affected when two male characters who have a long-established animosity toward each other have a moment of solidarity, like Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho) and Choi Young Do (Kim Woo Bin) had in “The Heirs.” They were former BFFs whose mutual hatred [between them] sometimes translated into physical fights, but as their relationship gradually improved, they covered each other’s back. In one scene when Kim Tan’s dad shut him in the house, Young Do helped him to break out. Maybe Young Do did it for Cha Eun Sang (Park Shin Hye), but it’s a nice thought that it was his deep-seated affection for Kim Tan that compelled him to help.
SURVIVING A LOVE TRIANGLE
Clockwatcher: What’s a Korean drama without a love triangle? In some dramas, close relationships between friends, siblings, cousins, etc. are tested when a woman comes between them. Perhaps because of this, sistermances don’t do as well; many think that kind of relationship can’t survive a love triangle?
Goodange: This wasn’t much of a love triangle in “The Man Who Can’t Get Married,” but the sisterly friendship between Jeong Yu Jin (Kim So Eun) and Jang Mun Jeong (Uhm Jung Hwa) was tested when the younger one developed a crush on Jo Jae Hee (Ji Jin Hee). When she found out that Mun Jeong and Jae Hee actually had a thing for each other, Yu Jin was understandably crushed. It was awkward for the two women, but as I hoped, they made up. It might not be common, but once in a while, a drama pulls through for the audience, allowing women to be portrayed as being above the cattiness.
Leila: I think there is nothing much to add to a story when it involves sismances, particularly since K-dramas are pretty much woman-centric. I appreciate female characters overcoming hardships and career-driven women exhibiting confidence, but their relationships with their female friends aren’t presented in a similar manner as bromances.
Clockwatcher: “I Need Romance” is a drama that focuses on female relationships. “The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry” and “Dalja’s Spring” are a couple more. I think a lot can be explored in writing about sismances, particulary if they aren’t limited to their quest for love. However, as you mentioned, a large percentage of drama viewers are women, and typically, we enjoy the fantasy of two great guys who are both loyal to each other and the heroine, and more specifically, it’s less acceptable for us to see two female friends fighting over one man (betrayal) than two men fighting over the same woman (fantasy). Speaking of which, another reason we love some bromances is that the men’s relationship is so strong that even a woman can’t break it. Even if they initially battle for her, there is enough respect and love between them that one eventually backs off when he realizes he doesn’t have her heart, and in the end, he still remains friends with his bestie. However, I have to say I prefer that the male friends’ romantic interests don’t cross. I think it’s better if they can be friends without the added complication of loving the same woman.
Goodange: I also prefer when the boys have separate love interests, but even if they intersect, then of course, I want to see the bromance bear up against the hard feelings. In “Glorious Day,” it was brothers who had fallen for the same girl, but Seo Jae Woo (Lee Sang Woo) and Seo In Woo (Kim Hyung Kyu) quickly worked things out. Their ability to reconcile their misunderstandings speaks so much of their closeness and familial devotion. It was also comforting because in other dramas, the strife would have played out for several episodes.
Clockwatcher: I can’t think of a single instance where the bromance didn’t work out. Am I the only one?
Leila: Bromances always work!
Clockwatcher: I was disappointed with the potential bromance in “Monstar.” It wasn’t because the actors didn’t have chemistry, but because they were childhood best friends whose relationship went sour, and they were unable to regain their friendship by the end of the drama. On the upside, the actors became very close in real life.
Goodange: There was the one-off bromance between Yeo Reum’s ex-boyfriend and current love in “Discovery of Romance.” Loads of alcohol and belting out songs at a norebang made Tae Ha and Nam Ha Jin (Sung Joon) forget about their intense rivalry for a night, turning them into best buds and Yeo Reum the third wheel. LOL. However, it was like a one-night stand because once sober, the bonding moment was something they regretted; the morning after, they were awkward around each other. The bromantic scenes were fun, but in the context of the story, it wouldn’t have made sense for their momentary connection to evolve into a longterm friendship.
Clockwatcher: I really liked Haitai (Son Ho Joon) and Sam Cheon Po (Kim Sung Kyun) in “Reply 1994.” They were really hilarious together, and I liked how they started off on the wrong foot but ended up finding common ground. The gang in “A Gentleman’s Dignity” were awesome, too, and I don’t think one can truly be bromantic with an authority figure, but I’m enjoying the promising friendship between Geu Rae and Manager Oh in “Misaeng.”
Leila: I love Sam Cheon Po! His friendship with Haiti had a rough beginning, but being roommates, we got to witness some growing brotherly love.
Goodange: Right now, I am obsessed with “Misaeng,” and if I’m rooting for an OTP to kiss in other dramas, then, I’m hoping there will be a hug and a good crying session between Manager Oh and Geu Rae. They’re my favorite couple, second only to the main Sam Soon (Kim Sun Ah) and Sam Sik (Hyun Bin). They have a bromance that has a surrogate father-son dimension. Manager Oh has become Geu Rae’s father figure who gives him lessons that are clearly shaping his young life.
WHAT WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE IN THE FUTURE
Clockwatcher: I think bromances work so there’s nothing I would like to change. If anything, I would like to have more sismances instead of the antagonistic, competitive female relationships that dramas often prefer to portray. I think women can be fun and chill, too, so I would like to see our friendships portrayed this way as well.
Leila: A drama won’t receive much ranting from me as long as I love the guys on screen. LOL.
Goodange: I agree with Clock, but my wish is different. I’d like to see more bromance-centric shows, and I really hope tvN revives its “Flower Boy” series. The first three installments of the franchise had some of the best bromances, particularly since they were replete with pretty boys, but I think what partly hooked viewers to them was that in each one, the guys, along with the female lead, formed an unconventional family unit and made sacrifices for each other. And in real life, isn’t that what friends are to us? They’re our second family.
Like sistermance, a bromance is meaningful, and they move us because it’s genuine [platonic] love between male friends. We especially appreciate them because often times, they provide a comedic relief from the angst straining the central couple’s romance.
This roundtable could run up to pages, but sadly, this is it for now. However, chime in with your thoughts on the topic and on your favorite male friendships! And like good pals, let’s hang out again, and next time, we’ll talk about female relationships in K-dramas.