Female Relationships In K-Dramas: A Couch Kimchi Roundtable
Last week, the Couch Kimchi team talked about bromances, and this week’s roundtable is dedicated to the ladies! Join us for a fun discussion about common female relationships in dramas and how we feel about them.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Friends vs. Rivals
Women Hating Each Other
The Evil Mother-in-law
The Best Friends
The Romantic Rivals
Mothers & Daughters
Favorite Female Relationships
Worst Female Friends
Female Character You Wished Were Your Friend
FRIENDS vs. RIVALS
Tessieroo: I’m most likely in the minority on this one, but I always prefer dramas that show strong female friendships, the kind where the women support each other. I’m not talking about the norm, with an intelligent female lead with her ditzy best friend or vice versa. I mean the type where the main girl and her friends are strong, smart, and have each other’s back. The relationship between the females in the “I Need Romance” series is a perfect example. These women all had their own careers and love lives, but they were there for one another even if they didn’t necessarily agree with the choices being made. Nobody was being sanctimonious and judgmental; at the most, there were teasing disagreements, but even then, the love and support was evident.
I loathe most of the female rivals that are shown in K-dramas because they’re usually life-sucking psychos. LOL. The only rival I can think of who didn’t go way over-the-top was Na Yoon (Wang Ji Hye) in “Protect The Boss.“ There were quite a few comments made during that drama about how nice it was to have a second lead who wasn’t a horrible, manipulative bitch.
Clockwatcher: I’m with you there, sister! For starters, we spoke about bromance last week, and if I’d realized this topic was coming next, I would have saved my comments then for this round table. LOL. But yeah, I think the female experience is vast and varied, and as a woman, I would much rather watch girlfriends who love each other which is probably why I enjoyed American shows like “Girlfriends” and “Sex and the City.” However, I think we are so accustomed to the two female leads being antagonistic that when they aren’t, shipper wars erupt, or was that unique to “Coffee House”?
Rinchan: “Coffee House” is a bit of an anomaly. At first, it appeared as though Seung Yeon (Ham Eun Jung) was the lead, then almost suddenly, the focus and the love line solidified and developed between Eun Young (Park Si Yeon) and Jin Soo (Kang Ji Hwan). What I liked was that it wasn’t a real love triangle, and Seung Yeon didn’t act like a scorned lover.
It doesn’t seem very common, but there are dramas that spotlight female friendships like “The Legendary Witch.” I am, however, expecting that there will be some clashing between some of the other female characters who are outside their click.
Tessieroo: Yes, the women in “The Legendary Witch” are bonding while in jail, but it’s interesting that they are all different ages, from different backgrounds, etc. Even though things started off a bit rocky, I love how they’ve begun looking out for each other. I’m looking forward to the long-lasting friendships that will form.
Rinchan: I also think its great because they have developed a family unit for the female protagonist, Soo In (Han Ji Hye), who is an orphan. Bok Nyeo (Ko Du Shim) is her mother figure and the other two cellmates assume the roles of the younger and older sister.
WOMEN HATING EACH OTHER
Tessieroo: I wonder why most supporting female leads are written as evil? I used to believe it was an old male fantasy: Men love the idea of two women pulling out each other’s hair over him, as though that somehow proves his virility or attractiveness. However, my recent discovery that the majority of writers are female blows that theory out of the water. Is it just too boring if the women get along?
Clockwatcher: I think a good example of the difference between how female and male relationships are treated in dramas can be seen in “The Heirs.” Young Do (Kim Woo Bin) and Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho) had their issues, but I’d say that the group of boys had a much more cordial relationship than the group of girls.
Getting back to your question … it isn’t too boring if women get along, but antagonism raises the drama quotient. We need antagonists for conflict, and there’s a very famous quote about a woman scorned, so, I suppose it’s easy to make the villain a woman. We also get her in various forms: mother-in-law, petty sister-in-law, former friend, romantic rival, oppa’s dongsaeng, etc. There seems to be an endless stream of female characters to play this role.
Tess, you’re watching “The Greatest Marriage,” right? In addition to the evil second lead and mother-in-law, we’ve even got the (somewhat) evil mom!
Tessieroo: Yep, the majority of the women on that show are evil except the main lead, which makes it hard for me to watch. There’s also Nurse Jung, a girlfriend, telling Yeon Hee, the wife, what a lousy job she’s done as spouse and mother, so, she should leave and let them be a happy family without her. What the heck? How is the mistress the injured party here? I can’t stomach women speaking to each other in disgusting ways, purposely trying to hurt the other, and if they’re fighting over a guy, then that really puts me off.
