Snow Flower writes:
I like reading your witty and thoughtful musings on dramas and their fans. I would like to read your take on one of the most popular drama tropes, the anti-hero (or heroine).
I admit that I am fascinated with conflicted characters because I think that inside each of them is hidden the possibility for redemption. And redemption and character growth are the bread and butter of good storytelling.
So if and when you are able, please share your insights about what makes a good anti-hero and why do the drama fans like them.
Dear Snow Flower,
You ask a fascinating question. I have to admit that I only gave it specific thought because you asked the question, heh.
Prior to this, I simply enjoyed anti-heroes on my screen as a matter of instinct, but after some soul-searching, here are my thoughts on what qualifies a character as an anti-hero (or -heroine), and why we might enjoy these characters.
Because I haven’t watched all the dramas out there, I won’t be able to mention all the anti-heroes out there either.
If I missed out your favorite, or if you have insights, perspectives &/or experiences to share, please tell us all about it in the comments below! ❤
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HERO AND AN ANTI-HERO?
I thought it might be useful to start with establishing some key differences between a hero and an anti-hero.
Generally speaking, a hero tends to have all the good characteristics that we’ve come to associate with traditionally good main characters.
They tend to be good-looking, morally upright, law-abiding, well-mannered and well-spoken, selfless, and brave, among other positive traits. Kinda like Superman.
So an anti-hero would tend to be the opposite of this, in at least some key ways.
An anti-hero may or may not be good-looking, but they do tend to be morally ambiguous, and are more than likely to break the law in order to achieve their goals.
They might be rude, and they’re more likely to be selfish. Kinda like Deadpool.
What separates an anti-hero from a villain, however, is that an anti-hero has their own principles and rules that they live by, and there’s often an element of justice about their actions.
For example, Robin Hood steals from the rich to give to the poor, and thereby helps to even out social injustice, and therefore would not steal from a poor person.
A villain wouldn’t do that. They’d just steal because they want the money for themselves, and mostly likely, they wouldn’t care if they stole from rich or poor. And a villain wouldn’t care if their actions had any impact on social order either.
Granted, the element of justice in an anti-hero’s agenda isn’t necessarily societal. In fact, it’s often personal, like when they’re seeking revenge or justice for a wrong that’s been done to them, or to people close to them.
Edit: Just for added clarity, an anti-hero, by definition, is a protagonist or main character of a story.
WHY MIGHT WE BE DRAWN TO ANTI-HEROES?
I feel like we might all have different reasons for being drawn to anti-heroes.
Some people like the complexity of the characterization, ie, a person isn’t good or bad in such a straightforward sort of way, and that makes the watch experience more interesting.
Others might also feel like the anti-hero is easier to identify with, since they don’t see themselves as being hero types either.
For me personally, the following are the top 3 reasons that I might feel drawn to an anti-hero.
1. They’re usually unapologetic badass bad boys – or girls
I tend to be quite thrilled by badassery, and anti-heroes do tend to be badasses in their own ways. This often translates into – but is not limited to – impressive fight skillz. Badassery can be displayed in non-fight ways too, like in how a character might conduct themselves in a corporate setting.
Plus, I do tend to have a bit of a weakness for bad boys on my screen; there’s something quite alluring about their disregard for things like social norms and the opinion or approval of others.
There’s also often an element of unpredictability that goes with that, that I find quite exciting to watch onscreen.
2. They’re often misunderstood
.. and then I just want them to be understood. This lends a bit of an underdog quality to the story, I feel, because our anti-hero is subject to inaccurate and unfair judgment. It makes me feel sorry for them, and want to root for them.
3. Even though they might be morally grey, there is an inner core of good
Essentially, our anti-heroes aren’t evil. They might break the law and they might be violent, but there is an inner core of good in them that we can see.
It might take the form of rogue justice, ie, our anti-hero taking things into their own hands because the law has failed them, or it might take the form of them helping the weak and powerless.
I think it’s that good inner core that bridges our conscience and the anti-hero. That inner good makes us feel that we can root for the anti-hero, despite their moral ambiguity.
ANTI-HEROES: A SMALL COLLECTION
Here’s a collection of anti-heroes, and the quick spotlight on why I consider them anti-heroes, and also, why they’re my favorites – or not my favorites.
Note that due to the nature of this section, where I need to touch on why these characters would be counted as anti-heroes rather than heroes, this will be somewhat SPOILERY.
MY FAVORITE ANTI-HEROES
Lee Dae Gil, Chuno
Anti-hero cred: He hunts runaway slaves for a living, and therefore, the poor and oppressed slaves live in fear of him.
But, he also quietly helps the runaway slaves, enabling many of them to live new and better lives.
Works for me because: Jang Hyuk‘s badassery is through the roof, in this show! 🤩 Also, Dae Gil is a character that’s often misunderstood, so when we see his inner pain, my heart can’t help but bleed for him.
Also, he may live as a rogue, but his loyalty to those that he cares about, is deep, enduring and utterly moving.
Review is here.
Jung Shi Hyun, Heartless City
Anti-hero cred: He lives a cold and calculated existence as a drug lord, and is as sharp, precise and ruthless in his business dealings, as he is with his lethal ninja-esque fight moves.
Works for me because: He’s emotionally invested even when he isn’t supposed to be, and he’s deeply loyal to those who are close to him.
He’s also a pawn in a sprawling system that he’s working to fight, and that surprising underdog angle really got to me. Plus, his lethal fight moves are truly quite mesmerizing. 🤩
Flash Review is here.
Kang Pil Joo, Money Flower
Anti-hero cred: He’s a highly intelligent and capable lawyer, who subjects himself to being treated like high-class dirt by the Cheong A group, while carefully scheming to take them down.
He’s crafty and morally ambiguous, and I was completely mesmerized.
Works for me because: His entire life was utterly ruined by the Cheong A group, and with no other legal recourse available to him, I can understand his burning desire to take the law into his own hands.
Plus, the villains in this story are so despicable that it’s easy to root for him to succeed.
Review is here.
Seo Jung Hoo, Healer
Anti-hero cred: He breaks the law for a living, accepting large sums of money for executing various illegal tasks.
His entire existence is antisocial; he lives in a secret hideout with no human contact unless absolutely necessary.
Works for me because: He has his own moral code, and will not kill for money. And his antisocial ways are a result of circumstance rather than personal choice. He’s misunderstood, which makes me want him to receive understanding.
Plus, he’s so darn cool every time he casually parkours off a building. 🤩
Review is here.
Ha Rip, When The Devil Calls Your Name
Anti-hero cred: He’s sold his soul to the devil in exchange for fame and success, and now, he’s trying to trick someone else into selling their pure, top-grade soul to the devil, in order to prevent his own soul from being taken.
Works for me because: He’s not an evil person and he does have a conscience. Even at his most self-centered, I found him understandable.
Plus, his humanity often wins out over his vanity, and that made me want to root for him.
Flash Review is here.
Baek Hee Seong, Flower Of Evil
Anti-hero cred: He’s wanted for murder, and is living a brand new life with an assumed identity, where his wife and child have no idea of his questionable past.
He doesn’t hesitate to break the law – breaking and entering, kidnapping and intimidation – in order to protect his past, and his present.
Works for me because: He doesn’t come across as the killing type, despite his antisocial behaviors and his sociopathic leanings. Plus, in his own way, he seems to care for the people who are in his close orbit.
Also, it seems that he didn’t commit the murder that he’s wanted for, so that makes me want him to clear his name, and stop being misunderstood.
Update: Review is here!
All the bad guys, Bad Guys
Anti-hero cred: They’ve all been incarcerated for various (mostly violent) crimes, and have now been harnessed as a team of top criminals, to catch other criminals.
Works for me because: I love the idea of bad guys being caught by badder guys, and there’s lots of badassery to go around, with our top criminals unleashing casually sharp and lethal fight moves, in the course of their work.
It helps that in the midst of it all, Show makes time to humanize our top criminals to make them more sympathetic. The reluctant teamwork and gruff friendship is pretty great too.
Review is here.
Lee Kang To, Gaksital [Bridal Mask]
Anti-hero cred: He’s widely considered a traitor, for choosing to work for the Japanese as a police officer and being violent and cruel to his fellow Koreans.
He’s unapologetic about his choice and doesn’t even flinch at the general hatred thrown his way because of it.
Works for me because: His journey is one of redemption. He eventually dons the mask to become the elusive “Bridal Mask” rebel, and secretly fights against the very regime that he officially serves.
His trajectory is a deeply emotional one, and he loses a great deal in order to serve his greater goals. And by the end of our story, he manages to go from anti-hero to full-blown hero.
Review is here.
Ji Sun Woo, A Couple’s World
Anti-hero cred: She does things which are morally questionable – and sometimes, just plain wrong and illegal – in order to achieve her goal.
Works for me because: She’s not a bad person, and only starts doing the bad things because she’s pushed into a corner by the awful people who set themselves against her.
The way Show presents it, she has little choice but to play dirty, because everyone around her is playing dirty against her. It becomes easier to accept her moral ambiguity when it becomes a matter of survival.
