[Dramaland Catnip] The bad boys of dramaland
by Guest Beanie
Kill Me, Heal Me
[Turns out that bad boys are a very popular section of dramaland, but everybody loves their bad boys in different ways. Today we have the bad boy who transforms into a swoony hero for love of the heroine, the bad boy who never gets the heroine as the second lead, and the really bad boy who might cheat, manipulate, or even kill. Take your pick! –javabeans]
There are so many dramas out there and I never know which one would tickle my fancy, but one trope that never fails to be my drama catnip is The Evolution of a Jerky Hero to Swoony Main Character.
There is just something so incredibly satisfying about watching a hero with a holier-than-thou attitude be stumped off his high horse and be disarmed by the heroine. My prime—and latest and perhaps most biased—example of this is Han-gyul from The Liar and His Lover, who was a major Jerk with a capital J in the beginning. Watching him fall was probably one of the most satisfying drama watching experiences of my life.
In Kill Me, Heal Me, there was Shin Se-gi, one of the seven personalities of the hero. The way he just became a total manchild for Ri-jin always made my day, and his change from jerky to sympathetic was so satisfying. In Secret Garden, Joo-won was the epitome of the hated-crazy-bitch-on-wheels jerk who went and fell for the wrong woman, and his dogged courtship of Ra-im and fall from jerky status was especially satisfying, given how gradual and relatable it was. He had to fall from grace from high society in order to get the girl, and even though there were so many bumps along the way, he just never gave up.
Then, of course there is Goong. I loved how Chae-kyung’s bubbly, optimistic, and lovable nature finally made our gruff, jealous, and stupid Shin fall in love with her. The extension messed with the storyline later, but the first half was absolute love! Even now, I still rewatch that episode where the almighty Shin spent a day in commoner Chae-kyung’s shoes and actually liked it!
I realize that this trope is a dramaland fave—here’s hoping it remains that way—but for some reason there are only a few shows that manage to hit this catnip sweet spot for me. Maybe it’s because I especially like when the hero has redeemable qualities in the mix, like Han-gyul’s willingness to fix his mistakes, Kim Joo-won’s reluctant fall from his lofty circle and Shin letting go of his crown.
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By an anonymous Beanie who would prefer to remain nameless
When I read about this topic, I knew right away what I was going to write about. My brain didn’t even need processing time, because I know what exactly I keep coming back to—over and over again. As an employed person with a secret ninja life of a K-drama addict, I read through every recap, review, and rating possible before binge-watching a drama, but sometimes the drama gods set up some traps and I end up getting attracted like a moth to fire! I don’t care about anything else—the story, the logic, the script, the dialogue, anything—and I just stick to it till the very end. It is only after watching the whole thing that I realize I had set up myself for heartbreak since the start because second leads don’t get the girl (it is a rule), but I have just fallen in love with him. But I don’t fall for just any type of second lead—I fall for the really bad ones!!
K-dramas have plenty of nice-guy second leads: the almost-perfect good guys who never get the girl but are always there when she needs a shoulder to cry on. But then there is another class of second leads—the bad kind of good. These are the sexy, smart, and ultra-confident bad boys who own their badness and are unapologetic about it. They have “Mr. Wrong” written all over them and yet time and again I fall for them and end up rooting for them more that main lead.
In the rational part of my brain, I know these characters would be a nightmare in real life, but I can’t help falling for these flawed characters. Is it their backstory that makes them so appealing? Or their hidden pain? Or just their looks? I don’t know, but time and again I find myself drawn to these characters more than the protagonists. I continue to watch dramas that I find utterly uninteresting and would otherwise drop, just to see these characters develop. I know I cannot be the only one who find these gray characters more interesting than the leading pairs.
