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Pop Culture: Piggyback Rides


My Name is Kim Sam-soon

Hey, girlfriday here to kick off a new series that we’re doing, to call attention to some of the recurring motifs in kdramaland, by way of pop culture. Topics will range from cultural bits of Koreanness, to drama tropes, folktales, to things we simply find amusing or interesting, in tv/film/music. It’s intentionally broad, so that we can keep it free and loose, and we invite you to ask questions about things you’ve always wondered about, like why people in dramas always take out their cell phone batteries. (Answer: It’s a more dramatic action onscreen than pressing the OFF button, which is visually ambiguous.)

We thought long and hard about the inaugural post, and realized, of course, that it had to start with the mother of all drama tropes: The Piggyback Ride.


Iris

To discuss the piggyback ride, we have to start with a few things about Koreans: 1) drinking culture, and 2) skinship.

Koreans are like the Irish of the East. We drink. A lot. So it’s not really an exaggeration to see characters in dramas being socially pressured to drink, or killing multiple bottles of soju over one meal, especially after being dumped, fired, belittled, or otherwise trampled upon like any regular day in a kdrama heroine’s life.

That said, it is of course a drama trope to see characters literally pass out from drinking all the time. I’m sure if normal people did this on a daily basis, their mothers would have a thing or two to say.

“Skinship” is a made-up Korean-English word (used in Korea, not in the States) meaning levels of physical intimacy, or more simply, touching. Skinship can range from handholding to kissing, to sex, and people use it colloquially to ask how far things went. Example: GF: “I went on a date last night.” JB: “Was there any skinship?” GF: “Just the PG-13 kind.”


You’re Beautiful

Skinship has its own name precisely because it’s something to write home about. Touching, between adults and of a romantic nature, is a big deal. Now, I don’t mean Koreans are prudes. Far from it. I just mean publicly, culturally, Koreans are very aware of boundaries, politeness, and proprietary mores. People don’t go kissing each other on the cheek, for example. It’s just a matter of cultural difference. The result is, then, that touching means something.

The most common piggyback scenario is the classic I’m-too-drunk-so-will-you-be-my-knight-in-shining-armor-and-carry-me-home. Every drama has it, and every romantic comedy hero earns his stripes this way. Can you imagine drama hero bootcamp? Carry a 90 lb. actress on your back for two hours! Now drag her by the wrist! Practice your kiss! Sir yes sir!


The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry

If the piggyback comes early in the relationship, then almost always, drinking is involved. If one party is drunk and unconscious, then the other party isn’t hugging her—he’s merely being a gentleman and a hero. No, really! No butt-grabbing or anything, scout’s honor.

The piggyback is, in essence, an excuse for skinship, seemingly of the most harmless kind. Because it’s wrapped in a pretty bow of manly honor and a display of alpha male strength, it earns extra points for making women round the world swoon, thinking why can’t my boyfriend do that?

In practical terms, dramas need excuses for physical closeness. Especially if your characters are still in the You Suck Phase, as in My Name is Kim Sam-soon, above. So drinks plus piggyback ride is pretty much the go-to device, to force your characters to pass one level of skinship. It’s a tried and true squee-inducing method, especially if the characters still hate each other.


Personal Taste

Beyond the standard drinking and excuse for skinship, piggybacks are a direct callback to a little girl’s relationship with her father. Don’t worry; I’m not going to go all Freudian on you. I don’t mean it in an icky way. But don’t think that fiction in a patriarchal society doesn’t reflect the values that are deemed to be right in that culture.

Piggyback rides in essence infantilize women to equate them with little girls, and paternalize men, to equate them with fathers. In Personal Taste Kae-in makes a direct comparison between Jin-ho’s back and her father’s, and throughout that drama he carries her as a substitute for her father, or lack thereof. In dramas the piggyback ride is shorthand now for all of the above. It’s an intentional association to make the hero appear safe, trustworthy, secure…like a father.


Coffee Prince

In some dramas, notably ones like Coffee Prince where gender roles are played with, the device can be turned on its head. Han-kyul is actually the lightweight drinker, and Eun-chan piggybacks him all over town.