Review is here.
Ko Moon Young, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
Anti-hero cred: She’s self-centered, casually cruel and treats people like objects.
A lot of her behavior leans disturbing and even somewhat murderous.
Works for me because: She does have her own rules and code of conduct that she lives by, and we do see her helping others, even in Show’s early episodes. This tells me that she’s not a bad person, at heart.
Additionally, her journey is one of growth, which means that she sheds a lot of her disturbing behavior, and becomes more overtly caring towards others, as we get deeper into our story.
Review is here.
Edited to add: Lee Ji An, My Mister (thanks to MC, for the reminder!)
Anti-hero cred: She is willing to do morally questionable things in order to survive.
For a good stretch of our story, she’s literally spying on our protagonist, in exchange for money.
Works for me because: She is not a bad person, and clearly feels forced by her circumstances to compromise on her morals.
Her conscience does eventually triumph, and she is earnest in wanting to be a better person.
Review is here.
Zhang Xiaojing, The Longest Day in Chang’an
Anti-hero cred: He’s a prisoner on death row, convicted of multiple murders.
And in the course of our story, we see him engage in some disturbing behaviors, including the betrayal of people who’ve been close to him.
Works for me because: He’s clearly conflicted when he betrays others, and it’s obvious that he does it while keeping the greater good in mind, since his assignment is to save the city of Chang’an from a terrorist plot.
Meaning, if he doesn’t succeed, everybody dies. That makes his darker deeds look like lesser evils.
Also, it becomes clear that he’s a good man who’s been framed for many things, so I soon found myself rooting for him to (a) save everyone, and (b) clear his name.
Flash Review is here.
Mei Changsu, Nirvana In Fire
Anti-hero cred: This is a tough one, because I hadn’t thought of him as an anti-hero before making this post. But he’s plotting to replace the king with a person of his own choosing.
That’s technically treason, yes? (Let me know if you see this differently!)
Works for me because: He’s not seeking revenge so much as he’s pursuing justice. His family’s been wronged in a big way, and this is his way of righting the wrongs.
Also, he’s clearly a good man at heart, who’s deeply loyal to the people who are important to him.
Flash Review is here. Open Threads are listed here.
ANTI-HEROES WHO WEREN’T MY FAVORITES
Yoo Jung, Cheese In The Trap
Anti-hero cred: He’s pretty sociopathic, and a lot of his behavior leans cold, cruel and disturbing.
He also appears highly manipulative, and importantly, his intentions appear dark.
Not my favorite because: Show doesn’t give us the chance to witness a journey of growth or redemption for him, and only implies in the last episode, that he’s changed.
All of that change happens off-screen, and therefore alienates the viewer from his journey.
Weird choice, really.
Flash Review is here.
Kang Ma Ru, Nice Guy
Anti-hero cred: He’s cold, angry and manipulative, and out for revenge, and he gets involved with our female lead purely in order to use her in his revenge plans.
Not my favorite because: Our characters – including our anti-hero – can be very unlikable, even though they are interesting.
Mostly, I found Show poorly written, with logic lapses and stretches that challenged how far my eyes could roll into the back of my head.
Flash Review is here.
Kim Moo Young, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
Anti-hero cred: He’s got a mysterious, dangerous sort of flavor, and people even suspect him of murder.
He comes across as casually manipulative, wowing ladies with his calculated moves, and then holding their hearts for ransom.
Not my favorite because: I found his journey of redemption and change too simplistic and convenient.
Also, I did not like how Show handled the ending of our story.
Flash Review is here.
Kim Tae Hyun, Yong Pal
Anti-hero cred: He’s a brilliant surgeon who moonlights as a mercenary doctor to the corrupt and the criminal.
Not my favorite because: Show seems to forget that our rogue surgeon is its protagonist, and gives the lion’s share of the spotlight to his love interest instead.
Also, Show becomes very messy and illogical in its second half, and serves up an ending that is spectacularly underwhelming.
Flash Review is here.
Jung Geum Ja, Hyena
Anti-hero cred: She’s a street-smart lawyer who doesn’t mind playing dirty in order to achieve her goals.
Not my favorite because: With lots of rationalization and context, I managed to come around to Geum Ja’s appeal by the end of my watch, but I must admit that sometimes it was a struggle to like her.
I found some of her actions mean-spirited and unnecessary, and these things admittedly niggled at me, even though I could feel that Show was selling her to be a queen.
Review is here.
I hope you guys found this exploration of anti-heroes useful in helping you figure out why you might be drawn to an anti-hero, and hopefully, you might’ve even found a new anti-hero or two, to acquaint yourself with, from this list!
As always, if you guys have other shows featuring anti-heroes to recommend, or insights to share, please tell us about it in the comments! 😊
Oh! And Yi Bang Won in Six Flying Dragons totally counts as an anti-hero, I believe?
I never finished Six Flying Dragons (I know! I tried! Twice!), and so couldn’t include him in either section of this post, but I’ve heard enough about the show from other drama fans, to feel confident saying that he belongs in the anti-hero category, with his desire to overthrow the king, and his lashings of darkness and cruelty.
I hope this helps!
1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!
2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!
I’m realising reading this post that my definition of anti-hero is somewhat different… I haven’t seen many of the dramas mentioned above, but I would have never called Seo Jung Ho in Healer or Ko Moon Young in It’s Ok to not be Ok anti-heroes… At most I would have called them flawed heroes.
For me an anti-hero is someone like Don Draper in Mad Men, Walter White in Breaking Bad or Villanelle in Killing Eve, that is, characters we root for, in spite of them being unlikeable or seriously morally objectionable, just because they have been placed in the privileged narrative position traditionally given to the hero. Seo Jung Ho is antisocial but he has too many conventionally heroic traits (and displays them from the very start) to be a true anti-hero. Ko Moon Young is closer to my idea of an anti-hero, although her becoming a regular nice person by the end of the drama definitely places her in my flawed hero category.
In kdrama the only anti-hero I have seen has been Vincenzo.
The why? These are juicy roles for actors, as they get to play it–the license to id combined with the attraction of viewer sympathy–both ways, and so the roles are often given to the best actors (Jang Hyuk, Yoo Ah In, Choi Min Sik) out there, or when not, allow good actors (Yoo Yeon Seok, IU) to really stretch.
Excellent point, BE! Compelling characters with interesting stories, played by the best actors – who could resist the antiheroes?
While I have a soft spot for the classic nice guys, I do love my anti-heroes! I love the complexity of the character, the moral grayness, and we can get a really fantastic character journey of growth with anti-heroes. I always hate seeing them be misunderstood but love seeing their heart open up and them grow as a person. There’s definitely a lot of reasons to like them 🙂
Two personal favorites of mine would be Wang So (Lee Joon Gi) in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Goryeo as well as the above mentioned Kang To (Joo Won) in Bridal Mask. Those two tore up my heart in the best kind of way 🙂
It’s been long since I watched it but I think SFD’s Yi Bang Won belongs to an entirely different category especially near the end of the show. SPOILER: There’s no just cause for his rebellion and the following brutal massacre that he did, he just felt wronged and betrayed that his father and Sambong, two figures he respected the most, didn’t think he was fit to be the next ruler despite his constant support for Sambong’s cause since the beginning and his contribution during the revolution, and he believed he was the most rightful person for the position, so he went and seized the hot seat on his own. He wasn’t under threat that he would be killed if he was out of the competition for the throne. He even implemented Sambong’s ideas (the one he brutally killed, mind you, there’s no end to his shamelessness lol) once he became king so there’s no differences in their political ideologies either. I remember being impressed that a kdrama could have this kind of protagonist.
I thought of another Jang Hyuk anti-hero – Tell Me What You Saw. I wasn’t enamored with this show as OCN stuff is not my taste but Show does have a few really good exciting moments that are too good to spoil in case people decide to watch it.
Bong Sang-pil in Lawless Lawyer? Not a very nice guy to start with and more interested in showing off his prowess than in justice.
Finally changed by love, which is always nice …
@kfangurl – thanks for including Lee Bang won from Six Flying Dragons even though you couldn’t finish it. But you forgot – Lee Bang won from My Country! Although perhaps he’s not considered the protagonist? He is for me. I was just glad the young bucks who were the writers/producer’s focus were really good as well but they were side characters for me. 😆
I love Anti-Heros. Heck, I even love the evil ones since they are almost every time the more complex and interesting characters. I loved Uhm Ki Joon’s character in Ghost to pieces since he was so bad but so vulnerable at the same time. Heros/Heroines in K-Dramas often tend to be kind of boring in their straightness and stupidity for being selfless since people with a healthy selfworth and mind won’t act like that. We all have dark sides, you can’t be always light. It is okay for a Rom-Com but they hardly have some good anymore (too dark or too terrible scripts) but we aren’t really talking about that Genre here, aren’t we?
Hey, K — anti-heroes are such interesting characters. Chiming in with some of my favorites:
Lie of Lies: Ji Eun-soo. Lee Yoo-ri’s portrayal is superb–I can’t believe I’m rooting for a stalker (ex-con?) healing romance with a divorcee (once the misunderstandings are ironed out!)
