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Five drama recommendations… to NOT give you second lead syndrome

There’s no shortage of second lead syndrome in dramaland, ranging from the “it hurts so good” to the “I’ll never recover from this agony.” Thus being, it’s a real treat when you meet a drama that does the opposite: the OTP is so great, so glittery, so wonderful, that second lead syndrome doesn’t even exist. The drama might try… but you’re totally immune. For some viewers this is pretty common, for others it’s rare, and for most of us, I’d say it’s a welcome break. Because there’s nothing quite like sailing away on your OTP ship.



Shopping King Louis (2016)

 
Speaking of sailing happily away on an OTP ship without a second lead care in the world, Shopping King Louis is definitely one of the dramas that delivered. When you have clueless puppy Seo In-gook and his total full-hearted infatuation with Nam Ji-hyun, nothing else really matters. Sure, Yoon Sang-hyun might dance around Nam Ji-hyun’s character and make a couple of plays to win her affection, but is there really any true competition going on? No, no there’s not. And sometimes, that’s exactly the way I like it.

A drama that fails in its SLS attempts usually does so accidentally — because the leads are just too good for us to care about anything else. Their chemistry is great, their storyline is well-written, and they just have that magical something that makes you want to watch them all day every day. It’s rare for me to treat a sad second lead as a pesky gnat that I just want to swat away out of the story entirely, but when I do feel this way, I welcome it with open arms. Give me an OTP to swoon over, pain-free! –@missvictrix

 


What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim (2018)

 
I know y’all are probably tired of me writing about What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, but when the prompt is about the K-drama men who did not give me second lead syndrome, I can’t not mention Sung-yeon (Lee Tae-hwan), the walking, talking embodiment of wet socks. As much as I think the writers wanted us to like him (Look, everyone! Sexy, mysterious celebrity writer, ahoy!), every second he was on screen was just plain uncomfortable for me. Lee Tae-hwan — bless his heart — tried his best to sell the character, but aside from Sung-yeon’s profession, the writers really did his character a disservice. I think that whole cockamamie backstory about Sung-yeon losing his memory because of guilt was supposed to make the audience feel sorry for him. And sure, it would be easy to attribute his past actions to his youth and inability to understand the consequences of his actions (abandoning his brother).

Except, the whole situation reeks of the same jealousy, pettiness, and entitlement that he continues to demonstrate as an adult. Before he finds out about his (supposed) childhood connection with Mi-so (Park Min-young), he childishly won’t take “no” for an answer, and once he believes they were kidnapped together, he latches onto Mi-so even harder, despite her clear disinterest. Having the second male lead believe he’s entitled to the female lead because he thinks they have a childhood connection is the weirdest trope reversal I’ve ever seen. Instead of being meta or funny, it just makes him seem pathetic and annoying. Even if you ignore his actions towards Mi-so, though, he reached a new level of bleh when he had the poor aging butler move all his childhood belongings back into the bedroom that was his before this memory loss. Dude, if you’re going to be an extra self-pitying martyr, at least move your own sh!t. –@daebakgrits

 


Her Private Life (2019)

 
To be quite honest, I dislike even acknowledging that Her Private Life had a second lead at all, because I loathed him. Eun-gi (Ahn Bo-hyun) acted as though he owned Deok-mi (Park Min-young) and was entitled to a relationship with her just because they’d been friends/practically family for so long. Then the show tried to make us feel sorry for him, but it only served to fuel my rage.

And it’s not like Ryan Gold (Kim Jae-wook) needed any help seeming more desirable than the supposed competition! He repeatedly wowed me with his consideration, like how he confronted his internal biases when he thought Deok-mi was a lesbian and then made it his personal task to protect her “secret” – even though they were barely acquaintances at that point. And that’s just one example. Ryan was just all-around a lovely, endearing person, and then on top of that he’s played by Kim Jae-wook. Basically, second lead who?
@mistyisles

 


Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol (2020)

 
When talking about or recommending Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol, it’s important to start with the note that the ending episodes are trash and should be avoided at all costs. That being said, the terrible 15% of this drama’s ending somehow doesn’t take away from the rest of the drama for me. There are lots of reasons to give this show a go — it’s a colorful happy pill with the sweetest moments ever — and it also boasts a really fun OTP.