Rinchan: There are other times they’re not after the same guy, but one is vying for the other’s lifestyle and success, like in “Jang Bo Ri Is Here.” Min Jung (Lee Yu Ri) lied and stole so that she could claim the title of heir to Bi Seul Chae, which was basically the birth right of Bo Ri (Oh Yeon Seo). She even disowned her mother to get adopted into Bo Ri’s family while simultaneously hiding the truth about Bo Ri’s birth secret. It would be nice if these women can all live amicably, but in K-dramas, “there can only be one.”
Tessieroo: I honestly believed being a mean girl was just a load of garbage being fed to young girls since I’ve never once encountered a woman who was nasty with the sole purpose of hurting me or other women. I’ve since learned there are women like that out there. Have any of you ever encountered mean girls?
Clockwatcher: In ’90s American teen movies, the mean cheerleader was written to get her jock boyfriend stolen by the average protagonist. Anyway, have I met some mean-spirited women? Yes, but I’ve also met some mean-spirited guys. Some people just derive joy from watching other people suffer or fail. My high school didn’t have one mean girl, but there were certain cliques that were known for being meaner than others. It might be exaggerated, but I think it’s featured so prominently in fiction because it does exist. However, it’s not limited to only one gender.
Rinchan: I’ve run into a couple of mean girls in my life, but I also have the ability to recognize an inferiority complex when I see one. It also doesn’t hurt that I have a lot of friends to back me.
Mean people in general tend to pick on people who are weaker than them, like in “The Heirs” when Young Do bullied the scholarship student, Joon Young (Jo Yoon Woo). Eun Chang (Park Shin Hye) also had a bad time of it initially as Young Do shifted his focus on her, her vulnerability being pretty transparent. Even the rich and troublemaking Ye Sol (Jeon Soo Jin) was tormented by Rachel Yoo (Kim Ji Won). She submitted to Rachel’s punishment because she wasn’t as wealthy and her mom’s business wasn’t very reputable.
Tessieroo: There are so many mean girls in K-dramas that sometimes, I’m watching with my mouth open, just in shock at their antics.
Clockwatcher: But sometimes, that’s the fun part!
THE EVIL MOTHER-IN-LAW
Clockwatcher: Anyone unsure about marriage shouldn’t watch a Korean drama because the mothers-in-law will definitely scare them off. There are certain scenes that stick with you, and while this one isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of evil deeds, it stuck with me for some reason. It’s from the daily drama “One Million Roses,” starring Son Tae Young and Kim Seung Su. After a whole lot of drama (including parental disapproval), their characters, Hye Ran and Hyun Kyu finally get married. Well, mother-in-law pays an unexpected visit and catches her son cleaning the bathroom. You can imagine what her reaction was.
That made me think of not only how some women regard other women but also themselves. I can’t recall, but I think the daughter-in-law also worked outside the home; so, while it was okay for her to do chores, mother-in-law thought it was an insult for her son to clean the home he resides in.
Rinchan: The scene in “One Million Roses” reminds me of another from “You’re the Best, Lee Soon Shin!” Chan Woo (Ko Joo Won) was doing some household chores and his mother found out and became outraged. Interestingly, although she was good friends with Yoo Shin‘s mother, his mom was completely against their marriage. It was probably because the daughter of Chan Woo’s boss was interested in him, but his mom also realized Yoo Shin was a career woman, not a housewife.
K-drama mothers-in-law also seem to see marriage as a business deal and a way to elevate their image. They want a daughter-in-law who won’t just coddle their son. They want someone whom they can brag about and gain something from, and so, they always favor the second lead who has a better social status. In “Emergency Couple,” Yoon Sung Suk (Park Jun Geum) was obsessed with finding a daughter-in-law who not only had an impressive background but was also a doctor who would fit in to her rich family of respected physicians. Since Oh Jin Hee (Song Ji Hyo) couldn’t meet these requirements, she strongly disapproved of her son’s marriage to her.
Tessieroo: Most K-drama mothers seem to think their son is the most perfect man on earth, and he’s way above some elbow grease. LOL! It’s usually the mother-in-law who also turns a blind eye to her son’s cheating, then instead, blames her daughter-in-law for his infidelity. That makes me scratch my head. How is it her fault? Pffft. Just once, I’d love to see a mother-in-law smack the hell out of her own son and take her daughter-in-law’s side.
Rinchan: Does President Wang (Park Won Suk) from “Fated to love You” count? Technically, she is a grandmother-in-law, but any time Lee Gun (Jang Hyuk) did something against Mi Young (Jang Nara), she often took the young woman’s side.
Tessieroo: Thanks for reminding me! Yes, that’s very rare, and I loved President Wang for that.
THE BEST FRIENDS
Clockwatcher: We often have the best friend who, like Tess mentioned, is ditzy; she’s the comedic sidekick. Why do you think it’s rare to find best friends in prominent roles? Is it because of the nature of the “love square” and viewers not wanting to watch female best friends as romantic rivals?