But once she outs herself as a woman, no surprise—the gender roles go right back to the norm.


Coffee Prince

Whether you see piggyback rides as your ultimate fantasy or a nefarious plot to take over the world is up to you. While riding piggyback doesn’t really appeal to me personally, I do see why it’s a staple in dramas. It’s a simple gesture, but loaded with romantic ideals and warm paternal associations. It eliminates the need to say to your audience: this is a caring, sweet, warm man, underneath the gruff exterior. The piggyback does it all, with some skinship to boot.

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aahhh...i think piggy back ride is sooo cute! HAPPY BDAY OPPA Gong Yoo! ah, finally i can watch coffee prince again...this time as long as i want! hhehehe thanks again for the updates guys!

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I like okdubu's response. I second their queries about kisses in Korean dramas. One reason why I also really liked Coffee Prince and You're beautiful were "real" kissing scenes (same with other dramas, like What's Up Fox, Romance, and a couple of others I can't recall at the top of my head) besides the emotionally-gripping chemistry between the actors.

Another thing that has me wondering as a Westerner ... is hand-holding in some asian cultures. Oh, I know same-sex friend hand holding is common, but lots of times in shows I see guys grabbing a girl's wrist or forearm to drag her away from some situation, or whatever and the girl gets all googly-eyed over it compared to actually holding hands in public. (And I know PDA is also frowned opon.) So what's the scoop on that?

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GF, you are a genius. Really like this article. You explained something that is a question deep in our (non-Koreans) hearts! Thanks again!

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These are like k-drama musts. Things like making a u-turn in the middle of the road or grabbing the girl's wrist really hard. These things are used OVER AND OVER again, but what can I say, they work OVER AND OVER again.

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Hmmm, I have seen a lot of piggybacks in dramas... and I want to experience it too. Preferably from Jung Woo Sung, but anyone will do at this point!!!

Thanks GF and JB for these articles!!! I am now understanding the KDramas I love so much even more...

Can't wait for your next post...

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O.K. I forgot this one. What's with the going to the hospital piggyback?

Dude, if a person has been hit by a car, passed out or beaten to the point you think they might die, fork out for the taxi. Are you broke?

First time I saw it. I thought maybe the hospital is right around the corner. It wasn't. The hero is all emotional crying his eyes out and carrying Haraboji on his back. He keeps going.... and going.... where is that dang hospital? Cars are whizzing by him. No one stops to help. I'm thinking gosh, I hope I never get hurt in Korea. Where are all the good Samaritans? This person is going to die before you get there.

Well, after watching a few more dramas I realized it meant: I love you so much, that I'm in panic mode and can't think straight. It depicts love between family members, boyfriend/girlfriend and lets not forget bromance.

It's another way to show the soft side of the gruff or badboy hero.

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ROTFL at the drama hero bootcamp lines! REallyinteresting and informative article. Thank you! :)

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@viola

Need to send my husband to drama hero boot-camp , so he can learn how to do the piggyback with the proper technique. :D We'll start slow with one mile and work up from there. ;D

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@ 63 elly

I wonder abt this too...isn't it risky piggybacking the injured/sick person because there is a possibility that you might accidentally injure them further? Like if it was a serious head injury...shouldn't you let the professional ambulance people do their job instead of pulling the injured person onto your back and them jostling them as you run to the hospital?

and can you imagine how long an actor would have to be lugging around a 100 pound woman on his back since there are bound to be retakes and shoots from different angles. I wonder if the actresses are as comfortable as they look.

anyways, this is an awesome new segment for the website! THanks javabeans and girlfriday!

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I would prefer the other type (with one arm behind the girl's knees and one on her back, while the girl's arms are around the man's neck) rather than a piggyback. Personally, I think anybody can do the latter while the former takes a lot more strength. I get even more impressed with the man when he does the former.... LOL!

