Drama Casting & News
Who’s to blame for confusing characters?
by | September 28, 2009 | 86 Comments

There have been several discussions on this site about this topic, so I found the following article pretty timely. I both agree and disagree with the points outlined below, but regardless of my personal take on the matter, I’m certain there is enough room for convincing arguments on both sides of the issue…

“Who’s to blame when characters are criticized?”… “Incomprehensible” lead characters, damaged dramas

“I can’t understand my character myself, so how can I act in a way that viewers would sympathize? It’s disappointment upon disappointment.”

This is the confession of Ryu Shi-won, who was thrown into confusion at his incomprehensible character in SBS’s Style, which ended on September 20. With twenty years of acting experience, he found his character’s sudden changes difficult to handle. And it’s not just with Ryu Shi-won. Jung Il-woo, who is currently appearing in KBS’s My Fair Lady, expressed disappointment for similar reasons.

Recently there have been several cases of actors lodging complaints of characters they cannot embrace fully, most of whom are lead actors, some of whom can be seen now. In the past, if these remarks were said, they would have come after the drama wrapped filming, but these days they are referenced even as the drama currently airs.

These are not just passing problems, but are statements on the industry. In the past, these issues would have been hushed up, but now they have begun to come out. It’s an indication that self-examination is needed amongst the production environment that used to cover up these matters.

Characters keep the drama moving, and when they become impossible to understand, a drama loses its direction. So what is the problem with these incomprehensible characters?


Kim Hye-soo and Ryu Shi-won (Style)

“Who are these main characters lost in confusion?”

Examples are increasing of actors who reveal dissatisfaction about their characters. These actors share a common opinion that a character who cannot be understood makes it impossible to focus on the acting. Ryu Shi-won, Jung Il-woo, and Lee Da-hae are three examples.

On September 20, Ryu Shi-won wrote his thoughts frankly regarding his frustration with his character on Style‘s homepage. He said, “Normally, I adapt to a character in a drama within the first four episodes, but this time I couldn’t. Every time the new script would come out, I found it difficult to adapt to unbelievable situations and dialogue.”

Before him, Jung Il-woo spoke about his own problems with his character on the 18th, at the open set day for My Fair Lady. He said, “I cannot understand the role of Tae-yoon. In the first part, he was very appealing but now he’s just too perfect. The drama is unfolding very quickly, and I feel confused because I’m unable to find a clear way to express the character.”

A similar case arose last year as well, with Lee Da-hae of MBC’s East of Eden. Via her homepage, Lee said, “At some point, I started to feel guilty about my acting. I worried a lot because I couldn’t understand Hye-rin, so how could I make the viewers sympathize with her?” Following this, she dropped out of the drama.


Moon Chae-won and Jung Il-woo (My Fair Lady)

“What’s the reason for these incomprehensible characters?”

Acting ability is about the ability to get into character. Included in this is an actor’s need to express diverse characters effectively and a need for a supportive environment in which the actor can display that kind of acting. However, the recent instances are a far ways from this scenario. What is the environment like for these actors who find their characters so confounding that they are unable to act properly?

The biggest reason is the vast number of dramas and the Korean system of real-time production. The reality of this system means live shoots and last-minute scripts, as well as altering plot development to follow viewer responses. The inevitable result is that characters who appear onscreen are different from those in the initial synopsis, which causes actors to modify their emotions and their acting late in the game.

Thus actors are bound to feel dissatisfaction. This is the reason why Ryu Shi-won’s character, who was so appealing in the synopsis, came out so lukewarm in the drama, and why Lee Da-hae criticized her role, which diminished in importance compared to the drama’s earlier episodes.

But the problem does not lie only with the production system. The actor is also a factor when characters go bad. One can say that this is a problem when actors lack sufficient imagination to understand their character. Jung Il-woo’s case falls under this area. His character is a relatively easy one who doesn’t have huge differences from his synopsis description. It’s not easy to understand why this is so difficult for him. Shifting the problem from oneself to the character evades one’s responsibility as the actor.


Lee Da-hae (East of Eden)

“Who’s at fault for these character criticisms?”

These negative character appraisals keep coming. Furthermore, speaking such words while broadcasts are ongoing can’t help but be detrimental to the drama. When they are particularly harsh, they can give rise to needless misunderstandings and internal conflict as well.

When an actor is embarrassed of his/her own drama, it’s hardly possible for viewers to enjoy watching. Dramas where actors haven’t been able to get into character have received low ratings and bad reviews. If that happens, it’s up to the plot and characters to move according to viewers’ demands. In the end, the drama gets caught up in a vicious cycle as it follows its audience’s responses.

As a result, it’s the drama, the actors, and viewers who are all hurt by this. Cultural critic Lee Moon-won says, “You have to think about how many viewers will be able to understand these criticisms about a confusing character. Disregarding whether there are that many difficult characters in Korean dramas, it’s self-destructive to let these kinds of critiques come out.”

In the end, it’s about a sense of responsibility. In order to resolve these complaints, it is important to cultivate a sense of mutual responsibility and thoughtfulness. Producers must aim for high quality in the directing and scripts, following the drama’s plan rather than chasing time or viewer ratings. The same goes for actors. They must have a sense of ownership of the drama and be able to put in intense efforts to throw themselves into character fully.

All right, here is my take:

The article has a point that actors speaking out about their characters do not help the drama production team. True.

However, the drama production team isn’t the only one involved here. And I think the actors are allowed to watch out for themselves in such situations as much as they should respect their jobs.

By which I mean: I think it’s rather narrow-minded to assert that there’s only one reason an actor would express these kinds of thoughts, and that reason is some kind of bratty impulse to complain. Yes, each actor (and others not named here) could have chosen better ways to confess their thoughts. However, I think there’s something to be said for letting the audience in on the truth, when we’re already halfway there to guessing it anyway. I actually LIKE hearing actors speak frankly, because often everything that is presented to the public is so polished and spun that it comes out so falsely polite. I want to know that there are real people at work here, and not just drones who repeat bland, “safe” commentary provided to them by managers and producers and PR.

