Five drama recommendations… with chaebol bosses
by DB Staff
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.
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