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Loved the article! Now I'd love to know why there's always an airport scene in kdramas. Some insight would be great. : )

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Piggyback rides-
Hmm, regarding some of the above comments, I've seen many kdramas in my lifetime but I never saw a person give another person a piggyback ride to the hospital after a car accident. The only time they would do so is if the character is sick from an illness (cancer, fainting spells, etc). What a hate is when after a car accident, they would lift up the head of someone who's involved in the accident to scream and cry. THAT may potentially aggravate the injury, if the person suffered a spinal injury.

Skinship -
Skinship is a faux english word made up by the Japanese, and later adopted by Koreans.

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@ cinderella

So true, I wondered why we don't see that? (The guy carrying the girl in front of him) I think that is considered more intimate. Just like the difference between a back hug and a front hug.

You also don't see the girl over the shoulder that much either. It was nice to see that in Take Care Of The Young Lady. Loved that Butler :D

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Don't forget to discuss the obligatory karaoke scene that occurs in EVERY drama usually involving somebody being drunk and/or trying to cheer someone else up over their broken heart.

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@ lessaofpern Who doesn't love that butler? :P

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97 lessaofpern

Now THAT I would like to see.
It would be so bad, it will be good...

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I don't know, maybe it's because I'm not much of a romantic, but I'm just not a fan of piggyback rides if you're over the age of 12. I feel awkward seeing it done in kdramas, and I'd certainly not want to have a man carrying me in that fashion in real life. Quite frankly, I wouldn't want a man carrying me period, whether it be in his arms or on his back (unless I'm unconscious and it's a serious emergency like a fire or something).

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hhmmm...
piggyback...well my brother used to give me a piggyback ride when we were kids, its our kinda bonding moments together...

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love this article GF!! piggyback rides in kdramas always leave me squeeing and wishing that someone like the drama hero will be there to do it for me... and then sighing 'coz there is no one kekeke... looking forward to more articles on K-dramas staples....like wrist grabbing the girl (which is i think is a bit sexy :) ), taking out the cellphone battery when one does not want to talk to the guy or girl (oh so cute), soju drinking fest, and oh the humble house with a great view of the city (always wanted one of my own whenever I see this on kdramas).... anyway, thanks very much for this post, GF!!

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I am so excited to hear more answers to the questions that I have been wondering about now for 3 years! I always wondered how the person receiving the Piggyback stayed on so nicely, since they are usually passed out from intoxication or illness. Particularly the children who sort of flop around! Nice to understand the cultural explanations....can't wait to hear more about the "clenched fist", "the scratching of the head/messing the hair up when frustrated", and the "pulling the car over ubruptly".

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Always one of the fun additions to dramas for me. The girls are always light and easily portable and only ocasionally does it take a feat of "herculean" strength (as in the case of our 'Go Eun Chan' (Yoon Eun Hye in Coffee Prince) carrying her "pig" up several flights of stairs) to accomplish the feat. Whether ridiculously running blocks to the nearest emegency room (where every person running alongside the gurney [including the medical staff] will plead and scream a at the top of their lungs at the unconscious patient to "WAKE UP!!!!...") or carting the drunken, babbling, sworm enemy but soon to be girlfriend through winding, mostly uphill streets to the safety of their homes, etc, I always get something out of this drama tradition. My own personal favorite was Goo Hye Sun (as 'Yang Gukwha' in Pure in Heart) drunkenly singing and using soon to be boyfriend Suh Ji Suk's head as a bongo to provide the percussion after a bout of conspicuous consumption of those little green bottles...

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Hmm. I actually thought piggyback rides were supremely cheesy and unncessary before you framed them to me in the context of Korean culture. I guess I see they make more sense now...

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I'm sure someone must have already mentioned this but I was just listening to G. Na's song 'what I want to do once I get a lover' feat. Rain (meow) and number four is... yeap you guessed right "the piggyback" check it out!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugR0ZvesVO0&feature=related
Now i've gotta run, I'm expecting another K drama intervention!