I may have thought Lee Da-hae was rash for dropping out of East of Eden instead of sticking with it when it was almost done — but at least now I know she has standards, and that she thought about her character in a way that wasn’t apparent through what we saw onscreen. Same with Jung Il-woo — he probably could have waited to say his piece, and I’m sure he knew he might get some flack for answering the reporters’ questions honestly — but I get the sense he felt dissatisfied with putting out work he’s unhappy with. He may have felt the impulse to let people know, “I know this guy makes no sense. I’m sorry,” rather than saying nothing and having people think he was happy with his portrayal. (I can’t speak about Ryu Shi-won since I stopped watching Style, but I can see how an acting veteran would be sorely disappointed in a nonsensical character when he has managed to avoid such a scenario for most of his long career.)

There may be an element of that Korean sense of community and inclusiveness at play as well. As in, that collective mentality of “Stick together and don’t betray the inner problems to the outside.” In this case, the drama production is the collective “we” and the public is the “other,” and talking frankly about the weaknesses of the in-group feels unseemly. As an American, I tend to think that as long as the actors stick with their jobs and do the best they can, they’re allowed to think of their own careers too, and act in ways to protect their own interests. (This is why I was disappointed with Lee Da-hae, because I think that although she had every right to be upset with her character, I’d wished she stuck it out rather than dropping out suddenly while the drama was still airing.)

Via Sports Seoul

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86 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Hmmm....

    I’m watching Style lately and i also find Ryu Shi won’s character a bit confusing. You can’t tell if he’s interested in the woman he sleeps with, almost coming off as callous, yet he’s extremely sensitve about his mother and anything that has to do with her. And what’s with the whole business of taking over the fashion magazine when he’s supposed to be a chef. He says he doesn’t care about profit yet he doesn’t let go of it. I really don’t like the character at all and it doesn’t fit the soft, gentle image of Ryu Shiwon.

  2. rain

    aren’t actors called “actors” for a reason?

  3. belleza

    My Fair Lady isn’t really on the radar to me. Jung Il Woo was a support character, and whatever issues there are with Tae-yoon, it’s still pretty much in the parameters of support character. I like MFL for what it is.

    Lee Dae Hae . . . well, I don’t support what she did, but yeah her character got thrown under the bus. At one point, you can almost pick upLDH looking at the camera and going “I’m being paid to walk a dog. To walk a frigging dog!!”

    I definitely see where Ryu Shi Won is coming from though. Style in general is a really, really strange K-drama. One character is probably bisexual (OMG his dancing LOLOL!!!) The female lead is really no longer the female lead. The other female character has a noticeable mustache and every other line, she says “with EDGE.” The villain in the story looks bored half the time and shrugs. There’s another frou frou character who is unconvincingly crushing over another female employee. And in the first 6 episodes, every played Poker Face every 15 minutes.

    Can you tell that Style is one of my favorite dramas this year? :D This is Waiting for Godot with product placements and shoulder pads. :D

  4. Surf City Girl

    I have been watching My Fair Lady and I fully understand why Jung Il-woo is confused. His character was really strong in the beginning of the series – lawyer and falling in love with the main lady character. But lately his character is more a wimp. How can you get into mood of lawyer but playing a wimp!!!

    Hopefully the writer will get the message and really do something about it.

  5. Kgrl

    Sarah, was this a Korean article published by a reputable source?

    If it is…Thank God, there is some self-reflection being voiced on the industry. I’m not so keen on how the article seemed to easily trounce on a young, not established actor, and make assumptions, but I guess it comes with the terrority of being relatively new.

    I also agree that voicing one’s opinion, without being overly harsh or condescending, should be encouraged, rather than hushed. Sometimes people take things too personally and can’t differentiate between objective and subjective views. Criticism does not = “hate” or “dislike” and I give JIW kudos for voicing his views when he’s aware of his “inexperience” and lack of status in the industry. That takes guts, if nothing else. Whether it was appropriate or not is another debate.

    P.S. Was MCW’s pic part of the article? Or was it your opinion that EJ should be included as a “confusing” character as well? lols.

  6. langdon813

    It’s really hard not to sympathize with Jung Il-woo, especially since he put his heart and soul (not to mention blood, sweat and tears) into Return of Iljimae (the tattered scripts, health problems due to over-exertion, etc.). He had to know that expectations for his next drama would be high after such a great performance and quality production. I can see how My Fair Lady might be disappointing to him from a professional standpoint, but for the most part, I’m finding it enjoyable despite the flaws. I’m just looking forward to JIW being the star of his own show again rather than the second lead. In my opinion he’s too good for that, even though he’s still really young.

    I agree that Lee Da-hae should have stayed with the production rather than dropping out, and I’m glad to see that JIW is sticking with it rather than cutting his losses and moving on. I’d think that would bode well for him with producers who might want to work with him in the future. Better to be remembered for a few critical comments (which were mainly directed at himself, anyway) rather than abandoning ship halfway through.

  7. Sonam

    I like it too when actors speak their minds . Knowing conformist Asian culture , I actually thought LDH was very brave to do what she did. And she doesn’t seem like an irresponsible person. I am no fan of hers. I was ready to kill her by the end of My Girl. I liked her better in Green Rose. She looks so good in these pictures. Look at the tiny waist and that swan neck. She’s so tall, slender and graceful.
    Actors are artists in the end and need to believe in what they are doing.
    Let’s just blame it all on GREED.

  8. javabeans

    @rain: Perhaps your comment was just being flip, but I’ll bite. Actors act, yes. But a key element of acting is tapping into the real emotions and situations of the character to bring that personality to life. I’m not even talking Method here, but plain ol’ fundamental acting. So the character in a drama or movie may have elements of the unrealistic, but there has to be some core of humanity to bring him or her to life onscreen. A character who is written as a haphazard collection of actions and dialogue isn’t relatable, so in those extreme cases, the actors really have very little to work with. The actor’s job is to act, but you can’t act in a vacuum — everything has to come together to create a fictionalized reality within the work. When one (or more) of those elements fails, so do the rest.

    @Kgrl: Depends what you mean by “reputable.” Generally I tend to give less credence to the “sports” sites when it comes to gossip, but this is an editorial and I felt the content of its argument had merit, so I put it here as something to chew on.

    Neither Kim Hye-soo nor Moon Chae-won were mentioned in the article. I added the pics of the dramas on my own with no subliminal messages in mind.

