What Is Love in Korean Dramas? A Couch Kimchi Roundtable

Korean dramas have shown the viewers different facets, experiences, and emotional depth that helped us understand what love is. Everyone has their own definition of it. For today’s Round Table, we will explore the most common question all of us are eager to know more about: What is love?

Rinchan: Its the thing we are hard-wired to do. No man is an island, and humans live a long time. Love is that bond that keeps people together. It helps us accept each others faults and when we wonder why we are still with that certain someone, the first answer will be we love them and no one else.

Leila: I believe that love is more than a feeling but an experience that can be defined in various ways. There is no perfect answer for it. That’s where its mystery and magic lies. It’s amazing to have someone to experience love with.

Rinchan: One of the genres I love to watch in Korean dramas is Romance but do you feel as if that’s really love?

Leila: It is part of experiencing love. Romantic scenes excites us and everyone can relate to it, so we’re easily drawn in. The actors are key in making us feel the love too. The romantic ambiance in a scene helps them, but if there’s no love and chemistry between the OTP, nothing will make sense.

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Rinchan: I think that relatability is what keeps us so engaged; there is nothing like your OTP getting a happy ending after much hardship. Most certainly, it is important for the OTP to have great chemistry; it’s this chemistry that adds the extra emotion to the scenes. For example, in the drama “Empress Ki,” Ha Ji Won and Ji Chang Wook had great chemistry, and it spoke volumes when she rejected him. One time in particular was when she chose to be with her first love over Ji Chang Wook’s Ta Hwan, Ta Hwan asked her to kill him but she refused. He crumpled to the ground as she exited, and when she turned to look back at him, all you could see was a heartbreak that matched his own.

Leila: I think this explains why love is so powerful. Love provides emotions that are deeply rooted and the viewers can easily feel the pain or the joy it brings. It amazes me how love can make us feel all of these, and that we can relate to it somehow even without first hand experience. Love is diverse and I enjoy the process of developing love like how the story unfolds between the OTP.

RInchan: The process is always interesting but I find I like how the couple influences each other, and how they grow together because they love each other.

Leila: Agree. For example, it is interesting to see friends turn to lovers or fake relationships turn into a real one. The growth and the acceptance makes the OTP develop into the kind of character you’d fall in love with. It is through a process that we get to understand how love grows and see the difference it makes in every character.

Rinchan: I also like the symbolism of it all: how love can free you, or bring you to a point in life where you understand things differently. Through love, people are able to identify with one another, as exemplified by the countless chaebol-pauper lovelines.

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Leila: Love serves as an equilibrium, especially when Social Class is given importance. I’m not a fan of dramas that involve love of a chaebol that has to be separated because the woman is poor. Social standing shouldn’t be an issue.That’s why I love it when the drama shows that women can still live without a man’s provision. Even if they are poor, they can stand on their own and still love a man not because of money. When the highlight doesn’t involve money and instead focus on love, I’m all in. Just like what happened in “High Society.” Chang Soo and Ji Yi delved into this chaebol-ish plot the best way I imagined it to be. Ji Yi is a refreshing character for someone like Chang Soo. To see how love blossomed between the two in the most organic way is what made me love the SooJi couple to pieces.

Rinchan: This idea really matches with the times we are living in now. Women are capable of taking care of themselves and I often like watching a strong woman who can handle her business rather than running around crying “Oppa!”

Leila: So true! I hate the Oppa-ish connotation that highlights being the Alpha male stereotype.

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Rinchan: What’s worse are the women that use it to their advantage. Right now I am thinking of Mok Ji Won in “Warm and Cozy.”

Leila: I don’t like her character since she doesn’t know what real love is. If a woman will use a man to elevate her status, it is a wrong reason for love.

Rinchan: This is an example of how love can be harmful, but I don’t feel as though Gun Woo is in love with her. Tt seems more like an unhealthy attachment that formed on the day she comforted him in his moment of distress. Most often I feel these women are using an illusion of love and attacking vulnerabilities.

Leila: True. Gun Woo was vulnerable at the time he met Ji Won. He might have felt her concern at that moment that drove him to think he’s in love. I think Mok Ji Won was there because Gun Woo celebrated his birthday lavishly. She had a hidden agenda. Gun Woo held on to a love that is undeserving of his attention. Good thing things ended between them.

Rinchan: It is frustrating to watch, since she quite openly rejects him and he still goes back. When she approached him at the party, he seemed to be lonely. There is something about loneliness that seems to leave people open to such women.

