What Frustrates Me About Chaebol in Some K-dramas

Ok, so I am very much enjoying Secret Garden, but I am increasingly frustrated with male lead Kim Joo Won because his character doesn’t seem to be changing. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Or perhaps I’m overcorrecting because I really want to like him and say everything’s great and he’s great but I don’t want to be fooled or let down.

I mentioned in a previous post that I wasn’t sure if Joo Won was truly going to change or not. I’m already on episode 18 of 20, and his transformation isn’t particularly impressive. It makes me wonder what in the world make him attractive to Gil Ra Im besides the obvious and superficial: his abrasive but engaging personality and his to-die-for razor-sharp cheekbones…I mean, his good looks.

Secret Garden 4

Don’t you look so smug, you rich pretty boy. -_-

Other than that, Joo Won doesn’t have a particularly attractive personality, as far as being a good/nice/virtuous person goes. His constantly makes selfish decisions, and most of the time, when he does anything for others, it is part of a deal that benefits him. Let’s examine how he treats Ra Im, shall we?

He intrudes on Ra Im’s life even from the very beginning, unceremoniously dragging her from her work in a case of mistaken identity. He struggles with his attraction to her, constantly obtruding himself on her work (with the help of her well-meaning sunbae), insulting her to her face about her poverty, trying to physically control her (restrict her movement, force a kiss or cuddle on her), sometimes lying to get his way, paying part of her employer’s loan without asking, only doing something nice when there’s something in it for him (i.e. agreeing to do the audition so long as they live together) and just generally being controlling and manipulative. I also forgot to mention that when he’s in Ra Im’s body he sabotages her employer;s (Director Lim) chance at a romantic relationship with her without even telling her.

Secret Garden 7

You should be shocked. It was an awful thing to do to her.

This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t do anything for anyone else: Gil Ra Im’s very existence seems to be inspiring a change in him. He defies his mother to continue their relationship, and is willing (however reluctantly) to give up his job and his wealthy life for Ra Im. He also went to her work Christmas party when in her body, despite the fact that he had previously expressed contempt for it; AND when in her body and living with her friend Ah Young, he respects Ah Young’s space and apparently does what he can to preserve her dignity.

Still, many of his decisions regarding Ra Im stem from selfishness, including his decisions to switch bodies while she is in a coma, so that she can be awake and live in his body. His cousin Oska rightly reproaches a comatose Joo Won, “Is your woman the only thing important to you? What about your family?” Joo Won is only concerned with how he feels and his own happiness in the situation–what he wants for Gil Ra Im, not what is best for everyone, or for her even.

This is one of the things that bother me about some kdramas (and anime)–the ones featuring chaebol, anyway. It’s that the rich young man falls for the girl, but doesn’t really change his selfish behavior. He just sometimes acts nicely towards her, and sometimes mistreats her or tries to control her. Some examples are Hwang Tae-kyung from You’re Beautiful and Goo Joon-pyo from Boys Over Flowers. To be fair, I never finished either of those series, but it’s partly because of that fact. I got sick and tired of seeing the guys who treated girls like crap getting the girl, while the guys who treated her well sat back and did nothing.

Let me mention that I don’t expect a complete change in character, because you don’t go into a relationship to try to change someone. And none of the girls I’ve seen in kdramas try to change the guy, so that’s good. But if you truly love someone, you will change because loving someone means putting them first. Otherwise, it’s a very stifled, stagnant, selfish love.

So I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on Joo Won. The fact that he chose to do something mostly disadvantageous to him for another person and that he was willing to sacrifice his life is a good thing and a big step for him. It makes him somewhat different from the Joo Won that we see at the beginning. I just wish that we could at least see a bigger difference in his treatment of Gil Ra Im. But maybe that’s what would begin offscreen, in the land of happily-ever-after. I hope…

Secret Garden 2

That…that’s not very encouraging, Joo Won.

And he’s not nearly as bad Baek Seung-jo from Playful Kiss. Oh Ha Ni practically worships the ground Seung-jo walks on, because he’s handsome, cool, and top of the class. She is constantly hurt by his cruelty, (he ‘grades’ the love letter she sends him and gives it back to her in front of the whole school), manipulation (he won’t get their marriage license unless she passes her exams), and general mistreatment. But, after being forced to live with him, she decides not to give up on him. Not giving up is generally a good thing, and we are called to love everyone, like Christ continues to love us though we repeatedly push Him away. However, we’re not called to get hung up on getting other people to love or acknowledge us, nor are teenage girls in particular called to emotionally wreck themselves over selfish, emotionally distant, manipulative teenage boys. (Irie Naoki in Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo, a Japanese version of the drama, [which is based on manga anyway] is just as bad.)

Maybe I’m just being too critical of them. Am I? I do want to allow for differences in personality, and fallen human nature. I think I just know how good they could be and don’t want to root for them if it’s not going to turn out well. I think I just want to see people changed by love, whether they end up as a couple or not; I want them to be better people for their experience.

I also don’t want girls getting the wrong idea–that they should let a man mistreat them or others just because they love him or he says he “loves” them. That’s kind of majorly important. You can appreciate a guy’s physical beauty and still realize how perfectly crappy his behavior is and avoid him. So even if he says he loves you, if his actions don’t show it, stay away. If he tries to control you, or manipulate you, or makes you do all the work in the relationship, leave. It’s not good for you. And whatever you do, don’t try to change him. Remember my post about Helen Graham from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Yah, you don’t want to be in her position. So don’t put yourself there.

Ok, that got a lot more serious at the end than I was intending. But it’s still true.

And you get a bunch of Kim Joo Won gifs because of reasons.

Secret Garden 5

Bonus gif of Gil Ra Im in Joo Won’s body. She just had an accidental kiss with Oska, which has her on cloud nine. Oska and Joo Won? Not so much…



  1. onlylowercasenumbersandlettersareallowed · October 9, 2014

    You make a lot of good points. This relentless “me me me” attitude toward love and relationships needs to die already.

    • Nami · October 12, 2014

      That’s why I hate songs like Adele’s “Someone Like You.” It explicitly says, “I know you’ve moved on but I haven’t so I’m going to obtrude myself on your life.” So much for love.

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