    @landgon813: I think Return of Iljimae sorta ruined Jung Il-woo for other dramas, frankly! That kind of script, character, and production doesn’t come along every day and he was lucky to get it. Now he’s gotta come back to reality and figure out that less-than-stellar projects are the norm!

  9. belleza

    “Thank God, there is some self-reflection being voiced on the industry.”

    Kinda disagree there. Actors have kvetched about their parts since forever, even in K-drama. See Ryu Shi Won and Beautiful Days. :D This is really nothing new, except that actors are paid much more per budget than they used to be. As a result, there is a kind of PR game between the media and the actors. Like for example, Song Il Guk expressing mixed feelings about doing Kingdom of the Wind or Song Hye Kyo being disappointed with her characters i(esp “All In and “Shining Days”) n almost every show she’s done. If you compare Korean to TW or Japanese, the K-drama actors are the most outspoken, partially because they’re the ones most expected to carry the success of the show.

    East of Eden is kinda in its category though. The article didn’t mention that Han Ji Hye also blogged about her frustrations with not understanding the direction of her character. Or that Song Seung Heon acknowledged the spotty writing of the show while the show was still airing. Or about the PD brouhaha that went during the rehearsal sessions.

    I actually think Jung Il Woo has been great as Tae-yoon. The “Flame-Broiled Pama” cut does him no favors, but he’s conveyed the jealousy of his character with more ethical weight than the part really needed. Like I said, his complaints are relatively minor. Nothing like the (entertaining) circus that went on with East of Eden, or the “with EDGE” strangeness of Style.

  10. 10 Samsooki

    JB, thanks a lot for a great post and very interesting thoughts!

    re: Style.

    There are a lot of confusing characters in this drama, it is true. Ryu Shi-won’s character is not the least of the ones that I have a difficult time trying to figure out, because I either want to like him or not like him, and right now, through like a dozen episodes, I don’t know why he smiles or frowns or does the “I’m kinda bored, why are we still talking?” face. At first I thought that made him mysterious and deep, but through a dozen episodes, now I think that makes me aloof and permanently filled with ennui.

    Still, there are worse dramas out there.

    The thing I like about Style (that I think is a hallmark in many k-dramas) is that it has “heart.” Style kind of is a mess, and not even that hot of a mess (problematic, because a hot mess is waaay better than a lukewarm mess), but it has heart, and that goes a long way. Ryu Shi-won’s character doesn’t seem to have that much heart, but he has some (I think Ep 9, you can see it?). Lee Jia’s character also has some about of heart (Ep 9-10, also?), though not enough for a leading character.

    Every time I see a drama that could have possibly been so much better with better writing, then I think of the few really excellent dramas that I have seen, and I am even more thankful as I rush back to watch them over again, and again.

    :)

  11. 11 nell123

    “The biggest reason is the vast number of dramas and the Korean system of real-time production. The reality of this system means live shoots and last-minute scripts, as well as altering plot development to follow viewer responses.”

    This is the problem. Producers are so obsessed with ratings that hey forgot that the best way to get the viewers is by telling a good story with the help of good actors. . They can whine about illegal file sharing and irresponsible actors all they want but until they remember this the ratings will keep getting lower and lower.

    And honestly I can’t blame the actors for getting so frustrated. I would be too. When you are given a script and you can see what your character will be like you have the full responsibility to decide whether or not you can be that character. When you have only simple guidelines and bits and pieces of a story you can’t make informed decision. Not to mention that later if the story and/or the character are changed the actor can’t be sure that he/she will be able to do the job. At least those who speak have the courage to say that something is wrong and needs to change.

  12. 12 2cents

    though, I understand Lee Da Hae’s point in doing it, she still got a big amount of flack for it. She got consequences. She went in hiding. Was it worth it?

    So a part of me always wondered what if she just stayed and she won’t have all those “irresponsible actress”/”bitch” tags given to her. I think her situation is a bit different with JIW and RSW for the sole fact that there was obvious politics involved and that the drama had a lot of DRAMA behind the scenes.

    When Park Hae Jin confesses he felt like he was going to die when he was doing East of Eden and could not wait to get out of it , seems rather extreme, yes?

    Was it for her courage? her rash decision? Her standing up for herself? or was she just a plain bitchy primadonna? depends on how you see it.

    But did her leaving leave an overall effect on the drama? Not really. she was such a useless character there (and so is her whole “family”; their subplot sucks) … as belleza said, she was paid to walk a dog, and she played quite a wishy washy character who started off pretty well… then she just became like a weird stray lovesick puppy… who had two minutes of screentime. that wasn’t the intended direction of her character but due to rewrites and all the drama behind the scenes … that’s what happened.

    though valid excuse… I still go WHYYYY did you have to leave? Why risk it ?

    It’s not like she left unscathed, for a while I really thought she won’t have a career to speak of after walking out of a production like that. Her actions had consequences, she took it, she got severely criticized for it, and maybe her career will never be the same again… who knows.

    Lee Da Hae’s career choices have been lackluster for such a talented girl, I think East of Eden was the jolt that woke her up. With her new project under way with a talented PD, I hope she proves herself as a true actress. Prove what she’s been saying all along. If she really has that much heart into her craft. Prove it, right?

    In a way I think the criticism in East of Eden is what she needed to wake her up from her acting slumber.

    maybe there could be some good with the bad this time.

  13. 13 2cents

    … oh god, I submitted the comment.

    sure production companies can be big bad monsters who bully actors or do silly rewrites solely for ratings

    but in the end, as viewed in Lee Da Hae’s case, it is the actors (with or without a valid excuse) who get the flack/consequences. They are the familiar face, they are the stars, they will be the targets.

    No one’s going to remember Na Yoon Sook (sp?) the writer leaving East of Eden… but everyone remembered that Lee Da Hae did.

  14. 14 Miki

    Agreed a hundred percent about what you said. I think producers and writers and production companies need to set their sights higher than ratings. A show that desires to tell their story honestly will be good. A show that tries too hard to please won’t. All that last-minute editing and writing and filming can’t be any good either. The machine is going to break down, and audiences are going to lose interest, if this keeps continuing.