Lala (Go Ara) is our heroine — a chaebol princess who has to learn how to live in the real world — and our hero Joon (Lee Jae-wook) is the sensible, sweet, and supportive guy that she comes to rely on. Their story is precious, as is their innocent bond, and between this OTP and the other side characters in the story, this drama did not need to lean into second lead land. At all. Kim Joo-hun not only seemed like a generation too far from our heroine (*ahem*), but there was no reason for him to pursue her, except the fact that dramas seem to do it on reflex. A bubbly clueless heroine and a young and flustered hero created more than enough plot, captured all the feels — and dare I say, had enough problems on its own. We did not need a sad, divorced doctor with hearts in his eyes. This is one drama attempt to foist SLS on us where I can happily say no thanks.
@missvictrix

 


The King’s Affection (2021)

 
While the childhood connection trope doesn’t always make sense to me, this was one case where it very much did. The initial friendship between Dam-yi (Park Eun-bin) and Ji-woon (Kim Ro-woon) – and the way she lost it – represented everything that was forcibly taken from Dam-yi. When she wound up in the palace, I couldn’t not root for her to find a way to get that relationship back. Then, once the two reconnected and became friends all over again in spite of themselves, they had such a knack for bringing out the best in each other that it made them a truly beautiful match.

As for our second lead, don’t get me wrong – I liked Hyun (Nam Yoon-soo) a lot, and I was glad that Dam-yi had someone like him in her corner. But it was always clear to me that Dam-yi never saw him as anything other than a cousin and a friend, and that would be enough even if her fight for agency hadn’t been such an important theme of the entire show. And side note: kudos to the show for giving Hyun a conclusion that suited him and was more than just the typical last-minute consolation prize. –@mistyisles

 
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Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol> Hum... I think if I have to choose between a highschool student and a doctor for our heroine, I chose the doctor who didn't let her think he was dead...

For me :

Extraordinary You : Danoh never had feelings for Baek-Hyung and always was very clear and direct about it. BK was written as a jerk but in shadow he was too and it was his choice. Sae-Mi was the same as him. She was a bully in stage but was a great friend in shadow. Haru was Danoh's choice.

Judge vs Judge : it was one of the best love triangle in a Kdrama. They respected each other feelings and talked about it.

Moonlight Drawn by Clouds : the second lead never was important for me. In my mind, Kwak Dong-Yeon was the second lead as best friend and bodygard, and not Jung Ji-Young. The FL didn't share anything special with his character.

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WWWSK: "Sung-yeon, the walking, talking embodiment of wet socks" - what a fitting description. What a loathing I had for him. But at least he was good as a catalyst for Mi-so and Young-joon.

Her Private Life: I had completely forgotten that there was an SML and had to rummage through my memories to even remember Eun-gi.

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Hm I have to disagree on Her Private Life here - for me it was an almost SLS - I don't remember Eun-gi behaving like he owned her, they were close their whole life and he was in love with her, but he didn't push himself onto her. And I was really happy when he ended up with that other girl, that was great.
On another note, that brother in WWWSK was creepy as hell.

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Ohhhhhh see I thought you meant "Dramas that don't even have a SL at all, so SLS isn't possible (unless you ship a minor crackship)" lmao

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Oops. I spent too long thinking and typing and didn't see this until too late.

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Great minds think alike but trigger fingers do not? Lol

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The examples all seem be about the 2nd MALE lead. Kdramaland doesn't seem to have many 2FLs that should have gotten the guy.

Then don't forget the many shows that are so far away from SLS that you might not even think of them... Just no possibly romantic 2ML in sight, or he's with the 2FL.
Queen In-hyun's Man
Faith
Girl K
My Mister
Queen's Classroom
Alhambra
Business Proposal
Crazy Love

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2FLs that should have gotten the guy... there's a case to be made for The K2, though my own reaction was just that Song Yoon-ah is a cracking actress.

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Oh I second this one! Actually, though I would just "remove" the 1FL entirely in that by making her a literal child (thus making their relationship that of the Badass Guy + Smol Child trope a la Logan or whatever), and therefore making our "2FL" the actual FL. Lol.
I'd also tweak a few other things necessary for it to work smoothly for me, et voilà - the Show K2 should've been.

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I have a strong suspicion that if the script was written that way they would have cast Yoona as the Fl anyway and that would have ruined the character, and the story, completely, again.

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Shhh, obviously I'M writing this correct version, not them. :P

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This!!!, Also @midnight, you are probably correct and I shudder at that prospect, at least that terrible drama had Song Yoon-ah!!!

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Forgive my impudence 😁

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While I cannot remember the name of the show, I do vaguely remember one where the very beautiful 2FL does in fact get the guy while the female lead is now successfully launched on her career.

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I agree that BUSINESS PROPOSAL was nearly perfect in avoiding any SLS- because the pairing of the second leads is, if anything, even firmer and truer the pairing of our lead characters- in fact their relationship is always ten steps further along than the relationship of our leads.

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My Roomate is a Gumiho,You Are My Spring,The Tale of Nokdu,Dinner Mate,Dali and Gamjatang....

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Dinner mate got the rare award of having both the worst 2nd ML and 2nd FL, in recent memory.