Secret Forest 2: Choi Bit and Seo Dong-jae.
Mother: Kang Su-jin.
Here is what I mean by not necessarily the lead: by that standard, in My Country, Woo Do Hwan’s Nam Seon Ho, who might be considered an antihero till you stack him up against Jang Hyuk’s version of what seems to be Korea’s all time number one antihero character, Lee Bang Won, but the latter is simply more grandiose in every way, the largest of those, his heroic charisma, his capacity for complexity, and his “anti” menace, while in the end Nam Seon Ho sticks in one’s memory as, well, a punk, and a bit of a sleazeball. I know a lot of folks found his character more compelling than Yang Se Jong’s Seo Hwi , but no one with a pulse could make the same comparison to Jang Hyuk.
And while it is debatable who is the main lead in Chuno, as with Yoo Yeon Seok playing foil to Lee Byung Hun’s Eugene Choi, the solid sender who gets the girl, so to speak, so too, one can say Jang Hyuk’s Dae-Gil plays foil to Oh Ji Ho’s Tae Ha, and it is in that chiaroscuro between the characters, the attractiveness of the antiheroic comes to the fore.
What is more we can see in Chuno, where a villainous character, even a complex villain, is quite different than an anti hero, as Lee Jong Hyuk’s Hwang Cheol Woong may well have enough complexity and swagger, but nothing is in the least redemptive about him.
A very thought-provoking post, BE!! I can’t claim to be an expert, so I am only sharing what I’ve gleaned from my own research. I guess the definition of anti-hero can be loosened from that of strictly the protagonist, depending on who’s doing the defining.
In my head, it makes a difference where the narrative focuses. For example, Yi Bang Won is definitely an anti-hero in the context of history. But in the context of My Country, where he’s more of a supporting character than Nam Sun Ho, I would consider Sun Ho more of an anti-hero, with Bang Won playing more of a morally grey character. In contrast, in Six Flying Dragons, where Yi Bang Won is our central character, I would totally consider him our anti-hero.
In terms of who the main character is, in Chuno, I always saw the main character as Dae Gil. Even though it is Tae Ha who gets the girl, it seems to me, in terms of the show’s narrative focus, that Dae Gil was always the more central character. And the title “Slave Hunter” also implied to me, that this story was more Dae Gil.
Again, I can’t say what’s strictly correct, since I didn’t major in film and only took several modules in film where my course work provided opportunity. This is just where my thoughts are at. 😄
With Chuno, the difference in the quality of acting along with the title makes it hard to think anyone other than Dae Gil is the lead, and yet in terms of the story itself, everything really turns on Tae Ha’s quest to save the Prince. In Mr. Sunshine, given the title, it is impossible to say anyone other than Eugene Choi is the lead, even if everyone sacrifices themselves to save Ae Shin, whose heroism borders on the folkloric, and yet every definition I have ever read of the concept “anti-hero” fits Gu Dong Mae to a tee, despite him being the second male lead and third lead in the telling.
For me, the antihero must also be memorable–there must be something heroic or larger than life about him or her, so it does not matter much in my mind, that Jang Hyuk’s Yi Bang Won is a supporting character or not, and it is his ruthlessness and willingness toward slaughter that makes him “anti,” especially embodied by Jang Hyuk’s bravura fan work.
I will go back to the American series “The Wire”: for many Idris Elba’s Stringer Bell fits perfectly into your definition, the lead, a bad, bad man, and very sexy, but for me Michael K Williams’ Omar, the drug trade ronin, his lone wolf law unto himself alone in a corrupt and violent world is so much more memorable than the stud gangster wanting to become legit and stride both sides of the law.
I think literary definitions that are handed down academically become taken on face value; my definition is probably less studied than yours. I think anti-heroism is a quality that is felt as much as can be simply quantified, though it is interesting to think about.
I know that there are others who might not include anything heroic about an antihero, merely the presence of charisma. Thus, in Sky Castle, Kim Seo Hyung’s Kim Joo Young is so damn charismatic, and so compelling as a villain, with just enough back story to give one an ounce of sympathy, she might be considered an antihero. Yum Jung-Ah’s Han Seo Jin is undoubtedly the lead, and to my eyes, simply despicable, but there is something missing from the compelling quotient for me to call her an anti hero.
I have been thinking about female antiheroes after reading your run down. They are considerably more rare. I agree with you that Kim Hee Ae’s character in the World of the Married could qualify, but the problems for me with that is that the ending is so muddy, her character is hamstrung at the end for the sake of tidiness, and that everyone else in the story is also so morally lacking that there is not enough in the plotting to make me think of her as heroic, but rather more tragic and really screwed up.
A PS on World of the Married, actually it strikes me by my definition or feeling that the antihero in it would be Han So Hee’s Yeo Da Kyung, because however despicable her behavior is, she always seems in control, a law unto herself in a world where everyone else is almost completely unhinged. I do not particularly like her, but I admire her.She is the only one who seems to be able to survive psychologically among the whole group.
A problem is that Korean drama is so often ensemble driven rather than single lead driven. Jang Hyuk’s character in Money Tree is more to the formula; that is, the story is about his character and so he might fit better into a traditional definition.
While I know nothing about the literary aspect of who is the anti-hero – one thing I do know is that in Chuno, more screen time was given to Jang Hyuk which I think even in couch potato terms says Dae gil was the main character. ☺
@BE – Preach it. Sister!
Actually Beez, I’ma bro. Everyone loves Jang Hyuk. But if you’d ask me, I think Kim Hee Ae is a greater actor, someone who can touch the soul, layers and layers and layers to get lost in, and Bae Doo Na owns my eyes whenever she is onscreen.
@BE – Apologies for mistaking your gender, BE. I was carried away by what you were saying about Jang Hyuk & Chuno (everybody knows I lose it when Chuno is mentioned☺); and I’m so used to it being just us fangirls. I have to remember there are lots more male fans watching Kdramas these days (Although I’ve seen you around a lot longer than the other fellas but never realized…).
I am also considerably older than everyone here. Old poet/ artist, former teacher guy. Connected here after seeing Secret Love Affair, a couple years back, and simply melted by Kim Hee Ae’s performance, and reading K’s incredible review. The woman does her homework and then some. I have been a critic (music), and I know just how much work it takes to come up with such amazingly detailed and personally insightful writing. Not so much into the young rom coms as many here and tend to gravitate, not always, to older actors, more serious dramas; but where there is common ground, and I believe quality acting, direction, show writing and running are all part of what makes K Drama so compelling, I like to chip in, just cause the depth which K uncovers and the intelligent enthusiasm of her following gives me the opportunity to throw my two cents in and get the wonderful energy of the site as well.
@BE – I’m not a young’in myself but when I watch film and tv, I can usually tap into my memories of my inner youth. Heck! I only stopped watching cartoons once they became crap. I think the last great cartoon was Pinky and the Brain. Once the Pokemon type cartoons took over, I finally gave them up. I think my fan-girl gushing over romantic goop in Kdramas comes from the fact that I missed out on that when I was younger. I think I was too much of a tomboy (what they called athletes back then) to join in when all my other friends bought the teeny bopper magazines. (NOTE to those under 50 – teen magazines were the only way to see your fav celebrity crush in between various far and few between tv appearances.) 😆
I too lose it every time Chuno (The Slave Hunters) is mentioned. And I am not embarrassed about it. I never had a celebrity crush in my teen years. Plus, teen magazines did not exist in my country at that time. But now, in my ahjumma years, Korean dramas give me everything I missed out in my teen years, plus so much more. And anti-heroes are the best!
I have really not been ever much one for contemporary celebrity crushing, though I have my heroes, poets and artists from far off climes and long ago, those old immortals. But in line with the theme of this post, I became aware of IU in My Mister. Though the drama ultimately turns the antihero line on its head by giving her a happy ending, her character does. as her janitor friend says to Dong-hoon, defy a moral truth with an emotional one. She put on a breathtakingly good, exceedingly understated performance in which one watches over the course of several episodes the awakening of her love for Dong hoon through the subtlest of facial expressions (face acting seems to be an especial province of the very good Korean actors). Through her sympathetic performance all her character’s transgressions, and there are are some pretty serious ones, not the least of which the spying on Dong-hoon’s every moment and personal tragedies, they are always washed away with what is for the viewer an easy forgiveness, as if they were almost irrelevant. So touching.
I have seen her in a couple of things since that I did not enjoy nearly so well. However, watching My Mister led me to investigate her musical career. She is beyond good, and beyond the never a bad note singing, beyond the incredible range of genius popular musical composition she puts out, she is an utterly magnetic performer who has a rather special relationship with her astonishingly large and participatory audiences. And it makes me think that watching her, I must not be too unlike an elderly woman who, when I was a youth first entering university seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, must have thought to herself, “that McCartney lad, irrepressible! Irresistible!”