    I disliked the way the article talked Jung-Il Woo. I mean, I somehow don’t feel the reporter got the point of what he was saying, or the character in question. Sure, the character can be played and is written to be straight-forward, childish, fluffy. Just like the drama itself. But I can totally see why Jung Il Woo, who stepped off a much more complex character, would be dissatisfied with this inconsistent, bland, perfect, and ultimately incomprehensible and unengaging character. think good actors do what they do because they love it. They have a right to seek professional satisfaction that comes when they GET a good character and is able to portray him or her in a nuanced way through their eyes. Likewise, they should be able to be disappointed when they are not handed a good character, or when the later scripts does not fulfill what they expected when reading the “sypnosis” (which only do so much) and signed on or the promise of the earlier scripts.

    I have a feeling they’re not handed the full drama’s full script when they sign on? I think that’s a bad idea.

    As for sticking to the whole – sure, it does not help the mood onset, but at the same time, when things aren’t good, I think people feel it anyway. This whole die-together thing does not work. It only makes the viewers think the creators and actors were so BAD at what they do they thought what they did great. And like you, I like honesty. You always get points for honesty. So as long as it’s not aggressive or with an obvious mean streak. Which was totally NOT Jung-Il Woo’s case. I felt while reading your other post he was beating himself the whole time, not trying to put the blame on the set and the character while secretly patting himself on the back for trying so hard. But as long as he sticks with it…

  15. 15 Masaya

    It’s a simple fix. The producer should just add a scene where the character is diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. Sure viewers may start to think that everyone in Korea is suffering from multiple personality disorder but that was gonna happen anyways right?

  16. 16 belleza

    “I don’t know why he smiles or frowns or does the “I’m kinda bored, why are we still talking?” face.”

    Ah see, that’s Ryu Shi Won’s acting in a nutshell though. That’s pretty much the extent of his loveable range. :D

    “Likewise, they should be able to be disappointed when they are not handed a good character, or when the later scripts does not fulfill what they expected when reading the “sypnosis” (which only do so much) and signed on or the promise of the earlier scripts.”

    Many actors feel this way or the other about their characters. The truth is, most male actors (this I’ve actually read in interviews) think their 2nd supporting characters make no sense . . . because, well they don’t. Support characters are often written as passive, jealous, impotent male types that pretty much wait to get screwed by the female character when she decide “oops I made a mistake.” Most guys would, you know, actually move on. All K-drama actors understand that there’s no guarantee with the synopsis.

    The MFL situation really is about the ratings, not the quality. It’s not doing the uber-success that either the agencies or the media were looking. (Then again, it’s not doing that bad either.) As a result, there’s been media coverage focusing on actors to explain the phenomena (because in K-drama, it’s the actors that get the credit or the blame for a show’s success.) The actors in turn have given their responses. This is part of the PR machine that’s involved with high profile projects.

    @2cents,

    “I think her situation is a bit different with JIW and RSW for the sole fact that there was obvious politics involved and that the drama had a lot of DRAMA behind the scenes.”

    Yeah, the East of Eden situation was a completely different situation, a very bad situation. The issue with Lee Dae Hae’s character wasn’t about the quality of writing, per se. It was about the fact that Lee Dae Hae had signed up for and had been promoted as a lead. However, her character was peripheral until halfway through the show. By then, when they switched writers, the train had already gone off the tracks. I don’t applaud what she did, but LDH really did get screwed.

    Not absolving LDH in her choice to run out on the show. She still got paid A-list salary and all that. But if it happened to a MALE lead, there would have been hell to pay.

  17. 17 Kgrl

    @belleza: My apologies if it came out wrong. I was thrilled to see such an article – am just hoping that more topics and debates like this appears WITHIN Korea, and not just with international netizens. Change rarely occurs from outsiders, but from those within.

    @Miki: Well said. ^_^

  18. 18 ockoala

    For the three actors mentioned in this article – from what I gather, the general consensus amongst netizens and viewers alike seem to be that they are “good, even very very good” actors who had chosen a drama project character which for whatever reason ended up being portrayed badly. As opposed to actors who are criticized for their bad acting.

    For this, I say at the end of the day, acting is a professional job, it pays the bills. So, some jobs are better than others, with meatier rolls, better scripts, better co-stars, bigger budget, etc. etc. I like JIW talking about the difficulty and confusion he had, but since he’s the second male lead, if they wanted to put a clown hat on him and make him dance the jig, well honestly, he’s the throwaway second male lead, and he should have gone into MFL not expecting much. It’s kinda like after all the intensity of ROI, he’s picking a fun, fluffy project to unwind and play this easy peasy second male lead jealous character. Now, I would be playing a different tune if his Tae-yoon character has been set up to be a genuine possible match to Hae-na, but from very early on it was clear he was not going to get the girl.

    For Lee Da-hae, I personally signed up to watch EoE for her pairing with SSH only, and to see how under-used and mis-used her character was in the drama was a travesty and really upset me to no end. But since I say acting is a job, she should have finished it out, but I can’t blame for for leaving either. And she did not affect EoE one whit by leaving, that’s how inconsequential her character and plotline was to EoE, such a ridiculous situation all around.

  19. 19 Jihwan

    It surprises me that these actors are criticizing their roles WHILE the drama is being written and aired. I always thought that the last thing you want to do is piss off a writer by criticizing their work. I mean its not diffifult for writers to add a random slap or two into the script.

    People may think that LDH’s decision was unprofessional (and I dont disagree) but if you were following EOE as closely as I was, you would understand why she chose to make that decision. Her character was pointless, she got at most 5 minutes in an episode, and most of the time the scene was completely random.

  20. 20 jo

    Not following MFL& didn’t follow style…
    I’m just glad that LDH dropped out of eoe, I simply couldn’t take her character (& her very butthurt fans) anymore.

  21. 21 Raye

    “The biggest reason is the vast number of dramas and the Korean system of real-time production. The reality of this system means live shoots and last-minute scripts, as well as altering plot development to follow viewer responses.”

    I think this is a BIG factor on the quality of the drama. These days, all they care about the ratings. This is why I tend to lean a bit more on J-dramas instead, they take their time on filming, the actors get less pay so the rest of the money can go into the budget for the production.

    Like in East Of Eden, something happened to the original writer so they quickly replaced that writer and that’s when all of these problems arose on the set of EOE. At that point, I think the actors had the right to voice their opinions of the character. If they did everything beforehand, they wouldn’t have these issues.

