[Changing Tastes] Rom-coms without the rose-colored glasses
Rom-coms are dramaland’s bread’n’butter and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. That’s what originally made me a drama addict, thanks to a love of shoujo stories that require lots of hilarious misunderstandings, awkward situations, and, of course, romance! The more ridiculous and trope-filled these stories are, the better. Give me contract relationships, forced cohabitation, secret identities, drunken piggy back rides, accidental kisses, a dreamy jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold and the spunky Candy that changes his life. That’s all I really need to be happy.
Or so I thought.
Dramabeans ruined rom-coms for me. Wait. Let me rephrase that in a way that won’t get me fired: Being required to critically examine every second of a romantic comedy made me realize there are certain bothersome aspects that I could no longer blithely ignore because, when recapping, you can’t just skip over the parts that you don’t like.
Something about the trajectory of going from Sly and Single Again, to Witch’s Romance, to Trot Lovers, and then to My Secret Hotel gradually awakened a nagging sensation that maybe I’m not the rom-com fan I once thought I was. That’s not to say there wasn’t anything redeemable or enjoyable about those various dramas — in fact, I’m rather fond of Witch’s Romance, although I’ve blocked Ji-yeon’s ex from my memory. But I still have flashbacks to the agonizing struggle of trying to think of something positive to say about Trot Lovers, aka the show that nearly broke me.
It turns out, the main romance (usually the primary draw in a rom-com) is actually the last piece of the puzzle to interest me. If a couple is relatable and charismatic, it can make a mediocre drama a bit more watchable — but I also need a decent plot, and motivations that make sense, and second-leads that are more than caricatures of the Evil Conniving Bitch and Adorable Puppy Beta Male.
My Secret Hotel
In retrospect, I’ve realized the reason why frequently I love rom-coms is largely thanks to the minor characters that steal my heart and my attention. I’m not just talking about Second-lead Syndrome (of which I’m highly susceptible). I’m talking about those characters that could be classified as third lead, or even less. I love those tertiary characters that have their own full and complete stories, and they often end up being the only reason I’ll finish a show, skimming over whatever madness might be happening with the main leads.
For example, in You’re Beautiful, my heart was rooting for the sweet and goofy Jeremy, over the prickly lead Tae-kyung or the perfect second-lead Shin-woo. Rooftop Prince was a mess (with the most bumbling villains ever), but I’m still in love with the Joseon ducklings who could make me forget about any plot issues and instead giggle along as they adapt to a new time period, all the while still fulfilling their duties in support of their prince.
Flower Boy Ramyun Shop
The main romance angst in a rom-com is easy to ignore when it barely registers with my heart. I managed to avoid the shipping wars in Answer Me 1994 by remaining loyal to my beloved Haitai — plus I found Samcheonpo and Yoon-jin’s relationship more compelling than all of the other romances. Wild Romance is all about the quirky Dong-ah and her awkward relationship with Robot Manager Kim. Who cares about the love triangle in Flower Boy Ramyun Shop when you have the cute bromance of Ba-wool and Hyun-woo?
Even with shows that have a compelling main romance, I find myself being more pulled into minor arcs that can make me forget there’s a bigger story going on. I love Flower Boy Next Door and have no quibble with the primary relationship, but I blame Webtoon Editor and Dong-hoon for turning this drama into one of my all-time faves. Their relationship was built on practicality and mutual respect, without any major hand-wringing angst, and they’ve since become my top OTP. (Then again, maybe that’s because I never seem to get enough sleep and so I’d totally swoon if a guy told me that the dark circles under my eyes are the main point of attraction.)
Flower Boy Next Door
Part of me wishes there were more rom-coms about thoughtful, dependable guys in loving and supportive relationships with their sassy and confident girlfriends. Another part of me grudgingly admits that this probably wouldn’t be quite as compelling viewing as the usual mercurial chaebol-Candy rom-com fare.
But maybe I’m not giving dramaland enough credit. It seems like we’re going through a time of transition, where the typical tsundere lead is gradually being replaced with the “beta male” who is more than willing to shed any pretense, happy to dive into a relationship without fear of how it will supposedly damage his reputation (as a chaebol or pop star or hot-shot lawyer or [fill in the blank]).
While I’m pleased that dramaland is perhaps evolving and re-envisioning the personality traits of its leads, I still need more than fluffy romance. I tried so hard to give Strong Woman Do Bong-soon a chance, but no matter how adorable Min-hyuk was with his heart-eyes for Bong-soon, I couldn’t overlook the terrible script that did utter disservice to the rest of the characters. A few years ago I’d be able to gloss over any issues I had with a show and just focus on the cracktastic cuteness, but I’ve since become hyper-aware of how much those minor characters mean to me and how disappointed I am when they’re used more as props and jokes rather than characters in their own right.
I think this is why I love shows that feature an ensemble cast. There’s more depth to be had when the burden of plot and character growth is carried by more than just the main couple. This is also likely why I now enjoy the slice-of-life genre. As I grow older, I’m discovering that romance is just one small part of life rather than the end-all be-all. Work, friendship, and family are also vitally important. I’m always pleasantly surprised when a show focuses on joys of platonic friendships instead of forever teasing the push-and-pull of inevitable coupledom.
So, yes, my drama tastes have changed. In contrast to the screwball rom-coms that first drew me to dramaland, these days I long for relatable heroes and heroines who have a greater purpose than simply getting together, a supporting cast that isn’t solely constrained by their interaction with the leads, a plot that attempts to be believable, and comedy that isn’t completely tone-deaf. Where I once used to be a completist (because the only way to experience “happily ever after” is by sprinting to that final episode), I’m now apt to drop any show that isn’t living up to my expectations. With so many dramas clamoring for my attention every month, why bother with something that no longer brings me joy?
Sly and Single Again
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- Theme of the Month: How have your K-drama tastes changed over time?
- What’s your dramaland catnip? Tell us your stories!
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