The geniuses of K-dramaland
Musicians, athletes, doctors, chaebols, beast men, candy men: All have been, at one point or another, the hot drama trend of the moment. Now geniuses are taking their place as the favored stereotype, with examples seen in Sign, Midas, and Paradise Ranch, to name a few.
Well, that’s the stance proffered in the two source articles, at least — although I’d argue that geniuses have been a favorite of dramas for much longer than that. But perhaps they have a point about the increased visibility of such types in the last year or so. It’s one of the character types I don’t really like, and have been groaning to see more and more of them littering the K-drama landscape, because it seems like such a narrative crutch: How to make a guy (or girl) seem special? You could go for complex characterization or keen insight into human nature, or you could take an easy shortcut and turn him (or her) into a genius. Guess which one most dramas choose?
One recent entry into the pantheon is Jang Hyuk‘s Do-hyun character in SBS’s Midas (pictured above), who’s a fund manager who goes through law school at the top of his class and becomes a lawyer. He’s not just smart, though, and the drama makes it clear he’s a genius lawyer. As if we wouldn’t find him adequately impressive otherwise.
Even in a light romantic comedy like Paradise Ranch, we’ve got ’em: Lee Yeon-hee‘s Da-ji character isn’t a mere veterinarian, but a genius to boot, a member of Mensa who entered university at the age of 16, where she studied genetic engineering. Even though the main plot is the bickering romance between her and her ex-husband, Changmin.
Park Shin-yang in Sign
And you can’t leave out Ji-hoon, Park Shin-yang character in SBS’s Sign, who’s not content to merely be a well-educated top forensic doctor in Korea, but an internationally renowned genius. And the drama doesn’t let you forget it, does it? He cracks tough cases and finds murderers with his prodigious skills, while finding some time for romance, too. Like all good K-drama heroes.
Another genius currently on the air is played by Lee Chung-ah in the daily SBS drama Pure Pumpkin Flower; her Soon-jung graduated with top marks from a science high school who then chooses a culinary career rather than university. She isn’t just driven to be the best chef, but actually “develops new cuisine” (whatever that means) with another character (Jin Tae-hyun), gets work at a restaurant, and wins first place in a cooking competition.
Hm, come to think of it, those are all from SBS, so maybe it’s the broadcaster who’s got the jones for geniuses. A rep with the SBS drama department explained that they’ve opted with the genius types to “heighten dramatic tension” and to offer more detailed portrayals of the characters and professions, all in the name of greater viewer satisfaction.
Lee Yeon-hee of Paradise Ranch
As a viewer myself, I’d rather that dramas took a step back from this trend, since over-the-top brilliance is no longer quite so effective once it becomes so overwhelmingly common. It’s like the chaebol trend; those elite ranks are meant to occupy the highest rungs in the social and economic ladder, in the way of royalty, and the chaebol hero was a useful substitution for Prince Charming in early dramas, before he became so overutilized that it’s much rarer these days to see the Average Joe win the girl.
Sure, dramas carry an element of fantasy and wish fulfillment, and it’s fun to give our characters tons of money, awesome wardrobes, and superhuman brain capacities. But where’s the fun when they’re ALL like that? Why make a genius a genius for the sheer sake of it, rather than having a real dramatic purpose for his braininess? (I can think of a very few examples where the genius label actually served the drama well — Story of a Man is one — but most of the time, it’s pointless to the story.)
What’s wrong with being merely smart? I love a sharp intellect as much as the next girl (okay, a lot more than the next girl, actually), but I’d like a little more smarts in the writing staffs, and a lot less in the heroes. Because the genius crutch is a manifestation, most times, of lazy writing — and, I’ll argue, actually gets in the way of the whole fantasy-wish-fulfillment exercise. We want to believe that these fantastical drama happenings could, on some level, happen to us — in a parallel life, perhaps, but not in an alternate dimension — and if they only ever happen to the uber-rich, the uber-elite, and the uber-smart… well, what’s in it for me?