    As for Lee Da-Hae, her character (in my opinion was underused), she was supposed to be the secondary female lead but she ended up as the third wheel for some reason. Her character didn’t contribute to the story as much I expected her (since she WAS the other female lead) to. It was quite ridiculous like ockoala said.

  22. 22 Nana

    I must say I have very little understanding of the inner workings of the Korean production world. I am an actor (in training ;D) myself and I understand what it feels like to read a character and go “WTF is this!?” Sometimes, depending on a vast nº of factors, this is down to an actor’s inability to comprehend a character. Fine. They can work on it, talk to the writer and, most importantly, talk to the director. Because it is the director, at least in the west, that decides where a show/movie goes. Yes, he/she builds upon the script and yes, the producers have a big say, but at the end of the day it’s the director’s call and no one elses.

    Interestingly enough, I do not recall seeing anywhere in the article that this might be a problem about the WRITERS. If I undertand correctly, Kdramas are filmed and aired almost simultaneously, meaning each episode is written days/weeks before it’s aired and so the story is not closed (as it is in the US/Europe. When shows air they have either ended production or are very close to it, and the entire season has been scripted in a way that makes the overall story cohesive and logical) which means that these inconsistencies are born IN THE SCRIPT. So why don’t the PDs, Directors etc go “Hey, hold on a minute….I know fans are saying this and that, but this doesn’t make any sense” WAAAAAAAAAAAY before the actors get their hands on the pages. I mean ok, in many cases I suppose an actor is just incapable of understanding a character and performing to high standards because of their own limitations in the craft….but recently, watching as many kdramas as you do (almost) it is obvious something is the matter, and it goes beyond that aspect. I hope they get it together and rethink this working structure they’ve got going in Korea. Otherwise the industry will end up suffering the consequences of a job poorly done…no matter who’s to blame.

  23. 23 news

    I respect and wasn’t disappointed with Lee Da-hae’s decision to leave EOE. Yes, she received criticisms. Yes, it unfortunately and unfairly affected her career. However, she should’ve received what she was promised. That’s professionalism. If she was given a contract and was made to believe she would be the main lead actress and later ‘surprise’ wasn’t, well, it’s understandable why she left. I don’t know how contracts work in Korea but unless there was a clause that states it’s okay to [irrationally] change the terms of agreement later in the drama, then it’s legal for her to leave the drama even if it was currently airing. In that case, I would say society should be a little more understanding. Every situation has their issues and as outsiders, we can’t fully grasp the whole picture. And it was probably an ugly, messy, sticky one.

  24. 24 mss0cal

    now i can understand and sympathize with the actors and actress. but at the same time, maybe because i’m being … bias!? growing up in the U.S and used to american actors!?… i dont know! but like what the article said, actors are suppose to act and get into character no matter what kind of character they are. their suppose to portray that character. to me is just sound like their trying to blame others for the acting … maybe they can’t act as good as they think. NOW not to say that i think those 3 are bad. but i think their just not as versatile in their acting style.

  25. 25 javabeans

    @Nana: The article briefly mentions scripting problems, but to expound on your question/point, often a drama filming in real time will get pages of scripts — not even full scripts, but loose pages as they are produced — delivered the day of filming. Sometimes writers are under such a time crunch that they just cannot produce a revision. It’s either a bad script or no script. Can you imagine being an actor and getting a page of weird dialogue, without knowing where this scene is going? You have to just act it out, but how can you act convincingly if the end of the episode isn’t written yet?

    When a drama first enters production, typically it will have several scripts already completed. However, as the series continues, those fall behind as well, and even if the writer had a clear idea of where s/he was going, often the production decides to change its mind at the last minute, which means they have to write new material anyway.

    Dramas that produce episodes in advance have the advantage here — shows like Gourmet, Iris, Return of Iljimae, Terroir. The downside is, pre-produced shows cannot adjust to meet viewer demands. When the ratings are good (Gourmet) this is fine. When ratings are poor (Tamra the Island) the broadcast stations hate it, and thus they would rather risk doing live productions so they can tweak a failing show in hopes of higher ratings.

    It’s a broken system.

  26. 26 belleza

    “hey take their time on filming, the actors get less pay so the rest of the money can go into the budget for the production.”

    However, J-drama actors also have no say, because they get paid crap. Money is power, and all but a very few J-drama actors have any. Just like SM idols don’t get paid very much even if they sell lots of records. The fact is, K-drama actors actually have more say and power than their TW and Japanese equivalents. That is why you see articles like this.

    J-drama also do live shoot, though the production schedules are more friendly to it. Having said that, when a live shoot goes wrong in J-drama, the effect can be disastrous. Even funny disastrous. :D

    @Nana,

    In the K-drama world, it’s highly interactive between writers and actors. The workplace culture is more give-and-take than, say, J-drama. Jung Il Woo would have had a say in his character, regardless of what the polls were saying. I don’t think the live shoot is the problem with MFL — frankly (besides the location shoots) MFL is just not challenging enough to warrant a shrink-wrapped treatment a la Alone in Love.

    The answer isn’t really to stop live-shoot, per se. The answer is to move toward shorter shows. But if you do that, K-drama would fundamentally change as well.

    @missocal,

    “… i dont know! but like what the article said, actors are suppose to act and get into character no matter what kind of character they are. their suppose to portray that character”

    Nah, this stuff happens all the time with American daytime drama TV, which is also live shoot. That’s why a lot of actors say that daytime TV is the best way to learn your craft. Not only do you have to work day in and out, but you have to constantly be ready for last minute rewrites and huge shifts in characterization. Also, both actors and fanbases in daytime drama culture are constantly battling each other to fight for airtime, character integrity, and so on. This is all part of the live shoot system.

  27. 27 Kgrl

    @ Nana: We can’t expect K ent to change so quickly from it’s “bad” practices. It’s not just the production companies and actors that need more resolve, but also the audience. Resolve for companies to not turn a blind eye when faced with quality issues vs. ratings/money, resolve for actors to hone their craft regardless of outside influences, resolve for audiences to accept diversity and originality, even if it may be against cultural/habitual norm.

    The balance between what’s popular and what’s critically acclaimed has been vastly skewed, and that’s bound to have repercussions. Not to say something that is popular can’t also have artistry, but the two are becoming more and more independent. There should be more incentive for ent people to strive for excellence. When half the awards given out are based on popularity contests, it really doesn’t do much for those that try to master their craft but aren’t as “cute,” does it? Of course, we can say, one strives for perfection based on self-fulfilment, but some people need that extra encouragement to help them along. Then again, I may just be too idealistic.