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hmm over 5 trips to korea & only once i saw a piggyback couple, in the cold winter night, walking uphill. *faints* not romantic at all i tell you. lol

it was funny because this happened when me & my husband was walking back from shopping & we were almost dying from that walking uphill to return to the guesthouse & there we saw the piggyback couple. so instantly i stopped & turned to my hubby & said in a very samsooni tone: oppa, *points at piggyback ride couple* i also want i also want. *pouts lips*

i was pretty sure i saw his eyes sparkled up & he immediately picked up pace & ran away as fast as he could....yeah not romantic at all. *snort*

these piggyback romantic stuffs only happens in dramas where they try to emphasize the sensitivity, machoism, love, whatever, of the guy lead. i mean, i seriously can't imagine if my husband really did gave in & piggyback me...it'll break his back i'm sure! lol

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AWESOME. I'm anticipating more "pop culture" articles :) You're amazingly well-spoken and eloquent. Thank you!

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A suggestion for a future article: food in Kdramas. Food is, of course, a universal necessity and usually associated with love/care, and food is so often a highlight in many Kdrama scenes.

I remember in a recap of God of Study, javabeans wrote about a scene where the student eats the food his grandma prepared for him (tears and food together is a powerfully emotional combo). Also, So Ji-sub's character in MISA crying and eating ramen that his mother (never?) cooked for him (I'm not sure because I haven't seen MISA); cookies/chocolate made in the shape of Gu Jun-pyo in BOF; all the food scenes in Dae Jang Geum and Gourmet, of course; Grandma ripping kimchi and putting it on Jin-soo's rice-piled spoon in Coffee House and then licking!! her fingers.haha. the love of young Jung-woo as his noona prepares him food in Cinderella Unni and how he returns the favour when he is a grown-up and packs a lunch for her after she stays up all night at the lab; eating ramen and fighting for the pot lid while sitting on a wooden bench/table on a rooftop patio under the starry night sky in Soulmate; making and sharing bibimbap in Coffee Prince, etc. Man, no wonder I get so hungry watching Kdramas! There are so many delicious food scenes! LOL

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Having had to carry out piggyback duty before, there are actually some practical reasons why it's good to carry someone who is otherwise passed out or incapacitated via piggyback:

1) You carry the weight on your back/legs. This is a lot easier and allows you to carry them much longer than if you carried them in your arms. It's also easier to balance and provides better agility than frontloading in arms.

2) Gripped right, it lets you use one of your hands to open doors. Again, you can't pull that off if a person is in your arms.

3) When carrying passed out drunk people who might vomit, this ensures that they won't choke on their vomit. I know it means that you have to sacrifice your back and shoulders (and whatever you're wearing), but better than having them choke.

Unfortunately, none of my experiences have included any potential for K-drama style romance as it's been limited to carrying drunken male friends into cars and cabs and sometimes into their residences.

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@85 The thing about dramatic tropes, as GF pointed out, is they help get the message across without laying it all out on the table and making it super-obvious. yeah, it gets annoying when they're used constantly, but it's because they work, and it's hard to come up with other images that mean the same thing, especially when working with a high-output medium like k-drama. i mean, it's like the lean-on-the-wall-slide-to-the-floor-crying move that every female in hollywood does when something awful happens. terribly cliche, but a quick way to get an idea across.

@GF thanks for this! interesting to know that Korean men don't make a habit of carrying their girlfriends around on their back. i'm a big girl, so i don't expect to be piggybacked anytime soon, lol. i miss it from when i was a kid, though.

oh, and cool insight onto the Kae-in/Jinho piggyback! i wish they had played more with that idea - they could have brought this idea into conflict with Kae-in's relationship with her actual father as opposed to simply having her dad's beef solely be about the blueprints to Sang-Go-Jae.

I'm working on a film this summer, and seriously, your site is helping me see so many awesome things about film as a way to tell stories. thanks so much!!!

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nice topic! standing ovation for dramabeans! been questioning a few things i've seen in kdramas -- i've only watched uhmm... lets see... around 10 dramas, i think, and more to come, i'm officially an addict -- such as that cellphone battery thing... Do korean people really pull out their phone batteries to prevent an incoming call/msg in reality? I'm in indonesia, btw. Never done that, and never seen someone do it in real life.