@BE – because I plan on watching My Mister, I blinded my eyes to whatever you were saying in the middle if your post and only read the last couple of lines about the elderly woman and the Beatles. 😆
Sorry Beez. See it. IMO the best television series ever, great performances all around.
PS I believe you were the only person who spoke with me about Han Seok Kyu in a much earlier discussion about Tree With Deep Roots. Have you ever seen the (1998) movie Christmas in August, a film from early in his career? Very lovely, poetic, understated, a gem, slice of life piece, and he is terrific.
Christmas in August was referenced in Lie After Lie, a surprisingly engaging melodrama. I will definitely try to find the movie. I recommend the drama too.
@BE – I’m sorry, don’t recall. I’ve only seen him in one movie – something about him as a cop with some odd relationship with a female crime boss or something like that. I’ve also never watched any of his other dramas although I thought his performance in Tree was riveting. His anguish in having to choose SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS between the life of his son and his commitment to the people to improve their lives with written language. It was the type of acting that you’re not pulled out of the story and yet you’re aware that you’re watching an actor do something extraordinary. Which is how I always feel watching Jang Gyuk and Yoo Ah in. (Also Song Joon ki in his role as the younger version of the king in their Gollum-Smeagle moment showed that he’s much more than just charisma.)
Looked up Christmas in August. I doubt I’ll ever watch it because I tend to avoid tragic dying from ill health dramas like the plague. I’m okay if a character dies tragically – at the end. But I can’t stand watching something knowing from the start and watching them decline – or watching them struggle with choices knowing they’re going to die. 😥
@ beez. Well, the story does run along that overly used, sometimes cliched dramatic formula, but it is not really a tear jerker so much, but rather a character study of a rather ordinary, sweet fellow, who living a rather ordinary pedestrian life makes contact with another human being, allowing for an ability to savor the common place. And Han Seok Kyu is just wonderful in the role.
He also recently reprised his role as King Sejong in the film Forbidden Dream. He is quite good, but insofar as he is concerned the film reads more merely like a bonus episode of the series.
And he is upstaged by South Korea’s Robert de Niro, so to speak (or Toshiro Mifune, if you will), Choi Min Sik, an unforgettable performer/actor of epic magnitude, who has largely made his bones as an antihero in gangster flicks, like de Niro often man’s man roles, though more recently as an old, but not elderly, epic hero in the films Admiral: Raging Currents and The Tiger. His early film, Falian, which I saw on Youtube, is a prime example of an antihero performance.
Han is also quite good as second lead in the sageuk film, The Royal Tailor, an overlooked gem about the man whose clothes designs for the royals and ministers of state are what we sageuk watchers take to be the stock and trade of sageuk costume design. The Han film now on my to be watched list is Berlin File, which sounds like a contemporary suspense spy film.
Yes! Choi Min hyuk! Makes everything he’s in better.
@Beez, fyi a young, considerably more slender Choi Moo Sung has a minor character role in The Berlin File. I would not have recognized him but for the way he inflects his acting with his mouth. It is like a fingerprint.
I only came to appreciate him in this last year or so.
“I am also considerably older than everyone here”
You may well be the oldest, but not “considerably,” I suspect. I’m in my early sixties and I think Beez is as well. My wife is only a couple years younger than that.
@merij1 – The Grand Ahjumma, Georgia Peach, has us beat by about 10 years, I think.
And “saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan while in college” beats her!
I donnnn’t know. Until BE divulges his age???
Their first appearance on the show was in ’64, so the math doesn’t bode well for Georgia Peach!
Now that I’ve been acknowledged as the Grand Ahjumma here…perhaps I should change my tag! And I will say it is very true that one is never to old to acknowledge a good ‘Pack of Six’! ^.^* Blushing all pink!!!
I believe I have you all beat when it comes to the ‘older than most’ here. I’m 73 and will soon add another year in January. But you are never too old to enjoy a good drama script with excellent actors to bring the characters to life. As for the Beatles…I saw them in 1965 at Fulton County Stadium Atlanta, Georgia. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…that McCartney guy is still going strong!
I was so young when they appeared on Ed Sullivan the first time. The only thing I remember was I Wanna Hold Your Hand and my jumping around flipping my hair in my white Go-Go boots. lol I think I was around 7 or 8.
The Beatles are the first band I remember noticing, but only because my older siblings were playing them non-stop. I Want To Hold Your Hand, for sure.
Years later, the first two 45’s I purchased were Born To Be Wild and the Beatles’ Hello…Goodbye. At the time I bought it for that sweet-but-simple McCartney song, but after a few weeks I realized the Lennon tune on the B-side was the actual gem.
I was going to let you guess which song that was, but since I have this handy edit function now, I’ll just tell you. It was “I Am The Walrus.” What an amazing song, both the writing and the production!
@merij1…..KOO, KOO, KA, CHOO
Koo Koo Ka Choo is the mating call of the white winged dove. Where I live in Texas, those lovelorn sex addict birds drone on and on from before dawn and all day long from late February to about a week before dove hunting season begins in September–koo koo, koo ka choo, on and on and on, over and over and over–driving everyone just about nuts here.
@merij1 – soooo, I first searched and listened to the tune on YouTube just now. Hmmmmm. Dissonate chords. I then Googled the lyrics. Uh-huh. How old were you when you bought that 45? Cause I’m suspecting you were smoking whatever John Lennon was smoking when he wrote that. 😆😂😂😂
I would have been in 3rd or 4th grade then, so no. That didn’t start till the Fall of 6th grade (due, again, to the influence of older siblings!)
As to the song, per Wikipedia:
“I Am the Walrus” was inspired [both by Lennon’s] experiences with LSD and Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Through the Looking Glass. The impetus came from a fan letter Lennon received from a student at his former high school, Quarry Bank, in which he learned that an English literature teacher there was affording the Beatles’ lyrics scholarly interpretation. Bemused by this, Lennon set out to write a lyric that would confound analysis from scholars and music journalists. In addition to drawing on Carroll’s imagery and Shakespeare’s King Lear, he reworked a nursery rhyme from his school days, and referenced Edgar Allan Poe and (in the vocalised “googoogajoob”s) James Joyce.
Author Jonathan Gould describes “I Am the Walrus” as “the most overtly ‘literary’ song the Beatles would ever record”, while MacDonald deems it “[Lennon’s] ultimate anti-institutional rant – a damn-you-England tirade that blasts education, art, culture, law, order, class, religion, and even sense itself”.
@merij1 – Ohhhhhhhh. (I think?) ☺
@Georgia Peach – As I would word that – “never too old to not appreciate a good 6-pack of abs”. 😆 😆 😆
All my life people have been surprised by my age; even when young, folks thought I was younger. No one even ever called me sir till I was 45! I dunno, I try not to think too much about numbers, because it puts me a bit too in the mind of Buddha in the Diamond Sutra pointing out that life is like a dewdrop or flash of lightning, not to mention that far from having a six pack nowadays (I have pictures of when I did–Jang Hyuk in Chuno looks a lot like most of the guys I ran with in my twenties and early thirties when we ran rivers and climbed mountains), it would be hard to find a single abdominal muscle let alone a six pack of them.
But I do hope IU will still be charming audiences when she is as old as Paul is today, and I have long past begun my life as a tree or under the sea pursuing the longer game.
Let’s totally leave this talk of age behind us! From what I can tell each of us still posses a great deal of youthfulness! I personally have a bias in the singer Kim JaeJoong and went to Korea for his return concert after military service. Standing in the mosh pit at that concert on my 70th birthday gave me new life and appreciation for the things I am able to do at my age. We’ve done and survived a lot..we have stories to tell!!!
IU has come a long way in her acting skills. Her performance in Scarlet Heart with Lee Joon GI was panned, unfortunately. But she has done her homework and it has paid off for her. She is very talented and will be an icon in the future, I’m sure.
Get out of here! You flew to Korea for his concert? Even KFG hasn’t been able to visit SK yet. It’s sooo expensive.
So what was it like, actually being there after watching all these K-dramas?
Yes, I did! And it was an experience of a lifetime and one that I knew I would sorely regret if I hadn’t seized the opportunity!!! Thanks to the girls around me, JaeJoong gave me a deep bow and wished me a happy birthday on my 70th. And I have the Youtube to prove it. I also went to musical theater at Seoul Arts Center. Amazing complex. I saw Kim Junsu in Death Note. He is Mr. Sold Out Ticket. As for Seoul and dramas. Believe me…it’s totally the same! Namsam Tower, small rooftop apartments, the old Seoul wall, the vibrant lights of Seoul at night, green and blue buses and the bus stops, cafes and bistros on every corner, folk villages. But, what I loved most of all was the cordiality of the people. They truly are a kind and gentle people.
Let me give out a big thank you to Fangirl for allowing us yeongsang to hijack her blog. We’ve gone from her excellent post on antiheros to a conversation about the Beatles, for heavens sake! Yeongsang tend to wander a bit, don’t we? Again, thank you…you are the best !
Ha. Let’s see this YouTube!
@meriji – I’ve seen it! Georgia Peach sent me the video!
