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Drama leading ladies, oh how you’ve changed


Kim Sun Ah as Samsoon

Anyone’s who’s been watching kdramas for a number of years has probably, at some point, noted the same thing as the following article. Early Hallyu kicked off the hallmarks of The Korean Melodrama (And Boy Do I Mean Drama!), and I think more recent offerings are unfortunately still colored (dare I say tainted?) by the tropes established in the early stuff. For instance, the impoverished but virtuous female, the Prince Charming who rescues her, the evil and jealous second female lead who’d do anything to sabotage the main romance, the second male lead who never had a shot, the cancer, the tears, the angst. Consider: Autumn Fairy Tale, Winter Sonata, Stairway to Heaven, Star In My Heart, Glass Slippers, All About Eve

Judging from those early dramas alone, I wouldn’t blame people outside the culture for thinking, “Boy those Koreans sure have a lot of young rich studs and poor beautiful damsels in distress. Imagine how productive the country would be if everyone stopped trying to futz around with each other’s love lives and just got their act together.”

Anyway, many dramas these days still play on the old stereotypes, but the tenor has changed. The stage is gradually shifting, perhaps most notably in the female roles:

Female Characters, Boundless Transformations

Where’s the end to actresses’ transformations? Nowadays, female characters in every kind of drama and film are evolving. In particular, with the success of projects depending less on plot than character, actresses are taking “meaningful risks” in going for a different image or acting that evokes audience sympathy.

TV miniseries in the ’80s and ’90s employed the “Cinderella story” formula in search of success, and brought about a general trend following the “Candy”-esque [the manhwa] philosophy: “Though I’m loney, though I’m sad, I don’t cry.”

In these stories, a kind and obedient female would overcome all sorts of adversities to realize her success in the form of love with a successful man. As a result, popular actresses cultivated innocent images that would elicit a protective instinct. Typical examples include Shin Aera of Love In Your Arms [Sarang eul gudae eui poom ahn ae] and Choi Jin Shil of Star in My Heart.

SONG OF THE DAY

My Name Is Kim Sam Soon OST – “She Is” by Clazziquai. This song makes me totally nostalgic every time I hear it. [ zShare download ]

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 


“Star In My Heart,” starring Ahn Jae Wook, Choi Jin Shil, and Cha In Pyo


“Love In Your Arms,” starring now-married Cha In Pyo and Shin Aera, left two

 

’80s and ’90s: Innocent images evoke protective feelings

Starting from the early 2000s, there was a boom in female characters who put an emphasis on their sense of identity and self. At the top of the list were films like Singles (2003) and dramas like My Name Is Kim Sam Soon (2005), which starred female characters who worried about choosing between love and their career. As a result, there were frequent instances of single women characters in their thirties who’d yet to marry. It was also around this time that popularity caught on for fresh-faced [no makeup] actresses and unkempt, unruly characters.

However, in recent popular culture, female characters are becoming more diverse, and undergoing overall transformation. There are single mothers who face the world without shrinking back, women who carve out their own lives after divorce without timidity. Last year, even the villainous “adulteress” role met with success in the SBS drama My Man’s Woman.

This year, it looks as though we’ll see these characters continue in the form of single mom and divorcee roles unhampered by age or circumstance.

 


Hyun Bin and Kim Sun Ah, “My Name Is Kim Sam Soon”;
Gong Hyo Jin and Seo Shin Ae, “Thank You”

 

Kim Sam Soon’s “Love or work?” dilemma

In the SBS drama currently airing, Bulhandang [Robbers, Con Man], Lee Da Hae gives a performance as a twenty-six-year-old single mother, Jin Dallae, who doggedly keeps at her middling job. In the drama that started February 2, MBC’s weekend series Beautiful Park Jung Geum, Bae Jong Wook in the title role plays a divorced detective who’s both talkative and boldly forward.

In the movie released January 17, I Like It Hot, Lee Misook took on the role of a fortysomething single mother who looks at both her work and her younger boyfriend with a positive attitude. In the film set to begin shooting this month, Sohn Yejin plays an ill-mannered woman who leaves her husband and remarries, in My Wife Has Married. The fact that roles have evolved into these diverse parts, when twentysomething females have been largely limited in drama and film roles as single women characters, reflects a change in society as well. Divorce rates are climbing and unmarried moms raising children on their own are increasing in number. Furthermore, these types of women characters are no longer seen in a depressing light, or portrayed as women clinging to their pasts. Instead, they reclaim themselves, and are depicted as approaching love and work straightforwardly.

 


Jang Hyuk and Lee Da Hae, “Bulhandang” (Con Man)

 

Reclaiming one’s life, facing the world proudly

This trend change toward actresses attempting more uncommon characters is in keeping with their own desires to develop. In the past, one likely reason for twentysomething actresses avoiding roles like divorcees and single mothers is because of the negative opinions of others.

But these roles, which cover a wide range of the character spectrum, may just emphasize the sincerity of the acting because they are true to life. Actress Kim Tae Hee, perpetually criticized for her acting skills, took on the challenge of transforming herself with an extreme character as a divorced woman in her second film, Fight. Another example is Gong Hyo Jin as a single mother in last year’s Thank You, who earned both widespread recognition and popularity for her acting.

