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Five drama recommendations… with chaebol bosses

A certain currently airing drama put us in the mood to talk about the chaebol boss archetype and the rom-coms this character type often stars in. The chaebol boss is generally untouchable — except when it comes to a certain someone that starts to shake up his fancy life. Rife with power trips, identity mix-ups, and hearts that turn to veritable goo, this is one common drama setup that’s always fun to watch unfold. Here are some of our favorites.



Master’s Sun (2013)

 
Master’s Sun is a drama that had me from the beginning. How could I not fall for a crabby So Ji-sub hiding a heart of mush beneath his gruff veneer? Throw in the zany ghost-related shenanigans, cheeky metaphors, and heated chemistry all into the mix, and it’s basically a done deal. It’s a joy to watch So Ji-sub have so much fun with the role and a breath of fresh air after seeing him in more serious genres for most of his earlier career. Being a grumpy personality myself, I relished every facial expression and giggled each time So Ji-sub did his signature wave for people to go away (I may have even copied the gesture on my friends once… or twice… all in good fun, of course).

Much of the hijinks are due to So Ji-sub’s exaggerated and larger-than-life character, but he is also grounded by his character’s growth. With each ghost story, he becomes more compassionate to their plight, and it was sweet to see him eventually gain a ghost friend. As the story progresses, his feelings for Gong Hyo-jin also grow stronger, and I love that he approaches her with honesty, even if his intentions are sometimes misplaced, and his softening expressions always get me right in the heart. –@tccolb

 


Strong Woman Do Bong-soon (2017)

 
More often than not, Min-hyuk (Park Hyung-shik) acts like a little boy playing a pretend CEO. He rides around the office on a hoverboard, and his management style is so hands-off that he schedules time on his calendar to goof off and shop for luxury goods in the middle of the work day. With a work ethic like that, it’s hard to believe his success is entirely self-made, but he branched off from his chaebol family to start his own gaming business. His company is so well known that Bong-soon (Park Bo-young) leaps at the opportunity to work for him, even if being his personal bodyguard is not exactly the position she had in mind.

Min-hyuk’s success is also recognized by his father, who deems him the most competent son to take over the family business. Not sure if that’s a measurement of his capability, or a sign that his brothers have just set the bar for success really low – because when Min-hyuk starts receiving threatening phone calls in the night, his primary suspects are his brothers. Min-hyuk may not be the usual tsundere CEO-type, but underneath his list of chaebol qualifications, he ticks off the box for having a crazy dysfunctional family. Luckily, his leading lady is just as fun and unorthodox as him, and she makes an excellent addition to his life and company. –@daebakgrits

 


What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim? (2018)

 
We can’t make a list about chaebol bosses and not include Young-joon (Park Seo-joon) and his glowing aura. Delightfully narcissistic and never one to pass up a moment for self-aggrandizing, Young-joon is a man who knows his worth — and I’m not just talking about his bank account. On paper, he sounds like an absolute snob —the kind of man you want to knock down a peg or two because he’s so excessively pompous and obnoxious. And yet, he remains surprisingly likable. Maybe it’s because his parents also break the chaebol family mold by being kind-hearted, down-to-earth, and welcoming of a “commoner” daughter-in-law.

Although he’s an intimidating boss with impossibly high expectations, he doesn’t mistreat or belittle his employees. Sure, Mi-so (Park Min-young) is on call 24/7 and has been conditioned to fix a man’s crooked tie whenever she sees one, but Young-joon respects her boundaries — when she works up the courage to voice them. He took her under his wing when she was barely qualified for the position and helped groom her into an extremely successful and competent administrative assistant. Maybe his teaching methods could have used a little more positive reinforcement, but in the end, Mi-so realizes that she loves her job — and her boss. –@daebakgrits

 


The Secret Life of My Secretary (2019)

 
As if a chaebol director falling for his employee wasn’t already enough of a trope sandwich, The Secret Life of My Secretary also boasts marriage date stress, mistaken identifies, doppelgänger disasters, face blindness, and a fish that’s worth a small fortune. This drama flew under the radar, and definitely had its flaws, but it also exemplified K-dramas with that nerdy sweetness we love so much. Kim Young-gwang plays our face blind hero, and his bedraggled-yet-utterly-adorable secretary is Jin Ki-joo. When she masquerades as his blind date (it’s complicated) chaos doth ensue, and our heroine has to be both herself and her boss’s love interest, all at the same time.

Despite the mean boss and power tripping dynamic we often see in this sort of story setup, The Secret Life of My Secretary balanced it out with a lot of softness, and a romance that blossomed into something adorable. A lot of that is thanks to the bumbling cuteness that Jin Ki-joo brought to the role, and — despite the hot hand-washing scene — left me mostly feeling the sense of home our couple eventually found each other.