Very cool. Of course, I don’t speak Korean, so I’ll have to take your word that he wasn’t taking a break from singing to share kimchi recipes or whatever!
Are you KdramaFan Baker? And why did a person who doesn’t know you post this clip? Because it was so sweet of him?
Interestingly, I got the email notification on this, including the Youtube link, even though your comment won’t appear on this blog until KFG wakes up and approves it (due to the outside link.)
@merij1….Yes…I am KdramaFanBaker. Now, I’ve been exposed once again. It’s a very popular thing to post fan made videos of concerts you attend on Youtube. You can type in Rebirth Of Jae concert 2017 and find others. Several people posted theirs of the concert because it was JaeJoong’s first concert post his two years of military service. Funny..Kimchi recipes! Do I note a bit of skepticism in your comments…it really happened and to me. Don’t know about the email…o-o*
Ha. Just joking. Of course I believe you.
I see now that my use of the pronoun “he” in that question was not clear. I meant why did a fan post a clip of him talking, not singing — was it because what he was saying (about you) was so sweet. But now that I see how long the clip is, I realize the point was to share him talking at length to his fans. Like I said, very cool.
As a Beatlemaniac from a different generation (and culture), I am fascinated with the comments of everyone here who actually experienced The Beatles in the 60s. Yeah, yeah, indeed!
I was never been drawn to younger women the way many men seem to be. My standard explanation for this was that if I have to explain who The Beatles were, omg, what would be the point?
It’s truly astonishing to look back at the number of quality songs they produced in just those few years. Most bands these days put out an “album” to fulfill a contract obligation, even though there’s only one good song on it.
Joni Mitchell is my one-true-love, however. But not the albums the rest of you’ve heard of. I like those ones too, but everything AFTER Court and Spark is where the genius really took off, for my taste. For her, I would indeed fly across the country to catch a show. Probably not to Korea, however.
Okay @merij1 you asked for it. Starting at 8 minutes or so JaeJoong is asking the ages of the folk in the audience. Unfortunately, I’m not seen, but when the crowd starts shouting ‘yogie, yogie’ and looking over their shoulders….I am being spirited to the stage by my fellow fangirls. Jae says ‘whaa’ walks over…says ‘aigoo’….you’ll see the bow as he congratulates me. He then walks away saying that he is now old enough that he could be his fan’s son. His adoptive parents are my age. But I was 16 all over again! 🤣🤣🤣. Imagine my delight when I found this fancam was posted on YouTube 🤪🤪🤪
Ah Georgia Peach – so happy for you that you were able to experience this! A once in a lifetime moment!
It was quite an adventure. I was gifted with two lovely girls who escorted me around Seoul getting me from venue to venue. One girl was from the hotel staff and the other was her life long best friend. We are still in contact these 4 years later. Thank y’all for letting me share my trip. Each time I share it I relive it again ☺️☺️☺️
@merij1..no problem. This day and time it is smart to be wary of people on line. As for the email link..did we perhaps exchange emails in the past? Beez and I chat occasionally through email.
Well, happy watching everyone. I’m anxiously awaiting the development of The Tale of the Nine Tailed with Lee Dong Wook. If you’ve not seen Hell Is Other People… aka Strangers From Hell … and you’re not too squeamish…watch it. LDW and Siwan and, of course, there’s the Academy Award winner Lee Jeong Eun.
No on you and me exchanging direct emails previously. What happens is that if you include a link outside this blog in your comment, WordPress holds it in purgatory until KFG approves it, to keep everyone safe.
Since she’s on Singapore time, that doesn’t happen till she wakes up and checks her blog.
The surprise was only that the email notification with your full comment came to me immediately. So I was able to view your YouTube triumph right away.
However I’m not sure if it goes to everyone or just the person you are replying to. In this case, you had used one of my comments to open a Reply box.
Sinatra, Beatles, Michael Jackson, BTS… teen fever. “Nothing new under the sun” 😆
@SnowFlower: There was a ten year period in which I wrote reviews about popular African dance music, which had its heyday in several countries between the late fifties and the turn of the century. I had the good fortune to meet and speak with a number of musicians. And like you with us here, I found it endlessly fascinating to listen to how they spoke of their experience of the music.
Popular music just about everywhere is the province of young people and it bubbles up via youth culture, small clubs, concert halls, your friends’ music players, so while I fell in love with the music, I had the real sensation that I experienced it much differently than my acquaintances from Africa, without the context of real time popular culture.
I feel somewhat the same way about Korean tv and film and contemporary pop.
To have been an American youth in the era of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan had a whole huge subtext for those of us living through those times. Actually, I preferred the American popular music of my teens, American soul music, more, but the life changes I went through in my twenties with the Beatles among others as my generation’s collective OST (doing the world traveller young bohemian thing, to be stopped in my tracks in Kathmandhu hearing Lady Madonna piped out of a window, so much metonymy for me contained in that image–the single mom, the kids, did you think that money was heaven sent?)–all the changes they went through starting with the yeah, yeah, yeah, but then especially beginning with Rubber Soul straight on through the White Album was interwoven in a collective experience.
The African music I fell in love with was made by musicians my age, so at least I could relate with them on that level. Although my affection for that music is not unlike my affection for jazz before the 60s. But I view both American and Korean contemporary pop from a distance I cannot quite explain, even if the hook to IU’s recent hit “Blueming” sounds like a hook right out of the Beatles’ heyday, and the spirit of youth that follows also quite reminiscent.
@BE – Although I was a music major in high school and did my share of touring Europe with a select vocal group along with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (similar to Young Americans) – my reaction to music is less about the technical and more about how it makes me feel. Check out this link from Chuno.
It reminds me of another “camp fire” song from the 1960 version of the movie Spartacus. I think Tony Curtis was supposed to sing. In fact, the dialogue does say he’s “singing a song” but his vocals weren’t up to the task. I’m so glad they didn’t opt to dub him with a real singer because it’s easier to hear the music with just his speaking voice. https://youtu.be/IoWP97f1gn0
I’ve probably strayed waaaaay off topic but hey, this is where this conversation took my wayward thoughts to.
Hi BE – I love your comment on Bae Doo Na. She has a very fine, nuanced approach to her roles (even when she is kicking someone’s butt 😄). It is evident even when she simply sighs. Her sighs in Stranger spoke volumes.
You may have already seen these as you are a BDN fan, but if not, I would strongly suggest Stranger S1 and 2 as she excels in these two dramas. Available on NF__x.
Stranger is a pretty good drama, and the whole admin of justice in South Korea scene it depicts is interesting to me even if it is only a pop culture depiction as there is almost nothing similar in American culture. But Bae Doo Na carries the show. The other actors are all good, but she has so much screen presence that even in such an exceedingly nuanced performance, she radiates–no matter how the show slowly paces, when she is onscreen the action is riveting. One would not say she has a pretty face, but it is a face one wants to kiss all over. She has what they call, “je ne sais quois” in spades. What others call “it.”
I will add LMH in City Hunter as an anti-hero that works. Sorry, I forgot his character name. show is fun to watch even for not a fan of him like me. I kinda agree and disagree with Maru. For me the drama is good but his morality always questionable. But, in term of character I found him similar with Pil Joo somehow. Both use woman they love and both really smart. Different is maru always show how bad he is except in front of Eun Gi but Pil Jo always like fox in sheep clothing most of the time. So, I can understand how Maru doesn’t really work to you.
Recently, I watch Thai drama, Man Of Vengeance (Hua Jai Sila). It’s consider a good revenge for most but for me it was so mehhh. The revenge is too slow and the performance really doesn’t help it.
Ooh, I forgot about City Hunter! Yes indeed, I’d agree he is an anti-hero! 😃
I have to admit that I watched Nice Guy quite some time ago, so the details are rather hazy to me. I do know that I’m in the minority when it comes to the lack of hearts in my eyes for Nice Guy. All I know is that I was drawn to Pil Joo, but I was not drawn to Maru, though I would say that Song Joong Ki did a great job of his delivery. I’d be curious to see what I can glean from a rewatch of Nice Guy, to figure out more of why Maru didn’t grab my heart, but I can’t bring myself to do it. 😜😅
This is quite a different post Fangurl. Personally, I agree with your choices, Kang Pil Joo, Money Flower and Mei Chang Su, NIF being the two that resonate most with me.
MCS is essentially an anti-hero as yes – it is treason he is plotting against the Emperor. I bought into his struggle hook, line and sinker as I become so wrapped up in the righteousness behind his decisions and actions. Even though personal revenge is the underlying catalyst for his journey, the the root cause of that journey was pure evil.
Same with Money Flower. And doesn’t our Jang Hyuk excel at these characterizations of a bad guy with good heart? In Chuno as well. Ah, Jang Hyuk. When he get a good role it is pleasure watching him on the screen. He is so very good.
Not once did I think there was any redemptive qualities in Kim Moo Young, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. Not once. I personally had a strong visceral reaction to this character. Seo In-guk did such a good job with that role for him to make me feel that way. It was the icy coldness at which he operated that was so disturbing. I realize that the drama used his childhood trauma as the cause for his actions but the coldness he exhibited made me think more psychosis than neurosis.