Let me demonstrate with a few key examples:
Heirs, Choi Young-do. I’ll come clean: I hated Heirs. It was the story of Kim Tan and Eun-sang, a manchild and wailing Cinderella. But I stuck around for Choi Young-do, the ultimate bad boy. He is a bully. He is sarcastic. He practically lives to make other people’s lives hell. Students leave schools and Tan leaves the country to be away from him! How much more badass can you be? He is confident, smart and forlorn in ways that makes my heart go all out to him. His one-sided love was just so full of hopeless longing and dedication that I just wanted to run and hug him. Despite his initial bullying, once he realized he loved Eun Sang, he went all-out and unlike Tan, he did it unconditionally. I loved the little things that he did for Eun Sang that showed the depth of his love way more than the childish gestures that Tan pulled. He is a bad boy who is too good. *Sobs*
Scholar Who Walks the Night
Scholar Who Walks the Night, Gwi. The drama itself was plotless; the whole story was about finding a lost book that held the secret of killing Gwi, an ancient vampire so evil that he will massacre in order to keep his power over the royal house. Technically, Gwi had zero redeeming qualities, but whenever I saw his unrequited, unspoken love for Hye-ryung, I couldn’t help but sigh. No disrespect to Lee Jun-ki, who is a god to me, but let me say that Gwi stole the show. With his mysterious past, sexy dark clothes and that baritone voice, I stood no chance.
I was more attracted when I saw his feelings subtly changed whenever Hye-ryung was around. At the end of this series, I was actually convinced that Gwi died from inside the moment he killed Hye-ryung. My heart went out to the lonely villain as he took Hye-ryung’s lifeless body back to his lair. I was convinced that he didn’t even put up a good fight in the end because by then he simply wanted to end it all! I may be right or wrong—but who cares when you are in love.
Goblin, king Wang Yeo. Wang Yeo was a ruthless king who was manipulated by a palace eunuch to kill his loyal warrior Kim Shin, and also his wife. However, one can’t help but feel sorry for this young king who had to endure another life as a Grim Reaper because he failed to recognize the love of his wife and loyalty of his general, all because he was blinded by jealousy and fell victim to manipulation. That is why when he was finally redeemed, it was such a pleasure.
The Lonely Shining Goblin
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The Good Wife, Episode 8, 2 a.m.: the moment I realized I had a serious and somewhat disturbing problem. I had fallen in love again with a Very Bad Boy (VBB).
Forget egotistical chaebols, grumpy CEOs, and misunderstood gangsters. VBBs are the darkest and most damaged of all drama characters. Redemption is rare; their story arcs typically end with jail, death, amnesia, frustrating ambiguity, or a combination thereof, You’d never bring a VBB home to meet the parents; he’d be likely to swindle your dad, sleep with your sister, and kill your first love.
So, why on earth are they my catnip?
When a well-written VBB meets an incredible actor, magic happens. Suddenly, plot loopholes are irrelevant. Lazy writing? Bad directing? No problem. I’ll happily sit through them, waiting for my latest VBB to appear. I want more—more bad behavior, more murders, more clever outwitting, more manipulation.
Welcome to my world of VBBs!
The Good Wife
I was just a casual viewer of the recent drama Voice until serial killer Mo Tae-gu appeared, and the show immediately jumped from a maybe-see to a must-watch. Sexy cheekbones, literal blood baths, and crazy in spades: face-warping hallucinations, hair collections, and shrink-wrapped closet corpses. I was deep in twisted love.
The villain from The Girl Who Sees Smells is another fabulous example of a crack-level psychopath. I didn’t find him sexy per se (although his shirtless workouts were a treat) but his mind was fascinating. His story was equally compelling, including face-blindness, a basement lair, and forced journaling. I only had a mild crush on the drama itself; the psychopath kept me hooked.
I fell hard for the super duo of serial killers in I Remember You. Lee Joon-young was the epitome of the kind psychopath (if such a thing exists!) while Min was the emotionally stunted mentee whose abandonment issues broke my heart. I still remember Lee Joon-young’s confusion when he doesn’t get the expected thankful response from Ji-an for his birthday gift. After all, who wouldn’t want a map of their missing father’s grave location from the murderer himself?
The Volatile Anti-Hero
These mercurial VBBs are a common cause of drama whiplash. Their flashes of kindness and romance are often overcome by their penchant for violence and cruelty. I fall hard for these VBBs, oftentimes due to a single intense scene. I shouldn’t find these moments sexy (violence is bad, people!) but get drawn in every time.