Leila: I have read that one should not choose to love because you feel lonely.

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Rinchan: But quite often people do. Loneliness leaves you feeling empty, but love gives you a feeling of wholeness, security, and purpose. For example, in “Falling for Innocence,” Min Ho was a very lonely guy. His loved ones were dead, those around him were employees, and he only lived for revenge. He did not have much time left to live, but Soon Jung gave him a new outlook on life.

Leila: I can’t argue with that. Though, here’s what I believe. A person shouldn’t be with another to feel complete. Love is an important ingredient that binds two people to compliment each other. There is a difference between feeling incomplete and empty. I think one should know it when loving a person.

Rinchan: *standing ovation,* the confounding love equation is 1+1=1! One complete person meets another complete person, and they become one. A person that feels incomplete is not capable of properly loving someone else because the insecurity would drive them mad. When in a loving relationship, one must be able to compromise and show patience; however, incomplete people lack the capacity for both because they are at their stage in their life where they are too self involved.

What you claim holds true, a “complete person” who is mature and at the adult stage of development can feel empty, but an incomplete person must continue to work on themselves and their overall character.

Leila: Marriage Not Dating” is a favorite drama that I think captured this thought. The separation proved that their life is empty without the other. Hence Ki Tae’s chicken diet. He was trying to fill in the void Jung Mi left behind, besides the fact that he’s trying to help her out. He knows that her love is the only thing he needed to fill his life again. I hope I’m making myself clear here. Ki Tae is a typical male and his character proved that he doesn’t need a woman to feel complete. However, meeting Jung Mi meant having a love that he wants to have for a long time making their life much better together in it.

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Rinchan: That show truly convey how love can come out of no where; he didn’t even realize that he was in love with her until she was gone. The interesting thing is that he wanted to be alone; he thought he found pleasure in it.

This show exhibits a fun portrayal of how love works- if it wasn’t for Jang Mi, he would never have eventually confronted his mother and he wouldn’t have learned the truth that he was never alone in the first place. With love comes openness and it encourages a propensity for acceptance. This show goes beyond showing a romantic love but familial love as well.

Leila: Love starts in the family. Our parents are a prime example of unconditional love. The “Reply” series is a great example. Mom’s food spells love and showcased it with everyone, not only to her own family. Everybody felt the love that has the kind of warmth you would love to come home to everyday.

Rinchan: The parents of this series really show how integral parental love can be to the formation of a family, even if they started off as strangers in a boarding house. However, K-dramas quite often show people who have bad relationships with their parents and because of it can’t love properly or do not know how to show love properly.

Leila: True. How can you show and give love if you haven’t received any, even from your parents? I remember some dramas that highlighted the divorce of parents that affected the view on love and commitment badly. It has a strong effect when the parents damaged it. Though there are characters that show they can love better and won’t be like their parents.

Rinchan: Too bad things didn’t go so well for Bae Soo Bin’s character in “My Heart Twinkle Twinkle.” His character was as unscrupulous as his parents and the relationship between the two was quite poor. You could tell there was no loving bond between him and his mother, but that woman is admittedly hard to love. For example, he had to throw her in jail once because of her excessive gambling, but since it was his mother he made sure it was only a couple of months instead a couple of years. Sweet, right? LOL. He fell in love with a woman who was the total opposite of his mother, probably his ideal, but his love was obsessive and he ultimately had a hand in killing her father who opposed him, and tried to kill her sister who witnessed the whole thing.

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On the other hand, Byun Ji Sook and Min Woo of “Mask displayed how a person can learn from the failings of broken familial relationships. From a very young age, Min Woo believed that his father played a role in his mother’s, a mistress, death. He was raised to fight against his sister so he can gain acceptance and claim the top spot at his father’s company. The disfunction in his family and its negative effect translated into him developing OCD and going through with a contract marriage with Ji Sook, who he thought was someone else. Ji Sook, on the other hand, grew up poor, but raised in a wealth of familial love. She was supporting, accepting, and protective of him. Watching them love was so enjoyable because it was always fascinating to see how these two became so similar in their manner of loving. Both would openly worry about each other, yet try to hide their own hardship so the other doesn’t worry. Ultimately, Min Woo decided to be the man that would protect his family and love Ji Sook the way his father never did him or his mother. Ji Sook and Min Woo’s love for each other created stability in a destructive environment. They were each other’s sanity in that asylum they called a home.

Leila: I’m thinking who are the best one true pairing (OTP) that truly showed love and allowed you to experience it through them? Do you have an “all time favourite”?

