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June 23, 2012

10 Obstacles to Love in Korean Drama

Wherever there is romance in Korean drama, there are obstacles, and lots of them. Here are 10 common (but temporary) obstacles to love in Korean drama:

1). Your Dad Killed My Dad. Rarely fazes determined young lovers, but is a real deal-breaker for their families. Luckily, the murder always turns out to be an unfortunate accident, or was actually committed by somebody else. Sometimes dad even turns out not to be dead.

2). Your Dad IS my Dad. AKA “Omo, you’re my half-sibling!”
Usually (but not always) the audience knows all along that the apparent incest is a misunderstanding, or a plot by an opponent of the romance. However, it gives the lovers a few episodes of severe angst and guilt, since they either refuse to believe it despite apparently strong evidence, or can’t keep away from each other even if they do believe it. Incest scares are very, very common in Korean drama (why?).
unhappy lovers stares at each other, as the man reaches out to the woman but does not touch her

“Why did you have to be my sister?”
Chun Jung Myung to Park Min Young in Glory Jane
(aka Man of Honor or Young Love Jae In)

3). Your Parents Hate Me. Completely over-the-top alcoholic single mothers are a particular favorite.

4). Your Ex Won’t Let You Go. So ruthless and malicious that we wonder what the Hero/ine ever saw in them.

5). Alternate Suitors. Alternate female suitors are either conniving, obsessed control freaks, or clingy, immature surrogate daughters to above-mentioned binge mom. Alternate male suitors, on the other hand, are typically rich, handsome, and nicer than the Hero.

6). You’re a Criminal/Player/Immature Jerk/Non-Human. Heroines are obstinately confident that past performance is no indication of future results.

7). I Have a Life-Threatening Illness. Terminal self-effacement, usually. I don’t want to be a burden, so I’m breaking up without telling you why, because that won’t hurt you.

8). You’re Rich, I’m Poor. Resolved by overnight career success or revelation of previously unsuspected wealth for the poor partner, or financial catastrophe for the rich one. Can happen to either gender, but if a poor girl becomes richer than her BF, she loses the money in a plot, or spends it in a worthy cause.

9). My Friend/Sibling Likes You. You don’t like them, but better that I renounce you so we can all be miserable.

10). Our Parents Are Involved. OK, double-dating would be weird, but is this really a reason to break up?? In Korea, yes. In-law incest is not illegal, but it is taboo, since families are considered merged upon marriage, therefore your in-laws are your own relations. Up-and-coming as a substitute for half-sibling incest scares, which is a great relief to western viewers!

NOT an Obstacle to Love in Korean Drama

You’re My Boss/Employee. Sexual harassment policies? What’s that? Korean drama contrives the most unnatural plot twists to throw romantic partners together, frequently involving the workplace. Koreans work long hours, and are expected to socialize after hours with co-workers in the interest of group cohesion. Heavy drinking is often involved. You’d think this would make workplace romances even more problematic, but not in Kdramaland.

You Have No Interest in Me. Stalking? What’s that? Again, this is gender-neutral. No matter how often an object of desire may reject, insult or shun the would-be lover, the truly determined Kdrama suitor never gives up. There’s a hideous double-standard where conniving exes or alternate suitors who do this are highly unsympathetic characters, while lead characters in the very same drama engaging in the very same behavior are portrayed as passionate and courageous, and get the girl/guy in the end.

We Have Nothing in Common Except Attraction. Compatibility? What’s that? First the drama highlights all the reasons these people should not be together. Most of these reasons do not change, but by the end of the drama they are together anyway, and we are to believe they live happily ever after. This is not particularly Korean. We see it all the time in US movies, and in long-running will-they/won’t-they TV series, where they eventually have to, because we’ve waited for it for so long, but they really shouldn’t.


It’s pretty obvious that the target audience of Kdrama romances is women. With some life experience and a robust grasp of the distinction between fantasy and reality, the unlikeliness of romance plots and characters is all in good fun. I wonder about girls and women who lack one or the other, however. Is this story about a Japanese woman husband-hunting for the kind of Korean man she sees on TV a rarity? Let’s hope so.


Related posts:
5 signs that you are watching a Korean drama
7 familiar characters in Korean drama
10 Common Kdrama Phrases, and What They Really Mean
Love Rain: Romance vs. Family in Korean Drama

4 comments to 10 Obstacles to Love in Korean Drama

  • mara

    This post is hilarious! Thanks! I laughed my ___ off.

  • sandy

    6). You’re a Criminal/Player/Immature Jerk/Non-Human. Heroines are obstinately confident that past performance is no indication of future results.

    lol yes like it does not really matter if he/she is a gambler/ serial killer/rapist who just abused you in every way possible love forgives everything and if its too controversial we can always die together in the end

    how about a normal man meeting a normal woman for a change it seems its too much to ask

    thanks fun post

  • Mihansa

    > if its too controversial we can always die together in the end

    ROTFLOL! So true!

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