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The Second Lead in DALI AND GAMJATANG was not only loathsome but totally unnecessary. That romcom could have been far better without him and the entire corporate scheming/political corruption nonsense which simply detracted from what could have been a much more delightful show.

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Cdramas are good in making second leads you will totally loathe so they never have a chance (Fu Pei in Put your head on my shoulders) but they also manage to give them a redeption arc and love life of their own.

Regarding kdramas I would put Seo Ji Hye's character in Jealousy Incarnate here. She clearly wasn't someone I'll hate, in fact I really liked her. But it was clear as day that the male lead was never interested. Good enough for her she didn't try that hard and even backed off at the right time. I didn't worry about her at all, rather she remained an enjoyable character to see on her own.

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Jealousy Incarnate also had one of the best 2nd male leads. I would have been happy with fl ending up with either of the leads.

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Really wished they made Eun-gi be Deok-mi's little/twin brother and not... that.

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Just want to say I'm so glad somebody agrees with me about Eun-gi in Her Private Life. I almost rage-quit the show over him and unfortunately I now watch anything starring Ahn Bo-hyun with trepidation 😬.

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Yes! I LOATHED him. Everytime he appeared on screen I had a desire to punch him. The character made me have a dislike for ABH which is really unfair it was a real surprise when I was able to like him in Yumi's cells.

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Second leads with significant age gaps (Shopping King Louis, Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol)

Second leads who are family (The King’s Affection) or like family (Her Private Life)

Second leads who are the male leads' best friends (Record of Youth Byeon Woo-seok, Our Beloved Summer Kim Sung-cheol) to whom I scream, "She is your Best. Friend's. Girlfriend."

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Yes. Yes. YES.

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+ kim sungcheol in do you like brahms lol

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Special mention for Idol: the Coup, where not only is there no SLS, there isn't an OTP either. This was my biggest worry about that drama, as the opening credits made it look like the story of the group was going to be pushed into the background by a love triangle, and the opposite happened. I guess you could call it switch-and-bait, or just underselling your show.

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I agree with all of these--and will add one below--but there's one second lead I want to defend just a bit. I don't agree that Eun-gi thought he owned Deok-mi. I didn't root for them to be together and she was clearly annoyed with his clinginess for a while there, but I couldn't help but feel a little bad for him. He was basically relying on a kdrama trope (knowing each other as children and falling in love somewhere along the way) as proof their love was fated. I never got the sense he felt he was owed her love or that she was obligated to feel the same way; my sense was that his feelings were very strong, had existed for a long time, and it was very painful for him to imagine that the love he thought was real would never not be one-sided. He was in love and being stupid, but I never saw him as brutish or controlling. So I gave him a pass.

The second leads I truly loathed? Both the male and the female ones in "The Princess Hours." Their constant scheming and whining were intolerable, and they were an early example of a central kdrama trope I loathe: the one that says that if someone you like doesn't like you back, all you have to do is sabotage their relationship with someone they *do* actually like and then they'll fall in love with you. If someone's not into you, they're not suddenly going to think you're hot if you engineer their heartbreak over losing someone they love! This thinking still pops up in various kdramas and it always drives me crazy.

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With Ryan Gold, I feel like it was never going to be an issue... KJW was finally leading a romance and honestly I feel writer pus director understood the assignment...

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Everything with Hyun Bin or Gong Yoo in it

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Tamra the Island

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@daebakgrits I for one will never tire of you writing about Secretary Kim and to call him a wet sock is an insult to wet socks 🧦.

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I agree- even wet socks deserve some love and care.

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Ugh, the Polar Bear ex-bf in Witch’s Romance. What a waste of space and a waste of our time while we waited for him to go away. We could have had so much more Park Seo Joon-Yoon Hyun Min bromance antics 😒

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I'm one of those people who rarely gets SLS. So this post isn't for me. But the moment I saw the title I wanted to say Jealousy Incarnate. Probably because most beanies loved Go Kyung Pyo's character. I hated him.

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I started out loving his character but then he couldn’t take no for an answer so he slid back to the typical 2nd lead position

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I agree that I didn't like how he acted childish when she finally chose, but he was such a good friend that I forgave him.

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To me, he was a most entitled manipulative friend and love interest from ep one.

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Totally agree with WWWSK and her private life!! If Kim jae wook is your lead, I won't be looking anywhere else:p.
For me, I would also like to add a poem a day. I know the majority of beanies loved Minho but I never warmed upto him. For me it was always dr. Ye and I'm happy that boyoung chose him, though apparently that was not the original planned ending.

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Team Dr. Ye!

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Me too!

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Me too!

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In another Miss Oh, Han Tae Jin dumps the FL the day before their wedding with the reason being that he did not like the way she ate. Then later after his real problem was cleared up, he tried to come back to reclaim her. His efforts to get her back /revenge made him pretty unlikeable.

