In case you missed it, we have yet another guest post series to enjoy, this month!
Unlike our previous guest post series, this one was kind of an accident, almost. I have Ele to thank for this one, because it was her innocent question about something, that made me casually talk about the off-the-top-of-my-head, hypothetical possibility of a guest post series on love, in the month of February, in honor of Valentine’s Day.
So many folks on Patreon responded enthusiastically to this idea, that I felt that it would be remiss of me, not to actually make it happen, come February.
And so, here we are. This month, we will enjoy a total of nine guest posts from patrons on Patreon, on the topic of love stories. The brief is pretty flexible, in that, each writer is free to go deep, or go wide, on anything around the topic of love stories in Dramaland. I feel like we have a lot to look forward to, this month! 🥰
Today’s post is brought to you by Ele, whom I always find to be such a bright, sparkling source of energy, here on the blog. I’m so grateful that Ele’s taken time out of her busy schedule – a big chunk of which involves taking care of a baby (Ele’s a very young grandmom!) – to write this very fun post for us. Thank you, Ele! 😘
You might also like to visit Ele’s website, where she talks about art and writing.
I hope you guys enjoy!
~ KFG ❤️
Fangirling Jane Austen Style
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
And so begins one of the most famous stories ever told – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, first published in 1813 and adapted into countless TV shows and films ever since – even one that includes zombies. And my go-to when I need a pick me up. It is, for me, a comfort blanket – and I’ve discovered, so too is kdrama.
Now, a confession: I’m a romance addict.
When I say romance, I mean the swoony, will-they-won’t-they, and they really should as they’re perfect for one another, sort. Ah, the Jane Austen type with a fleeting glance over the fan, a scant touch of hands, a longing, lingering utterance of their name. The sort I can squeeeeee over (and I do a lot of squeeing).
Just as I adore Jane Austen stories, I, too, find a cosy kind of comfort in kdrama, in the restrained but powerful story of love.
There are the familiar tropes to make me swoon: a beginning, set in a beguiling world far removed from my own; a misunderstanding that sets the One True Pairing (OTP) on opposing sides; a throwing together through unusual events; a falling out; a truck (or horse and carriage) of doom; an interfering grandmother or aunt; and then a final happy – gloriously sweet and chaste and heartfelt – ending!
These tropes are what my brain craves. Does yours too?
Well, with Jane Austen in mind, I figured what better way to delve into some of the best kdramas of the romantic sort, than via the aid of Pride and Prejudice. Who’s with me? Let’s go!
Kicking off things, as all good stories should, is a beautiful setting.
Like Mr Darcy’s grander than grand home of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, kdrama makes good use of its filming locations to take our breath away.
From its recreated historical buildings (Empress Ki), to its modern architecture (The Greatest Love – the lead male’s cool house is in fact a museum), to its sweeping landscapes (Mr Sunshine), to its blossom trees (any drama filmed in spring) and snow (any drama filmed in winter), yep, kdrama has its gorgeous settings down.
Shopping for ribbons, doffing top hands, who doesn’t love a well-dressed OTP?
While Elizabeth’s piano playing would not be “at all amiss, if she practiced more”, and Mary’s playing “delighted us long enough”, perhaps Lady Catherine de Burgh sums up my thoughts on music best when she says: “There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”
Quite. The proficiency of original soundtracks in kdrama is very high indeed, with many a romantic, dramatic, and heart-breaking moment enhanced by an invariably extremely catchy tune.
From the chirpy ‘Paradise’ by Tmax (Boys Over Flowers) to the powerful ‘Orbit’ by Hwasa (The King: Eternal Monarch), to the punchy Auditory Hallucination by Jang Jae-in featuring NaShow (Kill Me, Heal Me).
For me though, it’s the sublime lament of ‘Lovers’ played on the traditional Korean instrument, the haegeum, and the whole of the original Chuno soundtrack that best demonstrates how music can lift an exceptional drama into an epic one. You might like to play ‘Lovers’ while you read on…
Korean Pops Orchestra Concert (2020)
No romantic kdrama would be complete without a misunderstanding or ten.
Just as Elizabeth Bennett mistakes Mr Darcy’s pride as “a propensity to hate everybody,” and he, her prejudice as “wilfully to misunderstand” from bad first impressions, the ensuing drama never fails to deliver.
Probably the most well-worn of them all is the female lead dressed as a boy From Sungkyunkwan Scandal, to Love in the Moonlight, to Shine or Go Crazy, to The King’s Affection, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that kdrama’s leading females must first appear as men and confuse everyone. Kudos to The Tale of Nokdu for reversing the role.