Tessieroo: It’s almost as if the writer is saying these two women would not be friends if they were on the same level, so, one of them must be the dorky, stupid one. If they’re romantic rivals, then they’re set up from the beginning to dislike each other or jealousy enters the picture once the guy makes a choice. It’s like we’re being told women can’t be friends because jealousy will always be a thing. So annoying!
Rinchan: We have to remember that there is a lot going on in the drama. The writer can only provide so much development to each character before they go astray. Silly characters provide comedic relief for viewers, but they are still minor roles and do not contribute a great deal to the development of the story. It really depends on the trajectory of the drama. If the focus is on the main girl, her struggles, and her love story, then it will also be hard to fit in that other female character. However, it can be done. For example, in “One Percent of Anything,” the second female lead had her own fully developed storyline, and she was the best friend of the main female character. She was more than just a cheerleader or a shoulder to cry on, but the writers had 26 episodes to flesh out that character.
Clockwatcher: While I agree with your thoughts, I do like some of these lopsided friendships, with the best friend in a supporting role. For instance, I enjoyed the friendship between Hee Jin (Yoo In Na) and Soo Kyung (Ga Deuk Hi) in “Queen In Hyun’s Man,” but it might be I just found the latter girl funny. We also have friendships that turn sour like the best friends in “Dream High.” Also, in “My Love from the Stars,” the female leads pretended to be best friends, but one hated the other because she always played second fiddle. On the one hand, I think there was some sort of balance there because Song Yi (Jeon Ji Hyun) had a genuine friendship with Bok Ja (Hong Jin Kyung) who’d been her frenemy. I suppose the Hong Sisters like to depict this type of relationship because both “The Greatest Love” and “Master’s Sun” featured a current antagonist relationship borne out of a previous one. The ladies weren’t romantic rivals, but the supporting characters were jealous of the main leads due to their insecurity.
Tessieroo: I liked the close friendship between Se Na (Krystal) and Joo Hong (Lee Choi Hee) in “My Lovely Girl.” Joo Hee had her own boyfriend and her own life, but she was there whenever Se Na needed her. She also didn’t cast judgement on Se Na. No matter whom Se Na dated or what decisions she made, Joo Hong was ready with a warm bowl of soup for her. She was the perfect BFF.
THE ROMANTIC RIVALS
Clockwatcher: I think this is the most prominent female relationship in dramas despite it almost always being negative. The lead is never jealous because she’s probably in denial of her feelings in the first half a drama, but the second lead can’t stand that the object of her affection has eyes for another, so sometimes, she’s looking to be vindictive against the other woman. I think the relationship between Eun Ha (Kim Min Young) and Se Yi (Ha Yeon Soo) in “Monstar” might fit better under “best friends”; however, while Eun Ha idolized Sul Chan (Yong Joon Hyung) too much to consider him a romantic prospect, she began to punish her friend when she realized he was interested in her.
Tessieroo: It’s usually the psycho ex-girlfriend who refuses to let go and would rather they all die than to see the object of her affection with someone else. This woman will go to great lengths to manipulate a situation in her favor while attempting to destroy her rival. What most of them end up realizing (at the very end) is that even if the other woman were out of the picture, the guy would not have come to them.
There are the truly evil ones, such as Se Young (Choi Ji Woo) in “Temptation.” Just because she could or just because she paid for the sparkly shoes (stupid reason), Se Young thought it would be okay to steal Seok Hoon (Kwon Sang Woo) away from his wife, Hong Joo (Park Ha Sun). In “The Greatest Marriage,” Myung Yi (Uhm Hyun Kyung) has been on a very determined mission to tear down Gi Young (Park Si Yeon). Not only has she managed to win and marry the guy, it’s very likely she’ll attempt to take custody of Gi Young’s son, too. Both Se Young and Myung Yi are unredeemable to me; they’re deplorable.
Rinchan: Classic male leads do not submit to such temptations. Se Young could have been pummeling him with diamonds, and the classic male lead would rather be bludgeoned to death than cheat on his wife of ten years. Se Young could have done anything she wanted, but Seok Hoon should have refused her because he was the one who vowed to Hong Joo to honor their marriage. Se Young didn’t promise a thing. I feel men can’t be stolen; they voluntarily leave. However, I absolutely condemn Se Young’s actions. It is a funny idea that bad girl Se Young and the cheater Seok Hoon are the OTP while Hong Joo is the love rival. By default, Hong Joo was considered the ex that couldn’t let go, and so, the revenge plot. The writer must have thought the story had a great twist and realism, but really, the whole thing was just messed up.
Tessieroo: If you put it that way, then it makes me think the writer was even more insane than I originally thought. LOL!