  28. 28 sue

    this makes me wonder what yoon kyesang’s personal thoughts on his TRIPLE character were.. i wonder if he thought he was a creep too? LOL

  29. 29 love you

    OT, just curious, according to EOE’s fans, the drama is the best and a masterpiece with very talented actor/actress (Gukja couple), how is the reception from Japan, Singapore and other countries? cos I heard they are airing it right now.
    Anyway, i’m gld the actor/actress in kdrama brave enough to speak up their mind, at least there is something we can find in kentertaiment worlds not just pops idols showing their legs, their stiff pose, their crazy fans etc..

  30. 30 Toya

    For Style, I liked the idea that he was a bit of a dick, but later they just kept making his character change personalities and act like a stubborn fool for no reason. And I agree that him suddenly taking over Style when he’s supposed to be a chef was confusing because, really, who the hell believes he’d give up years of training and hard work for 1) a girl, 2) his dead mothers aspirations, 3) to get back at his half sister, but at no point, for any reason is he really doing this for himself. That point kinda drove me mad. When he kept saying he’d sacrifice his hard work for the magazine, I kept wondering why?

    I also wondered why he bothered with it to begin with? The fact that he alienated the magazine’s only source of income out of childish spite made absolutely no sense. Then when he was pretty much running it into the ground he couldn’t partner with the one person who could save it cus of ads? …Leave ad-less magazines to Adbusters. ”

    BTW anyone who was watching that, who thought it was ridiculous that a seasoned editor and chief would turn Rian Lux into the size of a bloody phone book? That part bugged the hell out of me for some reason. It reminded me of the Vogue September issue that one year that was really thick (I think it was the 2007). I think someone thought of that and got really carried away with an already insane storyline.

    Ah, and the romantic rectangle, which was really a triangle because no one cared about LSJ in any romantic sense.

    Oh and the last thing that bugged the hell out of me. The photographer dude…. WHY CAN’T HE GET WITH A CHICK? Was he gay? Did his wienie get blown off or something? Did he have a really bad case of crabs? WHAT WAS IT???

    They ended it without saying why he can’t be with a woman. If they did I missed it, and can someone fill me in cus I am so confused.

  31. 31 Jeniper Mose

    My view – Tamra just ended although with bad ratings but to me it was very entertaining with overwhelmed emotions, sometimes crying, smiling and anxious for the next sequence.

    As for EOE, although LDH had been much criticised, even her health was affected, can you imagine if you see a haggard face on camera, netizen would criticised her more and if it had reached ”CANCEROUS ” stage – back off while you’re still alive – medical bills will be more expensive then your pay cheque
    and also create more gossips.

    I did watched Style, nothing to remember… except EDGE

    Producers should at least make sure the script is completely written before embarking on the project and the director should have a vision before embarking the project too – not thinking like as we go along then we will ……

    Timeframe – they should change this habit – example take IRIS maybe they are half or three quarter ahead in their project before screening date.

    Lastly professional actors should work closely with the director.

    .

  32. 32 lurker

    Ms. Lee’s fans were “butthurt” for a good reason, she was put in the worst situation ever, so her rabid fans are going to be protective. she’s not just some extra girl, or an actress that never had a good TV stint. This was a young actress that had a steady career, a name for herself and a very staunch fanbase… yet she had the lamest character, a 2-3 minute screen time every episode, and erm pretty much nothing else. despite early reviews of how good she was in acting out her character. she approached the writer and the director numerous times, and all they told her is to wait.

    can you imagine that happening to YEH or HYS or SHK… there would have been blood.

    I still believe what she did was very unprofessional and had dire consequences in her career, but meh, it was better that she left. for her fans and the EOE fans.

  33. 33 sjchung

    Thought what you guys said were pretty interesting. About actors/actresses’ ability to follow through their drama characters vs the scriptwriters/producers. To me, each of them has their own interests/agendas. We can’t blame the scriptwriters/producers for wanting high ratings on TV cause that’s how they’re being measured. I can sympathise with actors/actresses who can’t understand their characters or who are promised lead characters then end up with only 5 mins in an episode (eg LeeDH in EoEden). It shows that producers have to be very careful who they select for their dramas. They need to understand the character, then audition for an actor/actress to best fit that role. For eg, in City Hall, the male lead almost went to RyuSWon instead of Cha SW. If that was the case, I don’t think RyuSW would’ve done as well, he may have been confused with his role in City Hall. But given ChaSW, he was able to act so smoothly, he understood his role and brought the essense out from it. And because he could bring out his role, he spurred Kim SAh to bringing hers out too. There were a few confusions along the way, just like what Style, My Fair Lady has, but the key essense of the story was there. They didn’t allow those mini-bloops get in their way of acting the true storyline. So, it takes professionalism on the part of actors/actresses to finish their roles. They should put aside their EGOs (even if it’s a 5 min part) and try their best to bring their roles out. Viewers are not stupid not to realise that somewhere along the way, the script’s been changed. For eg, in Style, I must applaud (although I do NOT like) Lee JA, I must applaud her for finishing her role and trying her best, although I’m not a fan of hers. That’s what I call professionalism.

    As for JungIWoo, I agree with javabeans, that Return of Iljamae ruins him for other roles. Cause that kinda of roles/character doesn’t come easily. He was lucky to have it. And it would’ve been perfect if he was given the lead role in My Fair Lady. But since it’s a second lead, his onscreen presence must’ve been shinier than it ought to be, that’s why the producers decided to trim his character, making him look uglier in personality and in looks. Otherwise, viewers would’ve preferred him.

  34. 34 lurker

    I am actually surprised Lee Da Hae was not sued for doing that. I wonder how they settled it.

    and is it true she’s working with the same production company in her new show? :-/

  35. 35 Rna

    While I sympathize with actors who are presented with scripts that deviate from the story description they read when they signed on, I see it more of an issue of respect rather than of liberty to speak one’s mind or to have input into the whole production.