A section chief at Namoo Actors, which manages actors including Kim Tae Hee, Moon Geun Young, Kim Min Jung, and Kim Ji Soo, said, “As reflected in the scripts, the times have changed, and unlike in the past, the masses don’t equate actors with the roles they play. Furthermore, actresses may feel some burden in taking on roles depicting experiences they haven’t encountered themselves, but I think they enjoy acting out new experiences and emotions.”

Via Seoul.co.kr

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DUDE,
She is makes me sooo nostalgic too.
it's ridiculous. I didn't like the so song when I first listening to it either but I love it now and when ever I hear it I'm immediately in this different mood.
Sigh...
(I'm actually rewatching Kim Sam Soon right now) ^_^

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MNIKSS, is the 2nd KDrama, I've watched many times after Dae Jung Geum, also still watching it again and again, and many more of KDrama, cheerio.

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This reminds me one of Dahee Fanel's blog entries...the one about a strong female lead who has confidence to take on the world, etc. etc.

I think I would really like to see a drama that portrays that, showing that love can be a side dish to the main course of determination, good work ethic and general success story. I mean, I hope I don't sound too much of a feminist and rant on about women-empowerment... But for once, I'd like to see a show or a movie that portrays the struggles of an Average Jane who fought to change the world and succeeded...hahaha hopefully that makes sense...

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ohhh my gosh. you just had to put that song huh!??! danng.
soo many memories. ^^

anywho, i am surprised that they didnt mention Yoon Eun Hye. i mean the plot is typical cinderella but dang acting as a boy.. is something different.
well heheh. because i love her!

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"Divorce rates are climbing and unmarried moms raising children on their own are increasing in number."

Hey that's not a good outcome ._.

I hate the Cinderella-went-tragic stories the most. It's depressing and it's overdone. Of course if a writer could actually make the said formula interesting then that'd be great. But many have tried and failed already. On the other hand, I love watching strong-willed ladies in dramas because they inspire me. In the real world, we need to be able to look out for ourselves and not just wait for a guy to save us all the time. That rarely happens in real life. Also dramas like that leaves us ladies with a good feeling and a boost in our confidence.

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Thanks for playing the song, so many warm memories . . .

Anyways, I'm glad that korean cinema is being more realistic in portraying women in all our complexities and triumphs. I would love to see more women directors and writers reflecting the realities of real women in Korea, although I do enjoy the occasional "Cinderella" story (maybe just updated).

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I do enjoy seeing the "Cinderella" type of story--but only if it is done right. It's hard to say really. It can't be too fluffy and predictable yet it can't be too farfetched and off the loop either. Yeah, maybe I'm just being difficult but if you think about it, I really wonder what the writers are gonna come up w/ next. I mean, most storylines contain the same elements and main components--it's just a matter of rearranging them once in a while for each drama. Although, I do have to say that even though the storylines may get trite at times, I still enjoy watching them...

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I kinda like the change. Best reward in life is to know your self worth.
I used to throw my remote a lot in disgust.
I would really really like it if they do both. Be independent and strong at the same time loved by a handsome prince who knows to sense what you need, like Kang Tae Bong or Han Gyul when he surrendered to love Eun Chan without caring what it will lead to(when he still did not know EC was a girl). That "alien" speech.
Hahaha......

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as sad as the rising divorce rates are, there are definitely positive changes that come with the baggage, such as a less judgemental society that doesn't marginalizes those non-traditional families or individuals. although i think it's important for people (adults and children alike) to be part of a supportive, stable community/family, it's great that people are now embracing different ways of filling one's niche in society. marriage is not the end all and women and actresses have the freedom to explore different paths or characters, making for some awesome dynamics and dramas.
btw, love kim sam soon and bulhandang (it's a well-written quirky story, though not as flashy as new heart and hong gil dong. i actually love the side characters more than the main leads, although they're great, too. jang hyuk has been picking great dramas from Thank you on, although there is something about the way he talks that annoys me on occasion).

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I wonder if these Cinderella love stories are one of the causes of the high divorce rate?

Perhaps these "anything for love" stories have caused a generation of people to think that love can conquer anything. And so they marry young and purely in the heat of the moment. Not realizing that marriage takes a bit more than that.

Do I sound jaded? Heehee, I'm really not...

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COFFEE PRINCE!COFFEE PRINCE!COFFEE PRINCE!COFFEE PRINCE!COFFEE PRINCE!COFFEE PRINCE!COFFEE PRINCE!COFFEE PRINCE!COFFEE PRINCE!
(^_^)

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These days they are using old cliches and giving them a twist. (Though this style is turning cliche as well -__-) One totally different drama, that is really different from the traditional is Mixed-up Investigative agency. And Coffee Prince, not the fact that it talks about gays etc. but the fact that there are two couples that dont intefere with each other...ya know what I mean?
Oh and by the way I LOVE THE SONG SHE IS!!!!
(I love Alex's voice....I see him all the time on Vitamin haha)

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Been a lurker for quite some time, but just wanted to say that I pretty much agree that there needs to be a change/evolution of the female roles in K Dramas. I've seen several of these now (with my wife) and have noticed all to frequently, the typical roles/scenes that was mentioned by Ms. Javabeans.