Great post Fangurl, and one that really makes us think!
I noticed that Jang Hyuk and Jung Kyung Ho have the most contributions to the great anti-hero list. Joo Won has one character in the good anti-hero list and another on the not so good list.
All thanks to Snow Flower, who asked the very different question! 😃
I trust you on all things NIF, so I’m really happy and relieved that you think MSC belongs on this anti-hero list! I’d mentioned it to my mom, who’s watched NIF 4x, and she was reluctant to agree that MCS is an anti-hero. I think mostly because she sees him as the good guy who’s been wronged. But treason is treason, eh? Plus, so many anti-heroes start out as good guys who’ve been wronged. That’s why they’re anti-heroes and not villains, I think!
Jang Hyuk is consistently fantastic playing anti-heroes! 🤩🤩🤩 I approached this list with the idea that anti-heroes are protagonists of the story, and so I omitted Jang Hyuk’s turn as Bang Won in My Country, but man, was he compelling in that!
As for Kim Moo Young.. I think I felt very alienated from his inner workings. I know Show did that on purpose, to keep us guessing as to whether he was the murderer, but it made it really hard to understand him or empathize with him, though I feel like Show was positioning him as sympathetic, especially through the way Jin Kang sees him. I do agree Seo In Guk did a great job of the role though!
@phl1rxd OTT – where did you find CrossFire to watch? I remember seeing a thumbnail of two young men playing video games but can’t remember where and I can’t find it on Netflix, Amazon, nor the illegits. Is it under a different name?
Hi Beez – It is on YT. A couple of channels have it and their episodes all look alike. Note that the subs are not good. I am stuck at E5 because there is too much gaming and not enough story. I have heard that this changes but I am not sure if I can hang in there to see it. I may drop. I have been catching up on finishing dramas on hold in the meantime. I will say this – most def Leo Wu has a bright future. I am most impressed with his performance in the 5 episodes I have seen, Very impressed indeed. Time will tell whether I get back to it.
Thanks, phl1rxd. I’ll check it out on YouTube but I know I kept coming across it on one of my streaming subscriptions but can’t find it on them now.
What a cool article, and nice list of shows that I haven’t heard of before to check out! I’ve seen Healer, Flower of Evil and It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, and fully agree with your characterisation of the protagonists as anti-heroes! Selfish, amoral, do illegal things but with a strong moral core on the inside. It made me think about the protagonists in the other dramas I’ve watched, whether any are in the “pure” hero category. Ri Jeong Hyuk from Crash Landing on You and King Lee Gon from The King: Eternal Monarch come to mind. They are moral, upstanding alpha males with high status in society and skilled at what they choose to do. And they jump into the rescuing maiden mode very quickly.
The Lee Jun Ki mention made me think of his other role in Arang and the Magistrate. Might that be classified as a reluctant hero? He didn’t do bad things, but he started the show as a very cynical and self-centred person, only caring about his own agenda and not willing to stick up for the downtrodden. It’s only because Arang holds a clue to his Mission that he gets off his rump to help her, with a lot of complaints.. In a way Arang challenges him to care about someone else than himself and the mother-shaped hole in his life, and as he starts caring for her he starts to become more moral and caring of the downtrodden too!
Ooh, I’d say you’re spot-on in classifying LJK’s role in Arang as a reluctant hero! 😃
Glad you’ve found some shows to add to your list, from this post! Which ones are calling your name? 😋
I love a good anti-hero. I often find them more compelling than the standard hero. One anti-hero that stands out for me is Jang Do Han in the Korean drama, Lookout. He was the only reason I kept watching the drama. I also thought that Nam Sun Ho in My Country and Yeo Woon in Warrior Baek Dong-Soo were good anti-heroes. (Would they both be considered main characters?) The Crown Prince in the Chinese drama Goodbye My Princess was a tragic anti-hero and an interesting foil against the unrelenting goodness of the princess. Or maybe he was just a jerk. Hard to say.
I think Nam Seon Ho in My Country and Woon in Warrior Baek Dong Soo qualify as tragic anti heroes.
I agree with Snow Flower; I do think both Nam Sun Ho and Woon qualify, mostly because of the way both stories are structured, where the female lead, traditionally the other main protagonist besides the hero, is treated more like a secondary character. In both shows, I felt the relationship between the male leads were more prominent, and so I think we’re on the right track, placing Sun Ho and Woon as anti-heroes. 😊
Oo I enjoyed this post! I agree with those I’ve watched and have found some shows I ought to watch. I also thought of Gu Dong Mae (YYS) from Mr Sunshine but understand he’s not technically an antihero. But what a character! And also not an antihero but in My Mister, Ji-an going up against Park Dong Un in the club was super badass.
What a great insight, MC!!! Snow Flower and I were just talking about whether we knew of anti-heroes from more slice-of-life, ordinary stories. While I wouldn’t exactly call My Mister slice-of-life, it does have that flavor about it, and Ji An does absolutely fit the requirements to be called an anti-heroine! THANK YOU! ❤️ I have just updated the list to include her! 😃
My goodness yes, Yoo Yeon-Seok’s Gu Dong Mae is the very essence of an antihero–a ruthless killer, we ought to hate, but really like instead. He is compelling, and Yoo Yeon-Seok steals the show every time among a cast ensemble that is loaded with not good but great leads and character actors. Everything else I have seen him in pales by comparison, and I hope he gets another opportunity to play such a complex, screwed up, larger than life, knife-edged character.
I would add my understanding of an antihero character is that while they may not necessarily be the main lead they are among the lead cast. In all of tv series I have seen, Gu Dong Mae has only been surpassed by Michael K Williams bravura Omar Little in the Wire. Yes there are factors that make these characters sympathetic, and they must exhibit extreme redemptive behavior, but it strikes me that they by any societal standards go well beyond all acceptable or even forgivable real life behaviors, and must also be heroic. Those qualities far more than being the lead lead, as often they are foils for the lead lead, are what constitute an antihero character.
I agree that the male lead in Flower of Evil is a great recent addition to the list!
Yes! Lee Jun Ki does so well playing an anti-hero! 🤩
The only one I know is Healer.
Seems like I am not the Antihero type 😀
Aw, but if you liked Healer, perhaps there are other anti-heroes on this list that you might enjoy? 😃 I know I loved Money Flower and Chuno. 🤩🤩
Looked into them real quick… but I don’t think these dramas are my style
Aw, that’s perfectly fair! We can’t all like the same kinds of dramas after all! 😄
@Reaper – maybe check out City Hunter. Although Healer is my favorite, the character really takes inspiration from City Hunter which pre-dates it.
CHUNO! I meant to thank you for ensuring Dae gil was at the top of your list. And I know I’m always quick to shout “CHUNO!” but I think I need to start calling it The Slavehunters so that anyone interested in a great show can actually find it because sometimes you can’t find it under Chuno.
There’s a few that are on my list – at least I think they’re anti-heros:
Gunman of Joseon starring Lee Joon ki
Iljamae also Lee Joon ki
Return of Iluamae (different actor)
Fugitive of Joseon – Lee Dong wook
Thank you for replying to my request with another thoughtful post. Almost all of the characters you listed are among my all-time favorite drama characters. I noticed that pretty much all of the characters you mentioned are either in sageuks, crime thrillers, or melodramas. That made me think, why these genres in particular? I can’t really think about anti-heroes in romantic comedies or slice of life dramas. And then it hit me: anti-heroes are larger-than-life characters, and they simply cannot exist in a slice of life dramas. (That, of course, does not mean that characters in slice of life dramas do not experience growth and change.)
The more melodramatic (or rather emotionally charged) the tone of the show, the more likely we can encounter larger than life characters, including anti-heroes.
Some additions to the anti-hero(ine) list: SPOILERS!!!
Chuno, of course, is a great source of anti-heroes. Besides Dae Gil, there is also Cheon Ji Ho (every dentist’s nightmare or challenge, depending on the dentist!). This character starts out as a villain (a rival who tries to sabotage DG’s slave hunting jobs) but the story shows that there is much more to him. He does care about his underlings and ends up saving DG’s life at the cost of his own life.
Another anti-hero from Chuno is Commander Hwang Cheol Woong. He too starts out as a villain, an unfeeling assassin who simply follows orders to please his cruel father in law. He also treats his disabled wife with cold contempt. And yet he shows great care and respect to his old and ailing mother. By the end of the show, he realizes the futility of his efforts, and goes back to his wife. The scene when he breaks down in tears in front of the poor wife is one of the emotional highlights of the show.
Bidam from Queen Seon Deok is another great example of anti-hero. This character lives by his own rules, disregarding the proper etiquette of the aristocratic Silla court. He is the only one who treats the titular queen as a woman rather than queen, even though she has no romantic interest in him. At the end, he is torn between his lust for power and love for the queen. I did not agree with the writer’s treatment of this character in the last 10 episodes of the show, but I was very moved by Bidam’s last scene.
