Today’s question is brought to us by Bakazen, who asks:
What is it about bromances that make a kdrama great? I just recently finished watching Doctor Stranger and realized 2 things: LJS is a good actor and I really didn’t like this drama. So why did I finish it? Because I was hooked by the bromance tease between LJS and PHJ.
My personal theory is they work well as substitutes for the sometimes overwhelming lack of affection we see between couples. Guys in bromances show affection, love, solidarity, joy, connection & (dare I say it) skinship! Nothing warms my heart like one of the F4s coming to a bros rescue, the F44s teasing each other or the leads in School 2013 (LJS & Woobie) saying how much they missed each other’s friendship. Besides, I rarely get that hooked into the female friendships (major exception, Noh Eun-seol & Lee Myung Ran from Protect the Boss). What do you think?
You ask an intriguing question indeed. I think many of us love bromance in our kdramas – and a heckuva lot too! – without really understanding why it is that we love it, and why it helps to amp up our kdramas to such enjoyably dizzying heights.
Because you asked – yes, before you asked, I never really did stop to think about it! – I’m going to try to break it down and figure out why I love bromance in my kdramas. Hopefully that will sync with why everyone else loves ’em too, and we can all understand ourselves and our love for bromance better.
WAIT, WHAT IS A BROMANCE?
Just so that we’re all clear, in its common usage around the dramaverse, the word “bromance” refers to a deep, platonic relationship between men.
Although dramaland is becoming a little more daring with its inclusion of gay characters in dramas, we’re not talking about gay couples. Even if one of the parties in a bromance happens to be gay, the bromantic relationship between the guys is platonic, not romantic.
What elevates a friendship between men to bromance? It’s essentially the feels; the intensity. A bromance is born when the emotional bond between the men is so deep and so strong that it might rival a romance. Except that, as we already established, it remains platonic.
SO WHY DO WE LOVE BROMANCE?
Although this may not cover everything, I think there are 3 main reasons why we love bromance.
1. It tops up the feels
Bromance never used to be on my radar as the main reason to watch kdrama. In fact, when I first got on the kdrama train, I was all about the romance. Escaping into the world of kdrama, and the romance that came with it, helped me to find soothing respite from what was, at the time, a tough reality in my world.
As you very rightly pointed out, though, not all kdramas are generous with the romance. In fact, there are some dramas that, despite their titles and premises, have hardly any romance in them (Romance Town, I’m giving you the side-eye).
That’s when bromance can potentially come to the rescue, handily filling any emotional gap in our drama experience with demonstrations of affection, love and loyalty between the boys, if not between the OTP.
I think viewers have fairly simple needs, when it comes down to it. At least, I think I have fairly simple needs, as a viewer. A show can let me down on multiple fronts, but if it manages to establish some kind of emotional engagement with me, I’m willing to stick with it and forgive its (sometimes huge) flaws. And when the drama’s OTP fails to fill that emotional space, that’s when bromance can step in to save the day.
2. It offers a peek at the other side of the fence
I also happen to think that human beings are curious creatures, and that bromance offers a fascinating peek at how things work on the other side of the fence, and on more than one level too.
A. Female vs. Male
Although more male viewers are joining the ranks of drama fans (yay enlightened male viewers who love kdrama!), a large proportion of drama fans are women.
For us women, I think bromances offer a novel peek at the workings of male friendship. Seeing how men in close friendships interact with one another gives us a different way of understanding men in general, coz the workings of a close friendship between men is different from the workings of a close friendship between women.
At the same time, observing the workings of a bromance can also help to give us insight to the inner workings of a particular man (in this case, a character in a drama). A guy who’s all macho around women might show his boyish, playful side with his close friends, for example. Or a guy who’s shy around women might be much stronger about voicing his opinions around his close friends.
On both of these levels, getting a vicarious experience on the private workings of the other team can be very fascinating indeed.
B. Rest of the world vs. Korea
Over time, I’ve come to realize that male friendships in Korea have some rather unique characteristics when compared with male friendships in many other parts of the world.
One big piece of this puzzle is the widely accepted notion of skinship between male friends in Korea. Not to say that norms in other cultures don’t allow for skinship between male friends, but I’d venture to say that the degree to which that skinship extends in most other cultures is probably quite different when compared to Korea.
For example, in Korea, it’s a norm for men to go to the public bath (mogyogtang) together and scrub one another’s backs. It’s a very common bonding activity in Korea, to get stark naked together in a communal bath and scrub one another’s backs. Most other cultures don’t have similar practices. The closest thing in most cultures is communal showers in some places – like prison, for example – and even then, people don’t scrub one another’s backs. They pretty much keep their showers to themselves.
Compare that to the Korean norm, where scrubbing one another’s backs is the general standard. It seems only natural that skinship in general between guys can get very up-close-and-personal (think hands on thighs, hand-holding and even ball-grabbing. See this post for more details and insight on skinship norms between Korean males).
When contrasted to general norms in other cultures, where most men tend to avoid engaging in gestures that can be misunderstood as romantic (eg. handholding) when with their mates, Korean male friendship culture can be a fascinating study for those of us on the outside of that fence.
On a related tangent, all that skinship and overt affection can make a very solid substitute for muted OTP affection indeed.
3. It offers a peek at the characters’ potential
With all the I-got-your-back fierce loyalty that comes with bromantic territory, some of the characters’ best traits get to be on display. They’re shown to be affectionate, loyal, committed, thoughtful, considerate and sensitive. All the kinds of traits that one might hope for in a romantic hero.