PS: I’d be remiss not to mention the second lead character — the incomparable Veronica Park (Kim Jae-kyung) — who acts as the story’s mischief maker, but actually became iconic and one of the best parts of the drama. –@missvictrix

 


Business Proposal (2022)

 
Is is cheating to include this drama since it’s still airing? Kinda, but Business Proposal has to be included in this list since it’s currently going down in K-drama rom-com history. On the off-chance you’re not watching, Ahn Hyo-seop plays our chaebol CEO Kang Tae-mu. Raised by his drama-watching chaebol grandpa, Tae-mu is all business. With no time for pleasantries, dinner — and especially not lame blind dates — his only goal seems to be running a successful company that makes delicious frozen foods (no, that’s not an oxymoron apparently).

However, Tae-mu’s world is quickly turned all ahoo when a crazy blind date captures his fancy… and also turns out to be the food researcher (for his own company) whose ideas he’s long admired. The plot that ensues is all hijinks and hilarity, but also heart. Even with all its tropes and predictability, the drama has a gooey center that pretty much exemplifies why K-dramas are so. darn. fun.
@missvictrix

 
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While I am enjoying AHS in a Business Proposal very much, I’m with you @tccolb. So Ji-sub in the Master’s Sun is THE Boss! I loved everything about him in that show, even his cuff links. 🥰💘

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Oooh yes, the cuff links! <3

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Great list though I'm personally more partial to reluctant chaebol So Ji-sub from Oh My Venus. The world-weariness and discomfort with his chaebol role was very well done.

Love Young-joon and Min-hyuk from the list in particular - there's just something about watching a man fall head over heels and express it openly.

I'd probably add Yoon Se-ri from Crash Landing on You to the list. A "chaebol ttal" that doesn't lose her chaebol-ness even in North Korea is the real deal!

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OH MY VENUS is another great show.

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Oh My Venus is so much better than I thought it would be based on the premise, although I hate the time skip at the end.

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I just rewatched Oh My Venus. You are right. So Ji Sub was terrific as the reluctant "sexiness" chaebol.

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I love Oh My Venus. But, to be honest, I love almost any show with So Ji-sub. 😍

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Business Proposal is What's Wrong with Secretary Kim's younger, cooler cousin.

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Definitely! I love the way Tae-moo in "Business Proposal" is consciously mimicking some of Young-joon's self-glorifying antics in WWWSK. "I'm good at everything," LOL.

Speaking of WWWSK, I re-watched it recently and once again had to give props to Park Seo-joon's performance. What looked like totally narcissistic, self-important puffery in the first few episodes was, on re-viewing after seeing the whole show, clearly both self-absorbed and somewhat tongue-in-cheek and self-aware. It was brilliant how PSJ managed to convey both those layers right from the start, so that the character could be seen either way depending on the viewer's perspective - initial or retrospective.

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All of these examples are excellent. I and my wife have enjoyed every one of them.

I would add one of my favorites to this list: PROTECT THE BOSS.

What makes each of these shows special is that they all have heart. I really do not know how else to describe them.

Even if you do not normally watch rom-coms, these shows are worth watching. Every single one of them.

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Protect the Boss is one of my faves too. That’s where I discovered Ji Sung!

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Ji Sung is rather adorable in Protect the Boss, but the chaebol boss in that show whom I really love is his dad, who watches a lot of late-night K-drama and spends most of the show doing community service.

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Both dad's are wonderful- The Chaebol dad used t be a gangster which is why our poor FL's dad looks down on him even as Chaebol dad looks down on them- I can still picture the two dad's glaring at each other in the final wedding scene- it is so funny.

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That chaebol dad definitely has some pretty thuggish tendencies...

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Protect the Boss is one of my most favorites too!

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I love all of these (maybe especially Minhyuk, although Strong Woman Bong Soon isn’t my favourite of these dramas, he’s adorable).

Two more recommendations from me:

- 1% of Something, if you need more chaebol-having-a-contract-relationship-with-an-ordinary-person once Business Proposal is done. The hero is pretty uh, blunt initially but he’s lovely once he warms up.

- Bride of the Century: if you like your chaebol with a side being of cursed by a ghost to have his first wife die and a fiancée who is actually being impersonated by a nice ordinary girl who is a doppelgänger of the real fiancée.

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Also, just wanted to say I’m really enjoying reading these recommendation articles - and it’s particularly good when they relate to a drama I’m really enjoying so I can go off and feed my addiction while I wait for new episodes 😅

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@beffels glad to hear this -- the feedback is super helpful for us! :)

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Both of these are really good. 1% OF SOMETHIING is a re-make of the earlier 1% OF ANYTHING- a rare example of a re-make being at least as good as the original. It has another wonderful example of a Chaebol Grandpa- with the added trope reversal that he in turn has actually hand-picked our very reluctant Cinderella.

