Actors in dramaland: Overcoming a bad first impression
Getting into K-dramas is like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool. You don’t know exactly what you’re in for — and suddenly you’re over your head. You can’t climb out of the pool gracefully, and you really don’t mind. Dramaland has got its claws into you.
Whether you’re a new fan, a decade-long devotee, or maybe someone that comes back to dramas every so often, everyone will encounter this phenomenon at some point: you form a firm opinion on an actor based on the first project you saw them in. I’m not talking about acting skill as much as I am the impression of an actor based on their role — so in a way, it’s a testament to their ability to be clingy, obnoxious, or straight-up antagonistic.
One could argue that the first time we are exposed to an actor has the same (if not more) power than the first impression we receive when we meet someone in real life. I would argue that bad first impressions of actors are even harder to uproot, because while in real life we have interactions and conversations to change our minds, in dramaland we just have more performances. And often, they’re colored by what we’ve seen of them before. I’ll use myself as an example.
One of my early dramas, My Girl, introduced me to the likes of Lee Dong-wook and Lee Jun-ki — but also Park Shi-yeon. In a drama-making era where the clingy and catty second lead female was just becoming A Thing, this drama is responsible for my subsequent distaste for Park Shi-yeon… but it’s nothing about her, and everything about the impression that role left on me.
When a Man Loves
Granted, Park Shi-yeon might not be the best example, since many of her roles since then have been a bit unlikeable (everything from Nice Guy to When My Love Blooms). While I give kudos to her for having the courage to play mostly unlikeable characters, and be convincing at them, it doesn’t do much to help clear my bad first impression of her.
Similarly, UEE is another actress who is… not my favorite. Again, it’s nothing about her as a person, or her skill as an actor — really, much more flimsily, it’s because I first saw her in You’re Beautiful and I flat-out couldn’t stand her character. No matter how many sweet and doe-eyed heroines she might have played after this drama, I can’t quite clear the negative reaction I have to her from that very first role. The same goes for Han Sun-hwa solely because of Marriage not Dating — and there’s a pile of others.
My ID is Gangnam Beauty
This works for guys, too, and this one will be controversial: I never really “got” Hyun Bin for a long time. And it wasn’t because I couldn’t stand his character from My Name is Kim Sam-soon — it was actually because I first saw him in Secret Garden. I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t like him either, and the “meh” feeling continued for far longer than it should have.
In the same way, being introduced to Song Kang in Love Alarm has made him always seem like a brat to me because of that role, and first seeing Im Shi-wan in Misaeng made me too depressed to even look at him as an oppa. Cha Eun-woo turned me off with his stiff role in My ID is Gangnam Beauty, and the character Yeon Woo-jin played in When a Man Loves annoyed me so much I still can’t fully forgive him.
Memories of the Alhambra
These examples of my first impression biases suggest that Mr. Darcy’s famous line is quite true: “My good opinion once lost is lost forever.” But is the world of K-drama bad first impressions as immutable as Mr. Darcy says? Luckily, no — it isn’t.
Every now and then comes a drama, a role, a story — and it acts like a light bulb over my head. With one quick switch, it changes my long-held opinion of an actor, and wipes out any history that had been standing in the way. When Memories of the Alhambra came around, I went from “meh” over Hyun Bin, to being a heart-eyed fangirl, and then his next role in Crash Landing on You only made this more so. Similarly, after avoiding Im Shi-wan dramas because I didn’t think I liked him, Run On was the drama that finally did the trick, and the Im Shi-wan awakening fell on me like the giant anvil from the cartoons.
Happily, this awakening moment seems to be quite forgiving. Previously held negative impressions are all but gone, and the ability to fangirl becomes practically infinite.
There are a few actors where I’m still waiting for the magic to arrive and the bias to shift (viz., Lee Seung-gi and Cha Eun-woo — don’t hate me!), but once I’ve seen how easily that can happen, I now jump into a drama ready to be wowed, and ready for my mind to be changed.
I Hear Your Voice
Bad first impressions are a thing, for sure, but what about positive ones? It wouldn’t be fair to talk only about the bad ones, because really, the good first impressions far outweigh those — and those good impressions have an even greater power over my enjoyment of that actor’s future projects.
It’s the difference between avoiding a drama because you don’t know if you’ll enjoy the performance, and seeking it out because you know that you will. It’s like having a drama soft spot. Because no matter how much flack Song Seung-heon gets, I will always love him because of the first drama I saw him in, Summer Scent, where he was swoony and wonderful.
Flower Boy Ramyun Shop
In the same way, I will always have the same soft spot for Lee Min-ho because of Boys Before Flowers (it’s a no-brainer), and Lee Jong-seok because of I Hear Your Voice. I have no choice but to love Kim Hye-yoon because of Extraordinary You, Jo Boa because of Shut Up Flower Boy Band, and Lee Chung-ah because of Flower Boy Ramyun Shop. The list goes on.
Bad first impressions in dramaland might be a powerful force to be reckoned with, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be altered. Minds can be changed, biases can be wrecked as quickly as they can be formed, and really, the world of dramas is wonderfully elastic. The more I experience it, the more I’m willing to jump into a drama with open arms. Who knows — maybe that actor who I don’t love (yet!) will cast a dramaland spell over me. And maybe, just maybe, my good opinion once lost is not lost forever.
- Hyun Bin’s on top for Secret Garden
- Romance begins for Im Shi-wan and Shin Se-kyung in JTBC’s Run On
- Kim Hye-yoon pieces the truth together in new promo for Extraordinary You
- Reminiscing about Spain at sunset in tvN’s Memories of the Alhambra
- Gangnam Beauty Im Soo-hyang tells all
- Lee Jong-seok’s noona crush begins on I Hear Your Voice
- When A Man Loves: Episode 1
- Flower Boy Ramyun Shop releases teasers
- Scene analyses and comparisons: Sam-Girl-Wolf-Rose edition
Tags: Boys Before Flowers, Crash Landing on You, Extraordinary You, Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, I Hear Your Voice, Love Alarm, Marriage Not Dating, Memories of the Alhambra, Misaeng, My Girl, My ID Is Gangnam Beauty, My Name Is Kim Sam-soon, Nice Guy, Run On, Secret Garden, Shut Up: Flower Boy Band, Summer Scent, When My Love Blooms, You're Beautiful