Even if we don’t get to see these traits at play in the characters’ interactions with women, we see that they are in possession of these positive qualities, and that gives us comfort and hope.
This is particularly true of the playboys / commitment-phobes / womanizers. Sure, they can’t seem to commit to a single woman, but since they do display these desirable qualities in their bromances, it probably means that they just haven’t met the right woman yet. Right?
On a slight tangent, there’s also a purity in bromance that casts a favorable light on the characters. In romance, there’s almost always an element of “Can s/he be mine” about it, whereas in bromance, it’s almost always uncalculated and pure.
That purity is very attractive, and, I think, ups the appeal of the bromance.
DEGREES OF BROMANCE
As with romances, not all bromances are created equal. Some are cuter, while others are swoonier. In my head, there are 3 main levels when it comes to bromance.
Level 1: Bromance Lite
In Level 1 of the Bromance Scale, the bromance is mostly portrayed as cute, fun and amusing.
Yes, there’s an assumed emotional connection, but the script doesn’t make it overt, and the bromantic screentime is spent mostly on bickering, joking and horsing around.
These bromances are designed to bring on the laughs, but not quite the tears.
Examples of Level 1 Bromances
Level 2: Good, Solid Bromance
Level 2 on the Bromance Scale goes beyond the chummy fun times to bring some solid feels to the table.
Often, the feels come through when the characters demonstrate their love for one another in acts of sacrifice and loyalty. Another big player in this arena, is love demonstrated through unflinching, unconditional acceptance. When encountering Level 2 Bromance, be prepared for the lump that rises to your throat while your heartstrings get tugged.
Think Soon Bum (Lee Won Jong) worrying over Tae Yeon (Yun Jung Hoon) in Vampire Prosecutor, and offering Tae Yeon his own blood to drink.
Think Answer Me 1997, where Yoon Jae (Seo In Guk) doesn’t waver even for a second in his friendship with Joon Hee (Hoya), even when faced with the bombshell that Joon Hee is gay and nurses a crush on him.
And think Gook Soo (Kim Bum) in Padam Padam, who dedicates his life to protecting Kang Chil (Jung Woo Sung).
Level 2 Bromances are meaty and solid in their own right, and can give the OTP romance a decent run for their money.
Examples of Level 2 Bromances
Level 3: Breathtaking, Awe-Inspiring, Amazing Bromance
The Level 3 Bromance is the one that brings flail-inducing, emotionally potent, right-in-the-heart feels to the table.
Emotional potency in bromances is not always portrayed nor explored in dramas, but when it is, get ready for a serious deluge of feels. These bromances will grab you by the heart and refuse to let go.
A Level 3 Bromance literally takes over its drama world; your drama world will begin and end with that bromance. Why? Coz for the players in a Level 3 Bromance, their world begins and ends with each other. For them, it’s a matter of life or death – sometimes literally.
The emotional potency of a Level 3 Bromance is so strong, so intense and so overt, that it will rival – and trump! – many an onscreen romance. It’s cracky, addictive, emotionally-consuming goodness, and will invariably leave you wanting more.
Moar, I say!
Think Sungkyunkwan Scandal, when Yeo Rim (Song Joong Ki) sobs in desperation when Geol Oh (Yoo Ah In) puts his life in real danger.
And think the Shirtless Brothers in Chuno (Jang Hyuk, Han Jung Soo & Kim Ji Suk), whose bromantic bonds run so strong that when push comes to shove, they would literally die for one another.
And think Nam Soon (Lee Jong Suk) and Heung Soo (Kim Woo Bin), whose bromance runs so intense and so deep, that without each other, their lives are literally in shambles and hardly worth living.
I love me a Level 3 Bromance so much that when I encounter one, I am glued to my screen, breathless with anticipation, and weak from the awesome. These bromances are so compelling and potent that nothing else in that drama world matters. Forget the romance, just give me bromance!
Examples of Level 3 Bromance
I’ve mentioned them already, but in case you avoided the spoilers, here are my top 3 Level 3 bromances again:
Level 3+: Reel to Real
You know how awesome it is when reel gets real, right?
On the romance front, we have Ji Hyun Woo and Yoo In Na falling in love for realz on the set of Queen In-hyun’s Man (ok, so they broke up eventually, but still. It was awesome while it lasted). Netizens went wild when Ji Hyun Woo confessed his love for Yoo In Na at the screening of the final episode.
And there was Lee Min Ho and Park Min Young dating for real off the set of City Hunter. They, too, eventually broke up, but fans had a field day when they admitted that they were dating.
More recently, there was Kim Bum and Moon Geun Young, who fell in love on the set of Jung Yi, Goddess of Fire, and proceeded to date publicly (albeit briefly). Again, while it lasted, fans were practically delirious with joy.
Similarly, when bromance goes from reel to real, it can be SO. FREAKING. AWESOME.
Closest to my heart is the reel to real bromance between Kim Woo Bin and Lee Jong Suk. That they became actual besties while filming School 2013 just makes me dizzy with pleasure.
And their real-life rapport totally comes through in their onscreen bromance; their chemistry is so real and sparky that it leaps off the screen to knock you right over. FLAIL.
I just can’t get enough of this bromance, and I hope-wish-pray that these two will share the screen in another bromance again. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
And that, in a not-so-little nutshell, is why I love bromances, and why I think they make our kdramas awesome.
I hope that helps to answer your question, Bakazen!
1. Dya have thoughts to share with Bakazen? Have insight into your favorite bromance and why you love it? Share with us in the comments!
2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment below, or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!