BRIDE OF THE CENTURY is also really good.

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Oh my these are two underrated shows that I absolutely loved!

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LOVED 1% of Anything. To this day, it sticks out to me as one of the more likable contract-dating k-dramas, and yes, the chaebol boss is pretty excellent here.

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I LOVE Bride of the Century

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Secret Garden : Joo Won's Is that the best you can do? was iconic , Master's Sun mentioned who actually gives high five to SG Joo Won LOL,Crash Landing To You because chaebol can be a woman as well,Seo In Guk Louie in Shopping King Louie,Protect the Boss...

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Yay for ABP! Another one I thought of while reading was Coffee Prince. I think that one can also be counted as working with a chaebol boss.

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Oh yes Gong Yoo is a natural at this!

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@mmmmm
I was almost shocked Coffee Prince wasn't on the list. However, I suspect most people are happier remembering GY as just handsome and kind rather than privileged.

Probably one of my favourites in the genre is Lee Da Hee (Beauty Inside). For me, the main story line went nowhere but her story was way more interesting and she was unabashed chaebol to the end. Full of pride, skill and privilege that came with its challenges of privilege in a male dominated hierarchy. Also, her hair, make up are so on point, but OMG, the earrings are a tour de force of character design.

The thing I found interesting in this post is how the language almost hides how many "chaebol" populate SK Drama. Of course, in SK, a land of mega conglomerates and influence, chaebol is a sliding scale and drama stories are nearly always just the little C type. In my mind, it parallels our own history when princess stories were common, when we were still overtly class structured and escape from the lower runs was almost unobtainable. (a world I fear is fast returning)

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It's nice when chaebol boss drama has a male lead who is mature (thinking 30's) and oozing charisma. A lot of chaebol boss dramas star guys who are still too young to really be sufficiently believable. Gotta have some lines in the face, a little certain something. There are a ton of really great actors who would be great chaebol boss types but they're in late 30's-early 40's now, but casting directors seem to go for the 20-something. A great boss drama I like that is Japanese is "Hotaru no Hikari" Now that is a smoldering fine wine boss type :)

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Ahhhhh, smouldering fine wine boss types! Love that description!

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Yes, I like that too. It seems even more common in Chinese dramas to have the hotshot CEO be about 12 years old (okay, exaggerating for effect but way too young) and I just can’t buy it at all.

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Add a Jang Hyuk,Kim Jae Wook, Kwon Yul type rather than the bratty 20 something flower boys LOL to let us taste something as well

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My favourite chaebol boss is the one in Baby Faced Beauty. In many ways he's perfect for the 34-year-old heroine - kind, suave, shares her passion for the fashion industry, understands the importance of nice shoes, etc. AND he's played by a spectacularly handsome and well-coiffed Ryu Jin. Unfortunately he's the second lead. The guy Jang Na-ra actually falls for is 7 years younger than her and a bit of an oaf. Sigh.

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One of my top 10 dramas is Fated to Love You with Jang Hyuk as the quirky chaebol with weird laugh who grew on me.

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FATED TO LOVE YOU certainly qualifies- it is a great story. It was one of my first K-dramas- I tried it after watching the original Taiwanese version, which had the great Joe Chen as the original sticky note girl- the part that Jang Nara played so well in the Korean version. The story has since been re-made in China and, most recently, Japan but the first two versions are the best.

But Jang Hyuk's laugh....

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Oooh, So Ji Sub in Master's Sun... <3 <3 <3 The man basically had me, my friend AND her boyfriend (that man was born woke) wiping our drool of the laptop keyboard. That haircut, that face, those hands... Prrrr! And that chemistry that really was off the charts.
Oh, and just a shoutout to WWWSK - one of maybe two or three dramas where the freakin' Childhood Connection actually made sense because it was - gasp! - the reason for the whole plot, and instantaneously gave depth to the male lead when it was shown that he knew who Miso was from the start and purposely groomed her into a super-employee.

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My ultimate favorite is So Ji Sub in Master's Sun! He is just adorable as the gruff chaebol with a heart. I have seen 4 out of 5 on this list and Joo Joong Won tops them all. He just looks so polished and handsome in this show. I love it! Gong Hyo Jin didnt disappoint but my eyes love every second So Ji Sub was on the screen. 💕

I also love BongBong and Min Min. 💕
Park Seo Joon annoyed me a bit in the early episodes of WWWSK but the character just needed time to grow on you.
And of course, The Secret Life of My Secretary. I'm afraid I loved Veronica Park more than the leads. The shenanigans between the boss and secretary especially with the face blindness was entertaining. But the ditzy chaebol boss heiress stole the show for me.