Far and away for me the greatest of them all, and the most wonderfully handled, is Coffee Prince.
Always a Happy Ending
Perhaps the thing I like best in romantic kdrama – as in all of Jane Austen’s books – is that they end happily.
Jane Austen had her reasons (her own unhappy romantic ending) just as Korea has its (a painful country division), that perhaps explains why the successful coming together of our OTPs gives comfort to all who’ve suffered heartbreak.
Even when the ending veers into realism (Suspicious Partner) or tragedy (Mr Sunshine), it still leaves the heart with hope.
Where would any story be without flawed, brilliant characters? And where would kdrama be without its stellar actors?
It’s Okay, That’s Love without Jo In-sung’s heartfelt portrayal of Jang Jae-yeo wouldn’t make the fantastic OTP half so glorious.
Pride and Prejudice, Kdrama-style
With all this in mind, I thought it might be fun to cast Pride and Prejudice with the very best and, to me, most fitting kdrama stars. Feel free to suggest your own!
Female Lead: Elizabeth Bennett
Park Min-young as Chae Young-shin, Healer (2015)
“You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.”
To make our Elizabeth Bennett, I’d like to combine aspects of many characters Park Min-young has played (Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Her Private Life, Queen for Seven Days) with the single-minded, slightly off-beat but extremely likable, Chae Young-shin in Healer.
Always bright, charming, astute and playful. She also scores bonus points for having, as Mr Darcy affirms, “very fine eyes”.
Male Lead: Mr Darcy
“She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Stiff, buttoned-up, outwardly awkward, but, in fact, loyal, upstanding, warm-hearted; who better than Captain Ri in Crash Landing on You to be the eponymous Mr Darcy?
Oh yes, and he’s very good looking to boot – bonus!
Second Female Lead: Jane Bennett
Gong Hyo-jin as Gu Ae-jung, The Greatest Love (2011)
“‘Tis too much!’ she added, ‘by far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh! Why is not everybody as happy?’”
Kdramas never have just one romance going on at once (think of how much we cared about Seo Dan and Gu Seung-jun in Crash Landing on You).
Austen gave her secondary leads an easier time of it than some, though forbearance is the word that sums up both the Bennett’s eldest daughter and also any role Gong Hyo-jin plays, most especially evident in The Greatest Love, but also, in Thank You too.
Never has one woman forgiven so much wrong. Elizabeth Bennett tells her sister: “you are too good”, and goodness, that was never truer than for Gu Ae-jung.
Second Male Lead: Mr Bingley
Lee Seung-gi as Cha Dae-woong, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (2010)
“He was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself.”
Affable, but also easily steered in the wrong direction, Mr Bingley is immediately drawn to “the prettiest girl in the room”, Jane Bennett – just as Cha De-woong is drawn to Gu Miho (Shin Min-a).
I mean, who wouldn’t be? Sure, she’s a supernatural nine-tailed fox, but if Mr Bingley can forgive Jane Bennett’s brash mother, Cha De-woong can get used to a few moonlit tails.
No kdrama would be as angst-inducing without its share of antagonistic forces.
Often internal, such as personal tragedies (Hometown Cha Cha Cha) or mental health issues (It’s Okay, That’s Love and Kill Me, Heal Me), kdrama can also throw in a stubbornly snobbish grandmother or a prickly ex-girlfriend, just to make our leads’ romance even bumpier…
Mr George Wickham
Jang Hyuk as Kwon Oh-joon, Robber (2007)
“He is, beyond all comparison, the most agreeable man I ever saw.”
Merciless and single-minded, Mr Wickham manipulates Elizabeth with as much ease as fellow ‘seduce-them-for-their-money-then-dump-them’ Oh-joon, in the oftentimes difficult to watch, Robber.
No stranger to manipulative, ruthless characters (see also Money Flower and My Country: New Age), Jang Hyuk knows just how to play a less than scrupulous character, while simultaneously gaining our sympathy – or in my case, enduring (squeeeeeeing) devotion.
Lady Catherine de Burgh
Kim Young-ok as The Grandmother, Coffee Prince (2006)
“I take no leave of you, Miss Bennett. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”
As forthright as only a secure, wealthy woman-of-a-certain-age can be, The Grandmother in Coffee Prince is as acerbically friendly to our heroine, as Mr Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, is to Elizabeth Bennet – until, of course, she gets wind that romance is afoot and then all claws are out.