    I feel it’s okay and safe to share with the press your criticisms about the project, script, etc. AFTER the drama has ended or after you’ve left. If one criticizes during the project, not only does it create internal strife as the article mentioned, but it doesn’t show respect for those involved at all levels. Should a production get bad publicity and falter in its ratings because one actor wasn’t happy with something? Who knows how many families were depending on that production for their livelihood.

    I would be curious to find out if the actors that did criticize as their dramas were taking place fully communicated with the writers/ director about their issues.
    I guess I see it as a marriage where issues are better dealt with INTERNALLY. Have you ever sat uncomfortably with a married couple that kept arguing, making you feel embarrassment for both of them?

    …But even criticisms spoken afterward can leave a bad taste on the tongue. Take Michael Jordan, for example, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, he criticized in a near diatribe all the people who helped him get where he is today. Sports fans were dumbfounded; the audience was silent.

  36. 36 nycgrl

    Love this discussion.

    BTW I have always disliked Ryu Shi Won’s acting and I was so thankful he didn’t take the role in City Hall. I cannot see any chemistry between him and KSA

    Also I understand he is very popular in Japan. I get Yonsama but can someone help explain Ryu Shi Won’s appeal?

  37. 37 asianromance

    @36 nycgrl

    i haven’t watched ryu shi won is anything and i always confuse him with kim seung soo. i heard ryu shi won was a hottie back in the 90s, so maybe that’s why people see his appeal? and i think he was also in a couple of famous dramas back then. He didn’t age as well as Yon-sama but i guess when people see him, they see the younger him.

    as for this issue of who’s to blame for confusing characters. I think most of the time the blame should be taken by writers and producers…and whether the actor should take some blame also depends on the experience and talent of the actor.

    i also think lee da hae’s case is different- since her character wasn’t so much as confusing but hardly even there and she was the main character. Her leaving was probably the best thing since her salary must have been huge so EoE benefited from her leaving. On the one hand I’m glad that Lee Da Hae left a horrible situation. On the other hand, I sort of wish Lee Dae Hae stayed so she can spite them (go ahead and pay me loads of money for a 3 minute experience!) i’m really curious to find out what really happened behind the scenes for EOE

  38. 38 love you

    no.34, good question ‘why they don’t sue LDH’, -but do you know if they sue her, all the behind the scene, political thing will be revealed and will tarnish some ‘actor reputation’-that one thing the EOE production will try to avoid no matter how. Look at TVQX vs SM. the court wil dig, dig, dig all the details.

    Anyway, leave EOE fiasco behind, everybody is happy now including LDH, surprisingly she is doing fine now-offer still pouring in, same with other actors/actresses from that drama, even their fans (butthurd or what) are rejoicing their idols achievements now.

  39. 39 joanna

    It would have been more professional for LDH to “suck it in” like some of you have said. But I’m glad she left.

    Kim bum was really good at laying the foundation for EOE. It got me all hyped up for wdv was going to happen in the later episodes. I was excited bt the SSH-LDH pairing and how LDH was gna turn into a badass and everything.

    The production team kept telling us fans to “wait” and a lot of us assumed that LDH’s time to shine will come to rise after 20+ episodes. Yet nothing happened even after 30 episodes.

    Her role had gone from a strong willed girl that didn’t give a damn to anyone to a girl that was mesmerized with the male lead (and dog?).

    For me, it was a good thing she quit. So I could drop the whole drama.

    Anyway I’m looking forward to chuno! :D

  40. 40 nell123

    belleza wrote:

    “The answer isn’t really to stop live-shoot, per se. The answer is to move toward shorter shows. But if you do that, K-drama would fundamentally change as well.”

    I don’t think they will stop either.But I think they should. What’s so good about this system anyway? Has there ever been a drama that was turned from a failure to a hit with last minute script changes? Is it really worth it to do all this just to have your ratings raised with 2 or 3 %?

    That’s why I can’t wait for IRIS. It’s shot in advance. It’s a spy thriller and not a sappy melodrama or a romcom (so sick of those). Has tons of eyecandy most of which can act. Perfect…I really hope that this will be the firs drama I’m going to watch from the beginning to the end without skipping episodes or dropping it.

  41. 41 lurker

    LOL forever at LDH role being mesmerized with the dog. so true.

  42. 42 belleza

    “Has there ever been a drama that was turned from a failure to a hit with last minute script changes? ”

    Welllll . . . given that 90% of Korean shows are soaps (even the historical ones), there’s not that much incentive to switch out of live-shoot either. (Live shoot does make certain genres inherently difficult. Mystery and super-thriller shows are much tougher to do in a true live shoot.) However, I also think live shoot improves the romantic chemistry of most rom-com shows. You can figure what works, what doesn’t, and tweak as such.

    The main thing that drives stand-alone productions isn’t really quality per se, but cost and risk. You can’t do an Iris on live-shoot. Under different circumstances, the Legend would have been completed before air time.

    Having said that, more and more “luxury dramas” are being made. Over the last few years, SBS has developed a niche in purchasing prepackaged dramas and letting them air regardless of ratings potential. Also, cable stations can purchase high quality programmes without the pressure of ratings.

    Market drives everything, though, and I’m not part of that market. I guess this is where I — American viewer — back off dictating what another country ought to do with their TV. After all, they probably think I should go back and watch House again.

  43. 43 love you

    no 37, below is one article written by Mr X from soompi, give u and idea wht behind EOE and also he touched about the issues discussed by some posters here.

    http://www.soompi.com/content/85279

    credit:soompi

  44. 44 rambutan

    @ Javabeans: “Shifting the problem from oneself to the character evades one’s responsibility as the actor”. Exactly. Actors in the end have to interprete their roles, whether they’re specifically spelt out or not. It’s a matter of less or more interpretation required. RSW I think it is a case of shifting blame to the scriptwriter/producer/director from his own poor acting/interpretation skills. If an actor can’t understand his role, stay mysterious. Many characters are not supposed to be easily understood. That’s what makes a character exciting, if he can carry it out well (e.g. Cha SW in The City Hall).

    @ 16 Bellaza: “I don’t know why he smiles or frowns or does the “I’m kinda bored, why are we still talking?” face.” “Ah see, that’s Ryu Shi Won’s acting in a nutshell though. That’s pretty much the extent of his loveable range”.