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Rinchan:Love is a pretty complex thing to show and I think it goes beyond those cute fan service scenes, but I think “King 2 Hearts,” “My Spring Day,” and “Falling for Innocence” did a good job showing different facets of love. For me “King 2 Hearts” showed how love takes work; this couple had an arranged marriage and started it off literally as enemies (she was trained to potentially kill him if her country gave the order), but ultimately they became a couple with a solid foundation on which they could turn to each other when they need someone to lean on. “My Spring Day” illustrated how the smallest things can bring great happiness. There were no need for the extra frills that come with “romance”; simply appreciating the time you have with your love one can be so special. “Falling for Innocence” showed that you don’t need to be in a relationship to show love. Although Soon Jung was in denial, he was not forceful; he let her go and wished her happiness. then took things one step further by ensuring that she attained it by playing daddy long legs.

Leila: Top of mind for me is “Angel Eyes,” “Master’s Sun” and the “Reply” series. All of them changed my view on love. These dramas taught me that love isn’t superficial, you’ll love only ONE, love cast away fears, it gives courage to pursue a relationship, and sometimes you also have to learn to let it go.

Rinchan: In truth there is something about So Ji Sub and Lee Sang Yoon, because there is something in their gaze that is just smoldering. Haha. I thought Lee Sang Yoon had good chemistry with Kim So Eun in “Liar Game.” There was nothing romantic about that drama, but it felt like they needed to date.

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Leila: So Ji Sub elevated the romantic-comedy for me! Isn’t he too manly to be so giddily in love with Gong Hyo Jin? He was fun to watch as he falls more deeply in love. Lee Sang Yoon is the epitome of a perfect leading man. No wonder he was named the most ideal “first love” and the “husband material” type for all Koreans.

Rinchan: That’s the thing about So Ji Sub; he presents this ruggedly manly exterior that makes you forget pretty boys ever existed, then surprises you with his soft affectionate side that makes you fall for him all the more. Lee Sang Yoon’s smile is the most inviting thing ever. One flash of those pearly whites and you’ll be in heaven in the midst of an apocalypse.

Leila: Who has the best chemistry among all the romantic genre you have watched?? This will be tough! Haha

Rinchan: This is tough lol, but I would say Lee Soo Shin (IU) and Shin Joon Ho (Jo Jung Seok) from “You’re the Best Lee Soon Shin” mainly because their chemistry alone held the show together. When they were together their scenes ranged from heartfelt to super adorable.

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Leila: Park Si Yeon and Kang Ji Hwan are unique because they may have the least amount of romantic scenes and yet they’ve showed that they love each other even through their conversations. The most recent OTP I’ve enjoyed is Han Groo and Yeon Woo Jin. They are the extreme opposite and yet they compliment each other. Ki Tae’s weakness is Jung Mi’s strength. The level of understanding and commitment is remarkable. I’m also falling in love with Jo Jung Seok and Park Bo young of “Oh My Ghost.” They bring the kind of love that makes me happy. One day they are so aggressive and the next they’d be the happiest simply holding each other’s hand. I’m completely swooning over Jo Jung Seok. He made Sun Woo so endearing.

Rinchan: I love Jo Jung Seok’s ability to portray adorkable so well and still give us varying emotions. Sun Woo’s acceptance of Bong Sun, or at least who he thinks she is, makes their romance all the more sweet, after all how many men will go after a girl who is manic depressive and goes from moments of intense shyness to all out perversion. She can be a handful but we can see that he stays because he cares.

Another couple’s chemistry that can’t be denied is Won and Ha Na’s in “The Time We Were Not In Love.” Their relationship already has a sexual charge, but they are so in tune with each other it seems they were born to be together. They are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that irrevocably fit, and it’s hard for even their lovers to deny- everyone can see it but them, or should I say Ha Na. Even Cha Seo Hoo realized Won went beyond just a friend when Won could easily put a smile on Ha Na’s face after Seo Hoo was a no-show to their engagement party. Cha Seo Hoo described their familiarity and ease as being akin to breathing air.

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Leila: Love in k-dramas are presented to us in various of ways. Even if we have seen it hundreds of times already, we still want more! We can never be satisfied. LOL. Love makes everything so exciting. We are all anticipating from the moment it starts, how it develops, and the happiness it brings when the story ends. We can’t define love in one passing. Every k-drama has shown us what it means, and the years to come we’d still love learning more about it through the experience each character will bring.

For you, what is the K-drama that brought a different meaning of LOVE? Share it! Join us again for the next roundtable.