I can almost hear Kim Young-ok spitting: “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”
Baek Jin-hee as Tanshiri, Empress Ki (2014)
“‘I beg your pardon,’ replied Miss Bingley, turning away with a sneer. ‘Excuse my interference. – It was kindly meant.’”
Snobbish and acidic, Mr Bingley’s sister is quite the opposite to his affability, just as Empress Consort, Tanashiri, in Empress Ki is dogged in her determination to poison anyone looking likely to steal her throne.
OK, Baek Jin-hee’s character takes things a tad further than Miss Bingley’s proprietorial interference, but you get my drift.
Comedic characters: If there’s one thing I personally find ‘difficult’ about kdramas, it’s the comedic characters. Often extremely loud and over-the-top, they are – now I think of it – not so very different to the comic relief characters in Pride and Prejudice…
Ji Sung as Ahn Yo-na, Kill Me, Heal Me (2015)
“‘And we meant to treat you all,’ added Lydia; ‘but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop.’”
Loud, extrovert, thoughtless, and a fangirl (of soldiers in uniform), the youngest Bennett sister, Lydia, is every bit a modern selfish teenage girl.
Who could be more fitting to be her than the loudest of Cha Do-hyun’s multiple personalities in Kill Me, Heal Me, Yo-na, idolising over Oppa and squealing as only Lydia Bennett can – oh, OK, and me too.
Sung Dong-il as Ban Do-hong, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (2011)
“I am happy on every occasion to offer those little delicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies.”
If Mr Collins were any more ridiculous, obsequious, or vain, he’d be comedic – oh, wait, he is funny in his pomposity, and I give credit to Sung Dong-il for making the often cringeworthy film-director-in-shades in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, hilarious too.
For likeable cringe, see also: Cha Seung-won as Dokko-jin in The Greatest Love.
The Ensemble: What would Pride and Prejudice be without all the Bennett sisters? The balls would be a lot quieter, that’s for sure, just as a kdrama without its ensemble cast would lose some of its greatest charm.
Miss Charlotte Lucas
Shin Se-kyung as Dam, Tree with Deep Roots (2011)
“I am not romantic you know.”
Left on the shelf aged twenty-seven (properly ancient), Miss Lucas makes the seemingly mad decision to marry the charmless Mr Collins and secure her future.
Sensible – if not romantic – Dam, too, chooses to follow her photographic head, and help King Sejong create Hangul in Tree with Deep Roots, rather than run off into the sunset with Ddol-bok (played by, squeeeee, Jang Hyuk) – and, yes, I’m left as askance by the decision as Elizabeth Bennett was of Miss Lucas’.
Kang Han-na as Yang Hye-sun, My Roommate is a Gumiho (2021)
“Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate such pleasures. They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me. I should infinitely prefer a book.”
Speaking her mind when entirely unwanted, is Mary’s fatal flaw, but also her genius – just as it is for Yang Hye-sun, the 700-year-old gumiho-turned-human, in My Roommate is a Gumiho.
I am a fan of the literal, and both Mary and Yang Hye-sun only ever speak what they literally mean.
Shin Min-a as Kang Joo-eun, Oh My Venus (2015)
“‘And you are never to stir out of doors, till you can prove, that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner.’ Kitty, who took these threats in a serious light, began to cry.”
Despite being older than Lydia, Kitty “will follow wherever Lydia leads” – so that would be hurrying after her to throw handkerchiefs at soldiers, or, as in Joo-eun’s case in Oh My Venus, chasing So Ji-sub to help her get fit.
Mr and Mrs Bennett
Im Ye-jin as Na Gong-joo and Ahn Suk-hwan as Geum Il-bong, Boys Over Flowers (2009)
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. – Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
Kdrama excels in bickering couples who seem on the brink of divorce, just like the Bennetts who are as ill-matched as a gat with a rah-rah skirt.
But like Mr and Mrs Bennett, underlying the squabbles is love. So even as Jan-di’s mother pushes to marry her daughter off to a wealthy man in Boys Over Flowers, they pull together when facing hardship.
As our OTP rides happily away in their palanquin with blossoms falling, with the cast of supporters cheering them on, I should perhaps leave you all with a final quote from Pride and Prejudice, spoken by Mr Darcy in answer to Elizabeth’s question of when he fell in love with her:
“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.”
And so it is with kdrama; I was watching Romance is a Bonus Book – my fiftieth kdrama – before I knew I had begun. Reader, I give you fair warning.