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LOATHESOME. The thought of that character is rage inducing. It's like Oh Hae-young didn't have it bad already.

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Omo the hair in that last pic 🤣

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Where is that still from?? It's glorious

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Shopping King Louis i guess

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Healer and Hometown Cha Cha Cha come to mind as dramas with no second leads.

I rarely get SLS, so the SML has to be some kind of special to trigger it.

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I actually liked the college ex boyfriend in Cha Cha Cha.

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I completely forgot about him...oops. Now that I'm reminded, I agree with you. Still didn't have SLS though lol.

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Haha. Well he was unforgettable because he didn't stand a chance.

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You're talking about the PD. I'm glad he had own romantic ending with this assistant. He wasn't an ex-bf, but her college friend and even though they liked each other, their timing never worked out so they never got together. Her actual college ex was terrible asshole.

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Healer took a stab at making Moon-ho (Yoo Ji-tae) a SML, but the FL clearly never had eyes for anyone but Healer/Jung-hoo. I thought Yoo Ji-tae did a good job of expressing how he was torn between avuncular feelings for the little Young-shin he remembered and attraction to the woman she'd grown up to be. And he wasn't really her uncle, but it would certainly have made for an awkward family situation (he's her bio mom's second husband's much-younger brother, right?). He conceded gracefully to Jung-hoo pretty quickly, though.

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There it is again, Business Proposal! Dude was the worst.

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Hooooo boy, you’re right. He defined ewwwwwwww.

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Master's Sun and Sassy Go-Go are two of my favorite dramas where the second lead syndrome wasn't a thing. I really, really liked the second leads in those shows but they never stood a chance. And instead of going all mopey and clingy they accepted the truth and moved on with their life.

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Wonderful article except for a triggering mild PTSD in me for a moment with the inclusion of DO DO SOL SOL LA LA SOL. What the writer did to the audience in the final episodes was simply cruel.

I never really saw Yoon Sang-hyun’s character SHOPPING KING LOUIE as a regular second lead in the first place. It is true that he is motivated by his attraction to Ko Bok-sil, Nam Ji-hyun’s character his his function is not to be a romantic rival to Louie but rather to be her guru and fairy godfather, teaching her and helping her to adapt to a new life in her new urban setting. At this same time, he too is learning important things about life and above about valuing someone like Bok-sil which he really going to need because his own (much prettier and cuter) version of Bok-sil shows up towards the end of Episode 16 in the form of Wang Mong-sil (cameo appearance by Chae Soo-bin). This is why we never get second lead syndrome for him because he is not functioning like a normal second lead but, as it turns out, his time with Bok-sil was the completely necessary prologue to his own love story. If there had been a sequel to SHOPPING KING LOUIE that is the story we would have seen.

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CSB had a cameo in SKL? I have to find this..

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It is a very brief scene- less than 5 minutes long- that occurs 35 minutes into the sixteenth episode. Brief but quite wonderful.

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Aww thanks!

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@daebakgrits, I’m just lovin’ the fact that you used “y’all” and “bless his heart” in the same paragraph! Now, remind me, what was the topic?

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hahahaaaaaa that’s great, especially great to me at this moment because I am in the South for a week and surrounded by Southerners and starting to say that myself.

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Oh, and I had to come back to thank @daebakgrits for that little “ahoy!” which craaaacked me up ⚓️

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The Southern comes out in me when I get snarky. Hahaha.

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Alabama girl here. I remember when I first saw daebakgrits' handle and knew she was a southern gal right way lol.

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awww. Ahn Bo Hyun. Sorry, I will choose him if the second lead is Ahn Bo Hyun... My baby.... moreover not a big fan of Kim Jae Wok as an actor.

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Oh, heartbreak, The KIng’s Affection. There was no way Hyun made sense for Dam-yi but he was crazy lovable (can’t say the same for all the second leads here).

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Just Between Lovers. Kang-doo and Moon-soo were obvious end game. The architect was no competition.

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I don't get SLS much - at least not enough to wish the FL would end up with the SML, though there are times when I wish I can clone the FL so both MLs can be with her.

I love it when the second leads have their own lovelines so I don't have to be suspicious of them causing emotional turmoil to the main relationship or have to feel bad for them or feel like they're just the awkward third wheel.

I still feel betrayed by DDSSLLS (It was my happy pill for weeks and weeks and I had faith in the drama even with the age reveal), but I'm glad the doctor and ex-wife worked things out and gave each other a second chance.

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I'm with you on all counts in this comment. However, in terms of second lead couples, my wife is watching Coffee Prince now, and I really find Han-sung's attraction to Eun-Chan a little creepy, especially with the forced kiss, when he was involved with Yoo-joo. I like the actor and actress playing those roles, but they were an unpleasant pair in this classic.

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