    Let me amend slightly your description: “Ah see, that’s Ryu Shi Won’s acting in a nutshell though. That’s pretty much the extent of his ACTING range”. I watched RSW first in Beautiful Days. That may have gained him a few fans, me nearly. But then, LBH totally eclipsed him and made him a B-grade actor for me.

    @ 35 Rna: “While I sympathize with actors who are presented with scripts that deviate from the story description they read when they signed on, I see it more of an issue of respect rather than of liberty to speak one’s mind”. Yeah, I always feel uncomfortable with people who wash dirty linen in public, or who blame everybody else but themselves when something goes wrong. It’s unprofessional and disloyal.

  45. 45 belleza

    @rambutan,

    “That’s pretty much the extent of his ACTING range”.

    Which is loveable. ;)

    FWIW I don’t really see RSW as an actor. I see him more as a singer, a race car driver, and a chain smoker who happens to do dramas from time to time. Some people call him the space cowboy, some people call him the gangsta of lurve . . . :D

    Having said that, Style is WEIRD. That’s why I really, really enjoy the show, the guys on the show are so “ehhh?!!!?” that I have no clue where the show is going. Or whether the show is going anywhere.

    @love you,

    X touches upon the problems upon the live-shoot, but his focus is on the nature of the ratings war itself. I’ll reiterate — as long as 90% of K-dramas are trendy romances (nothing wrong with a lil romance ;) ), I just don’t see the value of abandoning live shoot.

    Nice dig at Queen Seon Duk BTW. I love the show, but it must be torture for him. :D

  46. 46 rambutan

    @ Javabeans: “Shifting the problem from oneself to the character evades one’s responsibility as the actor”. Exactly. Actors in the end have to interprete their roles, whether they’re specifically spelt out or not. It’s a matter of less or more interpretation required. RSW I think it is a case of shifting blame to the scriptwriter/producer/director from his own poor acting/interpretation skills. If an actor can’t understand his role, stay mysterious. Many characters are not supposed to be easily understood. That’s what makes a character exciting, if he can carry it out well (e.g. Cha SW in The City Hall).

    @ 16 Bellaza: “I don’t know why he smiles or frowns or does the “I’m kinda bored, why are we still talking?” face.” “Ah see, that’s Ryu Shi Won’s acting in a nutshell though. That’s pretty much the extent of his loveable range”.

    Let me amend slightly your description: “Ah see, that’s Ryu Shi Won’s acting in a nutshell though. That’s pretty much the extent of his ACTING range”. I watched RSW first in Beautiful Days. That may have gained him a few fans, me nearly. But then, LBH totally eclipsed him and made him a B-grade actor for me (As an aside, be very, very careful choosing roles opposite an A** star).

    @ 35 Rna: “While I sympathize with actors who are presented with scripts that deviate from the story description they read when they signed on, I see it more of an issue of respect rather than of liberty to speak one’s mind”. Yeah, I always feel uncomfortable with people who wash dirty linen in public, or who blame everybody else but themselves when something goes wrong. It’s unprofessional and disloyal.

  47. 47 Nom_Kitteh

    Thanks for the article, JB: I am impressed by how well-written it is. Unlike most op-eds (think NYTimes), this one actually reads like a researched article, or at least one written after some study.

    Who to blame for confusing characters? It seems like a confluence of factors — live shoots, the tight schedules, the nature of the genre of soaps, the need to keep ratings high, catering to netizen needs, chaotic productions with writers and PDs changing, and then just plain bad writing.

    All that said, I still have to say that I find K-dramas to be very well made, with a great sense of balance between main and sub plots, good awareness of how to elicit honest emotions from the viewers, and great character development, and stories that…matter (even if for its entertainment value). I don’t watch America soap opera so I don’t know if they are able to do that same, but Korean dramas suck me in, and it’s the only industry that has been able to hold my attention for years. I get into Japanese and Taiwanese and Indian dramas sporadically, but there is always something missing for me. Japanese dramas are often too restrained, Taiwanese too uneven, and Indian too over-the-top overacting. I don’t know what it is about K-dramas but they know how to grab your attention and then hold it (I am not talking about individual shows but in general), and the acting across the board is really good.

    So even if the system is flawed, even very flawed, it is still churning out far superior material than other supposedly more sane industries.

    About actors complaining: I think we need to evaluate on an individual basis. Jung Il-woo’s complaint is a bit annoying. He took the role of the second male lead. Maybe his management made a mistake but after Iljamae he should have taken another main lead role. You step up, not down. YSH went from a supporting role to main lead. Jung Il-woo stepped down — by choice. Don’t sign on the dotted line for a supporting role, especially the second male lead in a K-drama, and not expect to be a tool.

    I didn’t watch EOE, but from what I understand of Lee Da-hae’s role, it was basically a breach of contract, where a leading role was reduced to a cursory one. In that case, I think Lee Da-hae had every right to complain, and complain loudly, and then to leave. I hope that her career is not adversely affected because of this. It sounds like a really badass move on her, actually. I don’t think I would have had the guts.

    Dunno anything about Style.

  48. 48 rambutan

    Sorry for double posting; #46 was supposed to be an edited version. Pressed wrong button.

  49. 49 belleza

    Lee Dae Hae has got Chuno next. Should be good, could be great. If she nails it, she’ll be back on the top tier again.

    “Jung Il-woo’s complaint is a bit annoying. He took the role of the second male lead. Maybe his management made a mistake but after Iljamae he should have taken another main lead role. You step up, not down. YSH went from a supporting role to main lead. Jung Il-woo stepped down — by choice”

    JIW’s still a tweener IMO. I can see him taking a combination of lead and non-lead roles for a few years. Lead stuff in mania fair, and non-lead for stuff like MFL.

  50. 50 rambutan

    @45 bellaza, I am digging Style as well! I like that the voluputuous lead girl is carrying the show. I love her charisma and (sex) appeal, the Are-You-Gay? guy (except he needs to polish his crying moments), machinations, office politics and sporadic story flow. Can’t say much more, since I’ve only watched ep. 1-8 & ep. 10 (helping with subbing ep. 9 & 10). I don’t mind RSW. If I can’t understand his character, I’ll think he’s supposed to be mysterious. There’s also low expectations to begin with. As I watched the first 9 or 10 eps, I kept saying, “Thank God he isn’t in The City Hall”. His expressions haven’t changed from those in Beautiful Days.

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