Rinchan: And Myung Yi is definitely set up to be one of the most hateful characters on “The Greatest Marriage.” However, the writers might try to make us sympathize with her as she mourns her miscarriage. Of course, she will probably go back to scheming to stay in Tae Yeon‘s family. Did you catch it when her mother-in-law told the extended family they weren’t married but engaged?! That tells us that one wrong step and she’s out.
MOTHERS & DAUGHTERS
Clockwatcher: When done right, this can be the most touching relationship in the drama. A mother is an authority figure, but even keeping that in mind, there are many who go over the line.
Tessieroo: I agree. The relationship between Song Jung (Kim Mi Sook) and her three daughters in “Glorious Day” was lovely and touching. Their relationship’s akin to a friendship as she fully supported and adored her daughters. However, as you said, there are mothers who go overboard. There are some who will punish a disobedient daughter who isn’t doing what she wants, like Gi Young in “The Greatest Marriage.” Her mom has essentially disowned her, which is very sad.
Rinchan: The mother-daughter relationship is a double-edged sword. In “Two Mothers,” Bae Choo Ja‘s gambling causes them to lose the deed to their home, worsening her already bad relationship with her daughter. Still, their bond is undeniable. Even after distancing herself from her family, Bae Choo Ja’s daughter, Hwa Young (Lee Chae Young), becomes concerned when she learns her mother is sick and goes back home. Although she later finds out it’s a lie and despite blaming her mother for ruining her life, Hwa Young’s actions put on display her love for her.
Clockwatcher: Something similar is currently playing out in “Pride and Prejudice.” Yeol Moo‘s mother is still suffering from the loss of her child and embarrasses her daughter at every given turn. You can see how upset and disappointed she is with the way her mother treats and lashes out at her, and despite wanting to throttle her, we can’t deny the love between them.
FAVORITE FEMALE RELATIONSHIPS
Tessieroo: I liked the relationship between the women in “I Need Romance,” but I also loved Yoon Sol (Kim Seul Gi) and Yeo Reum (Jung Yumi) in “Discovery Of Romance.” When these two researched men by watching movies and dramas, of course, they came to the conclusion that men are insane. LOL. Best scene ever.
Clockwatcher: I liked the former prisoners in “Secret.” They’d survived hell together, and despite the disparity in their ages, they were close and supportive of each other.
Rinchan: Clock, I loved those women, too. It was great that even outside of prison, they didn’t have to be alone and could rely on each other. I also admire the relationship between Bom Yi (Sooyoung) and Se Na (Ga Deuk Hi) in “My Spring Day.” Even while everyone else thought Bom Yi was making bad choices, Se Na never judged her and remained loyal to her. Even in her last days, Se Na always stayed by her side, wishing her well.
The relationship between Kim Tan and Eun Sang’s mothers in “The Heirs” is also worth mentioning, as it ended up becoming one of the highlights of the series.
WORST FEMALE FRIENDS
Clockwatcher: Any friend who back-stabs goes in this category. In “49 Days,” In Jung was quite despicable.
Tessieroo: I forgot about her! I agree. In Jung pretended to be Ji Hyun‘s friend, putting on an act that she cared about her; In Jung was actually conspiring with the evil fiancé to con Ji Hyun and her family. Poor Jan Di (Goo Hye Sun) was also deceived in “Boys Over Flowers.” She truly believed Min Ji (Lee Si Young) was her friend until it was proven the latter was just cray-cray.
FEMALE CHARACTER YOU WISHED WERE YOUR FRIEND
Clockwatcher: Who’s the richest, most generous one? LOL.
Tessieroo: LMAO! None of us are rich or overly generous and you like us, right? RIGHT? LOL.
For me, it seems I look for the same thing in female friends that I look for in men: Someone who is kind, warm-hearted, but most important, someone who can make me laugh. I think I’d be good friends with Yoon Sol in “Discovery of Romance.” She’s a huge dork with whom I’d love to catch a movie. She’s brash but hilarious!
Rinchan: I will go for the genuine individual who is open about herself, accepting of my flaws, and of course, won’t betray me.
Clockwatcher: Drats! Now you guys have gone and made me look shallow. This is NOT what female friendship is about, ladies! However, on a more serious note, if I had to pick one woman as my friend, it would be Cha Song Joo (Han Go Eun) from “Capital Scandal” because she’s awesome. She’s a witty, caring, strong woman who will stick by you during hard times. Isn’t that what friendship is all about?
I think something we learned during this round table is that this topic was not as easy to discuss as we expected. Why aren’t women writing more interesting female relationships? Is it because women often play the “romantic interest” even when they are supposedly the lead? We love romance, but we like to see many facets of our lead girl explored, and one way to see that is through her numerous friendships and in particular, the emotionally satisfying relationships with the other women around her.
Thanks for being here today, and please join us again next week!