Mori from Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People – another character who started out as a villain, but as the story progressed, we learned more about him. I was very happy when he joined Hong Gil Dong’s gang!
Chae Hong Joo (Chairman Ueno’s adopted daughter) from Gaksital – I was totally rooting for this anti-heroine! I found her character much better written than the other female character. I was very moved by her parting words to her Japanese bodyguard.
Gu Dong Mae from Mr. Sunshine. Enough said!
Yi Bang Won from Six Flying Dragons was already mentioned. I wonder if Yi Bang Won from My Country qualifies as an anti hero? Or maybe a conflicted villain?
I did some digging, and it seems that an anti-hero is a protagonist or main character.. I decided that this meant either the male lead or female lead, unless it was an ensemble cast like Bad Guys. And that’s why Yi Bang Won from SFD got a mention, but Yi Bang Won in My Country did not, coz in our story, he was technically a supporting character, while the two younger guys and their shared love interest were our main characters. Does that make sense?
So basically, a show can have multiple morally grey characters, but only the main character is considered an anti-hero. (What an enlightening process this post has turned out to be! 😅)
Looking at your list, it seems that some of the characters you’ve enjoyed are morally grey characters who aren’t necessarily anti-heroes.. Put that way, I think we could more easily imagine a slice-of-life drama or other genre accommodating such characters, where they aren’t good, but they also aren’t necessarily bad.
Also, that’s an interesting point that you raised.. a character who starts out as a villain who then experiences some measure of redemption.. does that still make him a villain, an ex-villain, or can he be counted as an anti-hero? I don’t truly know the answer to that, honestly, but my instinct says that if the character is the villain, then they’re the antagonist, and there’s a protagonist in the story, and unless the story shifts to make the ex-villain its protagonist, it doesn’t quite make sense to classify the ex-villain as an anti-hero..? 🤔
(I’m sorry, am I making things more muddled, the more I think out loud..? 😝🤪)
I’m old enough to have grown up when anti-heroes were just breaking into the mainstream of Western culture. As a kid, I’d watch uber-good guys like Roy Rogers, who combined alpha-male qualities with notions of extreme decency and fair play. Fast with a gun, yet quick to turn the other cheek.
The closest to anti-heroes we’d get back then were Wild West movies like The Magnificent Seven (the samurai remake) or the drifter in Shane, who saved the good-guy father from the bad guys, chose NOT to seduce the boy’s mother, and then left town to continue his life as a loner outsider, prompting calls from the young boy, to “come back, Shane!”
Then Clint Eastwood came along. And soon it spread from westerns and war movies to everyday police detectives and outward.
To me, the anti-hero started as a rejection of the conformity imposed by the 1950’s. It was meant to be a shocking juxtaposition against that mono-culture, indulging instead in the appeal of the morally independent-thinking loner/outsider/individual.
Unfortunately, to remain shocking, the roles had to keep descending to lower depths of anti-social behavior. Then the 1980s came along, and self-interest and greed suddenly went mainstream, led by Milton Friedman’s free-market notion that corporations serve the public interest best by caring about literally nothing other than maximizing profits. Which then drifted to how individuals operate as well.
So the anti-hero still has an inherent appeal for me, but far less so then when it was a stark contrast to mainstream behavior. American is bursting its seams with individualistic anti-heroes these days.
I agree with you, merij1! it seems that pretty much all the protagonists of current or recent American shows are anti-heroes, and the field seems too saturated. Sometimes I wish for the good old-fashioned hero (free of irony) to make a comeback. Korean dramas have a nice balance of heroes and anti-heroes.
Slightly off the primary topic, but not entirely, is the whole East vs. West emphasis on loyalty to family, tribe and conformity vs. admiration for rebels/outsiders and independent thinkers/doers. In that context, the anti-hero seems very not-Korean.
Along those lines, The Atlantic summarizes a new entry in broad-brush history, similar to “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”
Joseph Henrich argues that the Catholic Church’s efforts to supplant family and tribe as the dominant allegiance in the lives of its followers inadvertently led to the West’s rapid and highly divergent evolution.
Which is significant both for understanding how Western society came to dominate the world via the industrial and democratic revolutions, and also for clarifying how ignorant we can be when imposing our choices on older cultures still tied to family and tribe as the primary bonds:
Great article Merij1. I love The Altlantic and have thought about getting a sub but I already have NYT for the crossword puzzles which I am addicted to. Very interesting read. Thanks for the link.
It reminded me of why anti-heroes would be less common in K-drama.
I use multiple browsers to extend my free article per month at The Atlantic. But that link came from an add-on I use on my main browser — Pocket — that opens new tabs with interesting suggestions for articles a curious person might like. Sometimes the link goes to the actual site, sometimes it goes to a version that doesn’t trigger the origin site’s paywall. I’ve been surprised how well-curated the articles have been.
@merij1 – so much deep in this comment but what stands out for me emotionally is:
COME BACK, SHANE! COME BACK!
(I must continue to live up (down?) to my shallow depths) 😆
Oh! I forgot to mention the whole Superman vs Batman thing where now Superman is viewed as boring but Batman is mysterious and sexy.
Yes, those plaintive words are etched in my emotional memory as well. Right up there with [spoiler alert!!] the death of Old Yeller and of Bambi’s mother.
@merij1 – why am I hearing the strains of Shenandoah right now? lol I’m thinking of the song and I think the movie may have had the same title?
Good point, KFG! Many secondary characters in a drama are conflicted or undergo change and growth too! Since they are not the protagonists, they do not qualify as bona fide anti heroes. But no matter how they are classified, they spice up any drama and we love them for that!
By the way, does Gu Seung Jun from Crash Landing On You qualify as an anti-hero?
I’d say no, but I’m hard-pressed to explain the distinction.
Is a dishonest person who falls in love and starts acting admirably an anti-hero? I think that falls more in the “redemption arc” bucket.
Which might be another great topic for you, KFG!
I’d also say no, because our story already has protagonists in Capt Ri and Se Ri, and Seung Jun is technically second lead, all the way through (ie, there’s no switch up that makes him the protagonist). So I’d classify him as a morally grey character who gets a redemption arc. 🙂
Snow Flower! I’m so excited to say that we have an anti-heroine from a more slice-of-life flavored story (though not technically a slice-of-life drama): Ji An from My Mister! 😃 MC reminded me of it, in her comment, and I’ve just updated the post to include Ji An.
Yay for more anti heroines! And yes, Ji An does fit the description very well.
She does! I had such a “D’oh!” facepalm moment, when I realized I’d forgotten all about her! 😆
Jang Hye-sung (Lee Bo-young) as the lazy, indifferent-to-clients, and hilariously vain public defender in “I Hear Your Voice.” Not really an anti-hero, but certainly not a person one would look up to . . . yet totally endearing once you accept her flaws as mostly harmless eccentricities.
Choi Yoo-jin (Song Yoon-ah) as the murderous owner of JSS Security Company and wife of the presidential candidate in “The K2.” I was drawn to her largely due to the actress’s performance, but also due to the tragic element in her life story as a woman who started out innocent and trusting, but then turned to evil to survive and ultimately triumph over the men who sought to use her for their own ends.
She is far more villain than anti-hero, to be honest, although her humanity started to re-emerge due to Healer-Redux coming into her life. So I guess I’d have to put her in a different category: “The Complex Villain.”
Hm.. after some thought, I wouldn’t classify Hye Sung as an anti-heroine, because as indifferent, lazy and vain as she might be, she is not morally ambiguous (or is she? My memory might be vague at this point. My instinct says she isn’t morally grey..). 🤔
And yes, I do think you’re right that Yoo Jin is the villain in The K2, rather than an anti-heroine. A complex and interesting villain who was more interesting and complex than our protagonists most of the time, but a villain nonetheless. 😆
Hye Sung is morally ambiguous in this respect: she was charged with representing low-income clients accused of crimes yet made no effort to actually defend them. She was in it only for the money.
It only seemed innocuous because of the humorous way they presented it.
But I agree, that’s more quirky-not-admirable than anti-hero.
Ahh, thanks for that! Yes, that does explain why you’d place her as an anti-heroine. You are also right, that the way Show treats it, makes it a small, almost throwaway detail in a loving characterization, making it easy to miss. I’d say you are technically right that she’s an anti-heroine then – who then evolves into full-fledged heroine! 😉
Speaking of The K2, we’re seven episodes into the Sungkungkwan Scandal and I was amused to see two of the bad guys from The K2 faced off with each other there as well — the husband presidential candidate and his rival from The K2, who play the king and his most senior but-not-loyal minister in Sungkungkwan.
Beez will be happy to know it’s also the first show in which either my wife or I liked Yoo Ah-in. We loved Secret Love Affair despite his role and hated him in the film Burning. But he’s pretty good in Sungkungkwan.