Change of course is good. To an extent, I guess we're somewhat jaded because it has gotten to a point where if there isn't a strong/dynamic leading female role or if it's just about another rich guy helping out another damsel in distress, we typically will watch a few episodes and then stop.

I think another drama worth mentioning that we enjoyed and had a somewhat twist was 'A Funny Wild Girl/Country Princess'. From what I read it didn't appear to be that popular but the story of a uneducated woman helping out a man was something we enjoyed. That and the fact that I like Bae Doo Na's work also helps. :D

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I'm happy to hear that the female's role in kdrama is evolving from helpless damsels to stronger and career-minded women. I was getting bored with the OTT funny damsels or the pushover damsels. On the other hand, I'm sad to hear that the change is a reflection of Korean society where divorce rates are skyrocketing and thus more unmarried moms raising children.
Personally, I watch Asian dramas because I can't stand the lack of moral values on Western TV. I'm on the side that thinks that violence and crudity on TV is a bad influence on society.
Samsoon is my fave kdrama damsel. I was simultaneously enthralled and repulsed by her. To this day, I tend to compare most dramas I watch to MNKSS...OST included.

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I'm not Korean and I've only been watching kdramas for a year, so basically all I know about Korea and its culture comes from watching them. One thing I've noticed however, is that in most of the dramas I've seen, aside from the female lead having a Cinderella type of story, is that they are always being portrayed as stupid, either by their own admission or by the male leads that are supposed to love them. Maybe it's my feminist sensibilities that are being aroused, but why is it so?

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"Divorce rates are climbing and unmarried moms raising children on their own are increasing in number."

This phrase can be taken as offensive, but I take it another way. I'm not Korean. I belong to a really traditional country who have not been able to break out of the mold and accept divorce like Koreans are. My cousin, once a social work, told me herself that MANY MANY woman came to her, but finally couldn't break free. The woman desperately wants to share her feelings, whether if it's domestic abuse, or even just plain not getting along with each other. Yet they won't divorce! They say they can't explain why they can't. Even if they have no children, they just can't. WITH children, they say so even more, saying their kids will be looked down upon. It'll be hard, and it'll be an abnormal, unhappy family. I tell my cousin what if the kid's more miserable with a family that doesn't get along? And would the kid want his mom to be unhappy? And who says it's abnormal. They had no choice, they tried their best, and as long as they love and support their children, it'll be fine. And, they might fall in love again, a happier marriage this time. Yet my cuz tell me that the words I just said means nothing to those women. They don't listen and they don't want to. Divorce is a very taboo subject. Once you're married, you're done.

I think the rates are climbing because Koreans are now more willing to embrace divorce and diverse women. Unhappy women carving their own lives is nothing to be ashamed about, and more women are willing to do it. I mean, this might one day make marriage unimportant, but I think for now it is a good sign. I'm sure dramas like these are inspiring women, and I hope more will come, so that women in countries like mine can be empowered. Every little bit helps.

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Kim Sam Soon rules! best kdrama ever......it has everything, drama,comedy,action,fantasy..etc....thanks!

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love sam soon I think every X-mas eve we start from ep 1
to keep the sam soon wave alive. it's become a tradition. It does have the x-mas feel to is in it first episode. Love the song, it's so fun to sing it every time when drama accures during the series or when we just assumes it does.

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she is brings back so many memories of mnikss.
i'm starting to feel nostalgic. haha. i totally forgot about she is until you mentioned it. oh alex. your voice makes my heart leap. haha. `;P

yes. yoon eun hye as a boy should be the first thing they mention in those articles about female actresses. haha.

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man...
i miss my lovely sam-soon very much..
nah,no worry, i got the dvd,,,
just got no time to watch...
erm...
heart SOONSHIK!!!!!
the best kdrama .. no matter how ppl say things about it..
currently watching hong gil dong...
love kang ji-hwan's acting..
he seems natural,,
yu ri is soooooooo cute...

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OMG! when i heard the song, i almost started tearing. thinking about the good old days when dramas where actually somewhat meaningfull, and not like now, where sorting through dramas to find a good one is so difficult. thanks!

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Kim Sam Soon was a really good character...she was independent and she was strong...really different from other dramas....

"She is" makes me nostalgic too...love it!!! :D

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makes me nostalgic here as well... my name is kim sam soon is just so magical

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me gusta

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wow hyun bin you are kill me i love you hanene from algeria

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please hyun and kim sun ah com to algeria she is a good country hanene from algeria i love you hyun bin

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lovely..................................

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حلوووووووووووووووووووووووووووووووووووووووى

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indonesia just airing kim sam soon,oh i love this drama

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I think you should seriously write a paper on this (if you are in school) or an article about korean drama. From what i read so far (first time visitor here), you've analyzed things thoroughly and objectively. You're good!

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