My two top contenders in this category are simple: Doctor’s Son from Heartless City and Wang So from Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. Both hooked me early with gorgeously choreographed and deadly brutal scenes. I fell for Doctor’s Son when he coolly battled a gangster crew armed with just a radio and suit jacket. And I was rapidly losing my patience with Moon Lovers until Wang So’s epic temple swordfight with the tongueless assassins Both of these dramas were flawed but it didn’t matter. I stayed for my VBB.
And this brings me back to The Good Wife. The husband, Lee Tae-joon, is a jerk. He’s a serial philanderer, a bribe-taker, and a master manipulator. Even though I appreciated his intense chemistry with his estranged wife, I didn’t find him appealing. But it all changed when he realized that his wife was in danger, and flipped instantly from a cool negotiator to a violent (yet disturbingly calm) protector. The moment he stabbed Guk-hyun in the hand with a fork was the moment I fell into the Tae-joon trap. When I asked my friend later, “Is it bad that I found that scene so sexy?” and saw her incredulous look, I knew my addiction to VBBs had shown up again.
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
The Morally Questionable Lover
My heartbreakers! These VBBs make very bad choices, find love during the execution of some sort of scheme, and try desperately to make it all right again. They epically self-destruct, but not before they experience heart-wrenching romance with completely the wrong woman. Oh, the pain! Oh, the angst! I crave a happy ending for these VBBs, even though they don’t deserve it.
Soo from That Winter, the Wind Blows is a perfect example. In Soo’s universe, it’s fine to impersonate a dead friend in order to attempt to bilk money from that same friend’s blind heiress sister. And when you start falling in love with that sister? Fauxcest alert! Soo’s desperation took root in my heart and I followed him every step on his very painful journey.
Mysterious Maru from Nice Guy also instantly comes to mind. Good guy turned convict and gigolo, he hatches a convoluted revenge scheme which, of course, doesn’t turn out the way he anticipates. Maru’s twisted relationship with his first love and his even more twisted relationship with his first love’s stepdaughter pulled me in—I was addicted. My friends still tease me about my wailing phone calls (“I just want him to be happy!”) as the drama entered its final episodes.
As an honorable mention, my first VBB was Kang-jae from Lovers. Not as “bad” as those listed above, Kang-jae was a gang boss who struggled to balance his pregnant lover, intense attraction to a minister’s daughter, and internal threats to his gangster family. The pivotal scene when he almost… almost kisses the minister’s daughter ranks high on my list of favorite drama moments. Lovers is so flawed, but I still rewatch it regularly just for Kang-jae.
I don’t feel any guilt for my irrational love of VBBs. These gorgeous, compelling, and dangerous men make my drama viewing complete. They truly are my catnip and I’m can’t wait for the next one to show up on my screen (Yeonsangun from Seven Day Queen, looking at you!).
Seven Day Queen
- [Dramaland Catnip] Prickly marshmallows and tsundere heroes
- [Dramaland Catnip] Reverse harems
- [Dramaland Catnip] Noona romances
- [Dramaland Catnip] Secret identities and alter egos
- [Dramaland Catnip] Disastrous first meetings
- [Dramaland Catnip] Cohabitation shenanigans
- [Dramaland Catnip] Enemies turned lovers
- [Dramaland Catnip] Crossdressing and gender-bending romances
- [Dramaland Catnip] Opponents turned allies
- [Dramaland Catnip] Marriage before dating
- [Dramaland Catnip] Swooning for dramatic height differences
- [Dramaland Catnip] Ragtag bands of misfits
- [Dramaland Catnip] Finding satisfaction in sad love stories
- [Dramaland Catnip] The magic of bad drama magic
- [Dramaland Catnip] The stinging embarrassment of thinking someone likes you… when they don’t
- [Dramaland Catnip] When the hero falls first
- [Dramaland Catnip] The angst and thrills of dramaland’s reunited lovers
- What’s your dramaland catnip? Tell us your stories!
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