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I think my favourite (subject to BP's last four episodes) is I'm Not a Robot. A chaebol who is literally allergic to humans (the opening couple of minutes are about the best I've seen in any drama), a candy who is connected to him in no less than four independent ways, and, of course, a robot. What's not to love?

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Rightfully there now should be Top 5 “Young Master or Prince” drama list for the Joseon boys.

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How could no one remember Kang Chul the CEO from W 2 worlds? That drama was a masterpiece😂.. or Gong yoo in the Goblin.. he is a 900++ years old CEO😂😂

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I think it's because the FLs didn't work for them.
Kang Cheol (W) is probably the nicest CEO in kdramaland, tho. Love him.

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Okay! Just added Master's Sun and Oh My Venus to my watchlist. Love all the Beanie tips; thanks for this post.

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Oh, my Park Seo Joonie 😍🥰😍

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I like my chaebols to be nice and cute so I agree with the ML of 'TSLOMS' even if I didn't like the show itself.
Love Master's Sun and 'SWDBS'.
Didn't like 'WWWSK?'

I also liked the MLs from:
Dali and the Cocky Prince
Fates and Furies
Coffee Prince
Cleaning With Passion For Now (he was a chaebol, right? don't remember that well)
Are You Human Too (it counts... right? kinda?)

Ps. What about sageuks? If the ML is the prince/king and the FL works in the palace... hehe. This list reminded me of Bo Geom in Love in the Moonlight.

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With Dali and the Cocky Prince it's like they took the chaebol and split them in half with the posh emotionally distant half going to Dali and the rich arrogant business person half going to Moo-hak. Also each of them is the boss of the other in different ways.

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@enriquequierecagar
"sageuks" ...nice pick up on the detail.

If we are talking "chaebol" not ruler, then almost every plot not about the king or prince is actually a "chaebol" story. The number of sageuks primarily about relationships just between lower rung lovers or comrades is infinitesimally small. Actually the number of SK drama in that genre regardless of time period is crazy small.

The Chaebol vs Ruler is an important distinction - Chaebols act as mini warlords and their real actions aim to remain in the shadows as they attempt to answer to no one. Where as SK Drama ruler's actions are forced into the light by the very nature of their position. I.e. their deliberate isolation in the palace and the reality of Minister's financial and militia power. As such rulers deliberately remain caught in a bubble of their Minister's (chaebol) making.

Through that lens even Sungkyunkwan Scandal is basically a costume chaebol drama. The inverse also holds, "Encounter" works so much better if you watch it as a sageuk (particularly the early episodes with the mothers).

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Well I didn't give it much thought, haha. I just remembered Love in the moonlight, The Red Sleeve, and other sageuks where the FL worked in the palace and the ML was the king/prince. For me chaebols are just rich kids so I thought "sageuks don't count"?

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Shout out to the women chaebol dramas.

Their stories are so often more interesting as these women have to walk a tightrope between their desires, expectation and real risk of banishment. It's like these dramas reveal the strange puritanism in the chaebol falling for a 'socially lower ranked' partner. Its fine (if a little rocky) for the male heir apparent, particularly if their is a fate element, but for females its triggers everyone - particularly everyone in power. TLDR; it's a parallel to some of the critical writing on the role of women in the Western.

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Master's Sun's chaebol boss was the best typical one! So Ji-Sub and his "kkeojyeo"!

In the less typical, Clean With Passion for Now had a nice chaebol boss. His illness made him keep people away but he wasn't a jerk.

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TSLOMS is truly underrated (fish CPR and all) and I'm really happy to see it on this list!

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I agree with so many recommendations!

To add to the list (and really date myself lol):
My Name is Kim Sam-Soon - One of the first shows that drew me in to the KDrama world, it's got its flaws but the chaebol boss is a memorable one for me!
Her Private Life - This whole kdrama is great but having c'mon, having a boss/boyfriend who understands your fangirling? Ryan Gold, folks.

One more mention, though technically not a chaebol, a star chef counts right?! Watch Oh My Ghost - CHEEEFFF!

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My five drama recommendations, with chaebol bosses:

Scent of a Woman
Shining Inheritance
Protect the Boss
Falling for Innocence
Bride of the Century

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Thanks to this recommendation, I am now watching The Secret Life of my Secretary. What fun, I love this drama.

Kim Young-kwang one of the factors. Now I'm on the lookout for more dramas with him in a leading role. Unfortunately, The Man Living in Our House is not available for my region on RakutenViki.

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Secret Garden will always always be my favourite. Scent of a Woman.

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