The Nice-Guy Cliche in Korean Dramas

I’ve watched many Korean dramas. They all have the same formula: rich guy with a huge chip on his shoulder ends up falling in love with an outgoing and talented girl while their families and fans make their lives hell. In most Korean dramas, or K-dramas, the Cinderella girl has a person on her side, acting like her fairy godfather, and this guy becomes the series’ nice guy.

It’s ironic that the nice guy is the man who viewers love the most in a K-drama, and yet, the plots live true to the nice guy cliché—nice guys don’t get the girl. For instance, in Boys Before Flowers, one of the top K-dramas from 2009, the nice guy was Ji Hoon, a sensitive and caring guy who watched over his love. However much he doted on her, he wasn’t the person she wanted to accompany her on her enchanted pumpkin ride into the sun.

But it’s not the nice guy that simply gets the pumpkin innards all over themselves. The actors who play the nice guys also lose some fans when they are cast for a new K-drama. Taking from Boys Before Flowers again, young actor Kim Hyun Joong (Ji Hoon) was cast as the main love interest in the 2010 Playful Kiss K-drama. However, he didn’t come to the show as the same loving and sensitive character that helped him to get the Best Supportive Character in a Series award of 2009. Instead, he came back as the rich guy with a huge chip on his shoulder. It crushed me to watch one of my favorite characters disappear into thin smoke, and I’m sure many other viewers felt the same way.

Similar to Kim Hyun Joong’s evaporated good-guy act is the budding acting career of Jung Yong Hwa, singer and guitarist to the popular boy band, CN Blue. He played in 2009’s You’re Beautiful alongside Park Shin Hye as another sensitive guy looking out for his beautiful band member who was posing as her twin brother. While Jung Yong Hwa made many fans fall in love with his perceptive character, his subsequent 2011 series, Heartstrings, failed to garner as many fans as his 2009 performance. Though he didn’t stray too far from his You’re Beautiful character in Heartstrings, playing an embittered version of Kang Shin Woo (You’re Beautiful) didn’t suit Jung Yong Hwa nor his fans, who were disappointed by the abandonment of his nice guy persona.

Another actor who fell victim to this nice-guy-turned-bad-guy formula was Lee Sun Gyun, one of the main actors from the hit 2007 K-drama, Coffee Prince. In the series, he played the fun-loving and understanding man named Choi Han Seung. He was an interesting guy with a little bit of baggage to keep his character from becoming too two-dimensional. This quality was something that I completely adored about the character and the actor. Unfortunately, Lee Sun Gyun was cast for another series, Pasta, in which he played as the new head chef to a Korean Italian-food restaurant. Although Lee Sun played the role beautifully, keeping his character, Choi Hyun Wook, from becoming too outrageous and unbelievable, Lee Sun veered away from the reason to love him: his complete and utter understanding of his love interest.

In spite of gaining attention from fans from previous K-dramas, actors who play the nice guy in one series and the bad guy in the next series normally face difficulties in re-establishing fans. I wouldn’t say it’s their fault for having writers and producers obsessed with the same bad-guy, good-girl formula. But Hyun Joon, Jung Yong Hwa, and Lee Sun Gyun and all of the actors watching Cinderella run with another man, they need their own fairy godmother to steer them away from K-drama nice-guy pitfalls.