Some other things i've been wondering about or i find amusing:
- Jeju island -- there're always a scene or two at this beautiful island. Seems like its a must-have in kdramas?
- I just love how (most) people eat in kdramas! it's fascinating watching them put a (big) lump or a large spoonful of rice in their mouths, eating a whole (large) piece of eggroll or any other food items in one take, it seems like koreans really LIKE eating! well, except those rich guys that eats with forks and knives...
- Are there koreans that don't drink? If its a culture, and from what I've seen in these dramas, EVERYBODY drinks, right? Adults, i mean. Is rejecting a drink considered offensive?

Can't remember any others right now... I'll just wait for the next post in this series to dig em up! kudos to gf!

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Can we talk about the side-walk stalls that people seem to go into so often to drown themselves in soju and heartbreak? Do they really exist? xD And how sanitary is it....? I can never be sure.

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Suggestion for next post...the back hug to tie in with the piggyback ride. Another suggestion would be the ALWAYS used as well as used up death by illness uncurable.

Love your post everytime.

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LOVED your piece as usual, gf. especially the boot camp scenario :)

on a rather morbid note (NOT intentional - just genuinely curious) ..... is there a significance as to why almost all the Kstars who have commited suicide, chose hanging?

(logically, taking pills will be so much simpler and less gruesome devastating on discovery).

like, how white tofu is presented upon release from prison/police station.

in Korean culture .... does hanging oneself have any significance on afterlife? reincarnation? in Chinese culture for eg, folklore has it that dressing in head to toe all-red when committing suicide = equates being able to come back to seek revenge for any injustice.

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@28 "The thing about dramatic tropes, as GF pointed out, is they help get the message across without laying it all out on the table and making it super-obvious."

No, I mean K-dramas rely on tropes and conventions so much that one drama is almost the same as any other one.

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LOL! I did a My Name is Kim Sam-soon marathon over the wkend. I still enjoy this series like watching it for the first time.

N i c e !

This "skinship" will tell a woman whether the guy you intend getting serious with is subconsciously a pervert or not by how he gives piggybacks to his nieces or girl cousins. I'm thankful I am a pretty observant gal.

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thanks for the awesome article!! i love you guys. all i can say is that the piggyback motif definitely works on me especially when it is done right. i love the scene in "i'm sorry i love you" where the main character gets piggybacked.

my husband gave me an awesome piggyback at the end of our wedding. the crowd erupted in applause and it was the shining moment of our wedding. mind you, i was also wearing heavy layers of korean ceremonial clothing so by husband gets mad props. I love you, chagi!!!!!

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I just love piggyback rides...and yeah. Crap, how I wish my man would do that...

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Fantastic post! I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts about the infamous piggyback ride. Classic kdrama moment. I have a suggestion for a future post: When I first started watching Korean dramas and variety shows I noticed how often the punishment for losing a game or doing something wrong would be either a flick to the forehead or a slap on the wrist. In Pasta, Chef was known to use the flick to correct his employees. What is the story behind this? In all my life I've never done it or seen it done (I'm American), so I am very curious about this bit of pop culture.

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It looks like in a Korean drama, the following is a must.

1) piggy back ride
2) street eating/soju drinking
3) chasing a bus carrying one of the lead characters.
4) airport scene (most of the time trying to catch the leading character
from leaving the country.
5) forcefull grabbing of a woman's hand
6) pancreatic cancer
7) amnesia
8) karaoke
9) visiting a burial ground on top of the mountain
10) romantic proposa /scene with multicolored christmas lights and fireworks.
11) kissing scene, where the woman is as stiff as a statue while the camera
makes the scene turn around.
12) bicycle scene.

I'm sure there are more.

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to add to Jersey Girl's list

13) chasing the bus while crying and the person being chased is sitting in the back of the bus, and may or may not be crying. the person in the bus looks out behind them while crying, in some dramas, they're crying but try not to look back.

14) splashing a person's face with a glass of water(sometimes wine), this usually happens in a restaurant but i have also seen cases where they're not in a restaurant but a glass of water is already conveniently there.