That’s so cool that you’re having a good time spotting actors across dramas! You know you’ve watched a fair body of dramas, when you start spotting actors like this! 😄 Also, I’m really glad you’re watching Sungkyunkwan Scandal!! That was my first sageuk, and it was a perfect way to ease into it, since it’s a fusion sageuk and therefore has lots of modern touches. I thought it was such a fun show, and YES, I thought Yoo Ah In was very roguishly appealing in it! 🤩🤩 Song Joong Ki is also wonderfully flighty and flirtatious in it! 😍😍
We’d never seen Song Joong Ki before this, but he was definitely a stand-out from the very first episode.
We can’t keep up with the actual names for characters in large-cast shows, so we use nicknames instead. For Sungkyunkwan, we call him “Loki,” for the Norse god of amused mischief.
Ahaha! That’s a perfect nickname for him in SKKS!! 😆😆
I also use nicknames! I am not as creative as you though. I just use “main guy”, “bad guy”, “second girl” etc. I did nickname a character The Purple Assassin once and now I cannot think about him in any other way.
Yeah, we go with names like “The Pharmacist “or Jung Hae-in One Spring Night … and then continue to use that in every other show we see him in! lol
@merij1 – I’ve probably said this to you before, but since I don’t remember for sure – when you need a break from series, watch the movie A Werewolf Boy starring Song Joong ki. Kfangurl reviewed it as well. I think it got her highest score.
I’ve added it to the list!
By All Means watch A Werewolf Boy and get the Kleenex out. I have a friend who said she couldn’t cry because she took Prozac…five tissues later…the movie was over! SJK was ….no words!!!
Glad y’all are liking SkkS. It was a breakthrough role for our Yoo AhIn and for the idol turned actor Park Yoochun. Also Song JoongKi got a lot of notice as well. Btw, SJK is a graduate of Sungkyunkwan. Let me know how y’all liked the Gat Kiss! 😘. Park Yoochun’s sing group JYJ sang the OST.
I can’t imagine what a Gat Kiss is, but I take it on faith that it’ll be awesome!
Not sure what episode it’s in. You’ll know it when you see it…now that you know what a ‘gat’ is. Kiss your wife!
We just finished episode 15 (out of 20) and neither lead realizes the other is in love yet. He still thinks she’s a man and she’s still clueless that he wouldn’t be in love with her as a man. Or something comparably emotionally-understandable-yet-ridiculously-clueless like that.
So it better be soon!
Good for you! And continue to enjoy SkkS!
We finished SkkS last night! I’ll post at KFG’s review of it later on, assuming she has one for it.
I’ll look forward to your posting on this drama. Please keep in mind that Park Yuchun is an idol singer turned actor and this was his first acting role. The other ensemble actors had already been acting for some time…though not as highly recognized as now. Park Yuchun did go on to other acting roles and was awarded numerous awards from the tv networks as well as 5 other acting awards in one year. I recommend Sea Fog. A Bong JoonHo…of Parasite fame… produced movie . Alas, he has fallen on hard times when found guilty of drug use. He is now trying to recover his career. I’m a fan and wish the best for this talented man.
I had read that much of his bio and was saddened by it. We thought he was perfect for that role.
Yes. He was perfect for the part. As a fan I was looking forward to his return from military service…then the sex scandal and from there it was a decent into darkness. Bad decisions on his part and a girlfriend who was later to be found to be a person… who though very wealthy…took drugs and also dealt drugs to her wealthy friends. It’s an old story of stressful situations handled with bad decisions. Yuchun perhaps was the most vulnerable of the three members of JYJ.
But do watch his other dramas. A cry in every episode…I Miss You. A good laugh and cry with Rooftop Prince. A good mystery with Three Days.
Hi Georgia Peach – i had to google this – Gat Kiss – and so far all I can find for Gat is gun (derived from the word gatling gun). I am clueless. Help!
I think Gat refers to those cool hats men wore back then. How that relates to a kiss is something I hope to discover soon!
Last night we finished the archery contest episode (Ep 7).
Merij1, are you suffering from Second Lead Syndrome (SLS) yet? Yoo Ah In’s character in SkkS was my introduction to the trope.
I wouldn’t go that far, but Yoo Ahi-in is pretty adorable thus far, which is a far, far cry from what we thought of him previously!
He just discovered that she’s a woman and is suffering from incessant hiccups as a result.
I thought those hiccups were hilarious and adorkable! 😆🤩
I’m late. Sorry y’all had to look it up – yes, Gat is that netted stove-top looking hat. 😊
Hi there Georgia Peach – I take it back. I know exactly what scene you are talking about! Hah – with the help of my friend merij1! I must have CV brain – I knew that but remembered that scene after merij1 replied. Yes ma’am it was a great scene!
Ah…so glad you found it in your memory! It left me breathless! SkkS was one of my first 10 or so dramas and the whole KKiss thing was new to me. Some still will leave me rewinding several times! ^^*
I’ll say I’m watching Heartless City right now…after reading Fangirl’s post. I’m a huge fan of antiheroes and I believe Jung KyungHo is doing an excellent job as this story’s antihero. They do guy liner when he’s being exceptionally dark in his role! Very effective.
Also agree with your recommendation of The Throne. Excellent movie. And to see So Ji Sub do a traditional Korean fan dance is a plus!
HI Meriji – I really loved Sungkungkwan Scandal! I am so glad you are enjoying it (and Yoo Ah-In).
If you ever get the chance and have two hours to spare, you may want to check him out in The Throne. YAI was magnificent in this. It is here that you see his acting ability at its finest. I think it is his best work to date. The movie is about Prince Sado and it is riveting as it is a true story. It inspired me to purchase the book written by Prince Sado’s wife (The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong) and that in itself was excellent. It is however, not for the faint-hearted.
The Throne is excellent indeed. Poor Prince Sado…I first heard his name in SkkS and had to look him up. That was the beginning of my interest in Korean history.
Snow Flower – If you ever get the chance to read The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong do so. I love when I watch an historical KDrama/KMovie that inspires me to research the era. I have learned so much Korean history that way. It makes you appreciate and deeply understand the song Arirang (best sung by Ha Hyun Woo, yes I am biased).
The Throne was so moving I had to dig into the back story and that is how I found the book. It brings you right into the Palace. The book also gives you a peek into her life before she was selected to marry Prince Sado and the process that was followed for the marriage preparation. Fascinating. A nod to Merij1’s post about older cultures and familial relations!
@phl1rxd – I had read about the memoir but assumed it’s not available in English. Did you read it in English or Korean?
Hi Beez – available in English from A_____on. I have it on my Kindle and have actually read it twice – 2nd time to research something.
Thanks, phl1rxd I’m also a little afraid to read it because Kdramas have made me feel that Prince Sado is a poor misunderstood Prince but what little commentary that I’ve read of his wife’s book is that he was a stark raving mad rapist who ran screaming through the palace at night. Is that an accurate impression of the book?
Yes ma’am. According to his wife he was. Still doesn’t excuse the box which was used to skate around filicide . What I found most fascinating is reading pre-marriage and palace goings on. Also – trying to grasp her mindset – this book brings to mind Merij1’s post on the strong familial rules in Korea, especially in those times. Her rationale behind some of the events I found mind-boggling. I am grateful to live in 2020 (yes even 2020). 😌
I’ve added The Throne to our list. Since it’s only two hours, we will probably fit it in soon.
I remember seeing The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong at a bookstore in NYC a couple of years ago, but I did not buy it then. I ended up buying another book on Korean history, but I still beat myself up for not getting Lady H.’s book. I know I can order it online. There is a drama called 8 Days: The Assassination of King Jeongjo and it deals with the aforementioned King who goes on a pilgrimage with his mother (Lady H.). She was shown writing her memoirs and reminiscing about her late husband. There is a very moving scene when she reveals to her son that she was forced to choose between the life of her son and the life of her husband. I don’t know if this is historically accurate or just the writer taking artistic license, but the acting was very powerful.
@merin1 – I totally detested the movie Burning. Even my fan-girl-love rose-colored glasses could not make me enjoy it.
I saw you mentioned you’re going to watch The Throne. 👍 And you might want to watch Yoo Ah in play the villain in Veteran. He’s deliciously despicable.
Six Flying Dragons is the sh*t! Excuse my French but it totally is. Lol Yoo Ah in, is so very good in it. (As are Cheon Ho-Jin and Park Hyuk-Kwon.)
The show is full of sword fighting (excellent fighting scenes) and even though Yoo Ah in never draws his sword and yet he’s chilling when he uses only his wits to change politics and confronts the bad guys. You honestly have to fight yourself to remember he’s not exactly a good guy either. Well, history says he’s bad because, after all… the War of The Princes and all. This show handles his fictional childhood so well to try to explain what could’ve created a man/king who is at the same time good and evil.
(Oh! But I still think it’s best to watch Tree With Deep Roots first.)
Beez – YAI is totally despicable in Veteran. Ugh – I had to get up and walk around the driveway to take a break from watching the movie as his character was so awful. Shudder! Shows what an excellent actor he is.
We finished Sungkungkwan Scandal last night and I just posted my initial reaction at KFG’s SkkS review page:
Goo Dong Mae, (Yoo Yeon Seok) Mr. Sunshine!!!!