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and don't forget the eating/cooking "ramyun" scenes

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I really loved your post

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I have seem so many piggyback scenes in a ton of Asian dramas over my lifetime that I'm kinda immuned to them. I like them and I think the romantic ones are nice. They fit nicely with music too. But I don't see them as romantic in real life -- it's nothing like the dramas LOL. My husband just laughs and thinks this kind of stuff is cheesy. So the possibility of us having a romantic one happened only once in 10 years and that was on our wedding day when the photographer asked us to do so for photos. It's only attractive from certain angles esp in a wedding dress.

But somehow it works in a drama cause it's mostly made to be romantic for the most part -- except the drunk ones.

Good post!! =)

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Such a wonderful piece. I was waiting for someone to cover this.

" These are like k-drama musts. Things like making a u-turn in the middle of the road or grabbing the girl’s wrist really hard. These things are used OVER AND OVER again, but what can I say, they work OVER AND OVER again"

Here's another stereotypical scenario I roll my eyes at, but fall for over and over again

- Guy (read as : the schmuck) hates girl's guts. After they become closer, usually with another knight in shining armour waiting in the wings for the girl, he gets jealous of the girl as he starts developing feelings for her. While the knight is also moving his move simultaneously. This inadvertently leads to a showdown of sorts, between the 2 male lead where the knight warns the schmuck to stay away from the kind hearted girl, else he'll beat the living daylight of him the schmuck.
Usually, it ends with the girl and schmuck being together because he learns humility and how to be a better person thru her.

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Another one :

Grabbing the girl's wrist and running out to almost as if to " declare " she is his. Even if she is not really his yet.

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@Jersey Girl .....
15) take out whole cellphone battery instead pressing off button ... :-)
16) Rich and poor society
17) characters who born in USA or England but never able to speak single english word
and on and on

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Love your cultural explanations.
A puzzling scene..... The old girlfriend and new one meet and discuss the guy
in chilly politeness at some public place. Only in K dramas. Who does that?

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hahahah speaking of k-drama musts:

i love how a character spies on other characters in plain sight.

i remember this scene from boys over flowers - the rich kid's flashy red sports car was in plain sight on the beach but somehow - the girl love interest and another boy standing on a makeshift pier was it [??] kept on talking about rich kid and none of them saw the car. amazing how blind drama people are!

another example of k-drama blindness was in the recently concluded cinderella's sister --- they rode the same elevator and yet! older sister didn't see boy. hahaha seriously. i've had to conduct my own experiment and watch people ride elevators and i'm happy to announce that 100% looked inside the elevator before coming in - even strangers make that weird polite grin before boarding.

and speaking of piggyback rides - i'd like to see a boy offer a piggyback ride and buckle down because of the girl's weight hahahaha k-drama boys are mostly thin, it amazes me how they're able to carry anything over 2 lbs on their backs. :D

and to add to the list of k-drama musts:

1. filming by a body of water - to talk about anything sad or evil. but mostly evil.
2. if sad, after arrival at said body of water, to issue little waivers of assurances at fish and other marine life that the ranter will survive.
4. sobbing while consuming ginormous amounts of bibimbap. tears and rice = breakfast of k-drama champions!

hahaha this is fun!

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I like this... it makes me understand more about Korean culture... Thank you so much!

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nice analysis- especially with bringing up the coffee prince example. :)

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@tena
in you're beautiful that was NOT a real kiss :S it was more like planting your lip to the side of the other's lip

@dimsum
haha talking about something evil in a kdrama is always filmed next to the han river :)

@jerseygirl
18) Chaebol family
19) Unrealistically spolit/tough characters becoming softies and more 'human' (aka bad boy to good guy ^^)
20) Super clutzy female lead whom needs a knight in shining armour
21) Poor female lead trying to survive by selling street food/ accessories
22) Evil female second lead and overprotective/perfect male second lead
ofcourse the second male being the perfect guy was not the original trend in prior kdramas eg: Please save the last dance - overly possessive and dellusional second male lead - but I kinda liked that trend more because I always seem to hate the second lead female nowadays and not the second lead male because I just feel so sorry for them and root for them to have a happy ending with the female lead :( eg: Shinwoo and Minam SHOULD have got together :D
haha

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