Updates: The Role Reversals of Men and Women in Kdramas

***The following contains plot points to some Korean Dramas on Netflix. Spoiler Warning is in effect***

For months I have had in my drafts a post with updated reviews on the kdramas that Kate and I have been watching on Netflix, but for whatever reason I never completed it. I did plan on finishing it, but last night I had a realization about the story telling of some of the shows we liked the most, so I’m going to write about that instead. It’s a common trope in romances that one person is more experienced than the other when it comes to love and sex. Typically, it is the Man who is the one who has a long history of romances while the woman is new to the whole affair. Think the “bad boy” trope. Not only does this usually shift the power to the man in the relationship but also reinforces the idea of women being pure and chaste. This has shown up a couple of times in some of the Korean dramas we have watched, but we’ve noticed the roles are mostly reversed. The romantic male is inexperienced in love and sex and the romantic female lead is the one with the past. In almost all of these shows the man is a virgin while the sexual status of the woman is left ambiguous or her past plays a part in the story. I found it interesting because it is not something seen often in popular media, let alone in more than one show in 2020 to feature such a character. Let’s take a look at four different shows that Kate and I have watched in the last four months and explore it, shall we.

Itaewon Class: Our Hero Park Saeroyi (played by Park Seo Joon) is a high school dropout ex-convict who spends the next ten years of his life after getting out of prison to take revenge on the family that killed his father and ruined his life. He starts his own restaurant in the neighborhood of Itaewon in Seoul. Getting revenge obviously doesn’t really leave a lot of room for romance, and also he is still in enamored with his school girl crush, Oh Soo Ah (played Kwon Nara), who also just happens to work for his enemy. His plan for revenge doesn’t really get going until he meets Jo Yi Seo (Kim Dami) who is very business savvy, despite the fact she is very young and is 10 years the junior of Saeroyi. Saeroyi is a good guy with a moral compass that sometimes gets in the way. In a scene half way through the show, the cast is playing what is essentially spin the bottle but instead of kissing whoever the bottle lands on you get the ask a question. This is when he admits he has never even been kissed, let alone anything else. At this confession is both Soo Ah and Yi Seo who have different reactions. Soo Ah’s love life is left opened. We are not told much about her dating life, but it is hinted that even though she has feelings for Saeroyi she hasn’t exactly been waiting for him either. Yi Seo is the an anti-social free spirit who does what she wants and with whom she wants. It’s clear that she has experience when it comes to the opposite sex. In any case both of the female leads have more experience than Saeroyi and they know it and often use it against each other as they compete for his affections.

Crash Landing on You. Ri Jung Hyuk (Hyun Bin) is a captain in the North Korean Army and is very earnest about his duty. He has been engaged for the last 10 years to a woman who he barely knows. They engagement was arranged by their parents and marriage had been put on hold after the death of his older brother, allowing for time to mourn. Before he was a Captain, he was studying to be a classical pianist in Switzerland for many years. I guess you could make the argument that while he was in Switzerland and away from family and obligations he could have played the field a bit, but I don’t think so, as we are led to believe that Jung Hyuk is a moral upstanding gentlemen that wouldn’t do anything to dishonor his family or his fiance. Juxtapose him with Yoon Se Ri (Son Ye Jin) who is not only an heiress to a great fortune but a successful business woman in her own right. Her love life is all over of the tabloids, and she uses it to her advantage when it comes to business and her family. She never stays in any relationship for very long and quickly moves on to the next one. In the first episode her brothers (who are awful btw) joke about how they can’t keep up with her latest romances and ask if her current guy is the actor or the baseball player. At one point Se Ri asks Jung Hyuk who was his first love, and he reluctantly admits it was her, which explains to her all of the awkward moments that happened between them earlier, but is also sweet because even though she has dated other men she could also say he is her first love, too.

It’s Okay Not to be Okay When Moon Gang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun) was a kid, his mother was murdered leaving him to take care of his older brother, Moon Sang Tae (Oh Jung Se), who is autistic. Sang Tae also witnessed the murder of their mother, and the trauma of it forces the brothers to move every spring to outrun the memories. With the constant moving and taking care of his brother, Gang Tae doesn’t have much time for himself, let alone a love life. This is something that is mentioned in the first two episodes. Ko Moon Young (Seo Yi Ji) is a famous children’s book author that has her own anti-social disorder. She is likable and so unlikable at the same time. While we are not given specifics about her love life, her uninhibited life style definitely implies she has had lovers in the past. Gang Tae, to say the least, is repressed when it comes to his emotions. He does this partly because he needs to control them around his brother but he also has experienced his own traumas and keeping his emotions in check is a coping mechanism. Moon Young asks Gang Tae flat out in one episode if he is a virgin and offers to take his v-card. He doesn’t answer, but it’s pretty clear from his reaction that he is. Something that she will tease him about for rest of the series.

Hospital Playlist I debated whether or not to include this one because it fits but doesn’t. Ahn Jeong Won (Yoo Yeon Seok) is a pediatric surgeon who is very religious. In fact he has dreamed of becoming a priest ever since he was a little boy and has finally taken steps to quit medicine and join the priesthood. That is until he meets Jang Gyeoul (Shin Hyun Bin). As you can imagine for someone who longs to devote is life to God, dating is not a high priority. It’s commented over and over again about him that he doesn’t date and that he has never been interested in any woman. Even his closest friends echo this sentiment. Before the show started the director released short character descriptions, and in it does say that Jeong Won was once in love some time in his 20s, but this is never mentioned or alluded to in the show, so this is a story line that got dropped, or it will play a part in the upcoming seasons. So we once again have a male character with little experience, but where this differs is with Gyeoul. She is also inexperienced, and maybe just as much if not more so then he is. Gyeoul is a General Surgery resident who is very hardworking and good at her job, but she does have trouble relating to people, including her patients.Throughout the season, she enlists the help of Jeong Won’s friend Lee Ik Jun (Jo Jung Suk) to help her in her quest to get Jeong Won fall in love with her. Something that Ik Jun is more than happy to help her in. In a scene midway through the season, she and a fellow resident and friend chat about relationships, and Gyeoul admits she’s never been kissed before. In the end of the season, they do end up expressing their feelings to each other, and it’s everything you want that scene to be. Here we have a couple that is are starting on an even playing field and lucky for us a new season starts sometime next year, so we will get to see how they move forward together.

It turns out that these four shows are among our favorite shows we have seen this year. Does this new twist on an old trope play into our enjoyment? Maybe. I mean it doesn’t’ hurt. As Kate pointed out, when a guy is less knowledgeable they are less likely to mansplain, and this definitely true for all these male characters. They all come off as caring and thoughtful, if not a little aloof. The other trait that all of these men have in common, besides their virginity, is that they are all are repressed in one way or another, and it’s not until they meet the female lead that they start to open up and to reexamine why they are the way they are. So while the roles may be reversed when it comes to love, there is still a little bit of expectation that the woman’s role is to help fix him. To me the imbalance between the characters never feels as though the relationship is unbalanced. What each character lacked they made up in other ways. I think the most interesting part of all of this is that at no point was the masculinity of the man questioned by any of the other characters. It was sort of a “this who they are” or “this is understandable when you considered what they have been through”. Can you imagine how characters would react if a straight male romantic lead admitted that they were a 30 year old virgin in American media? They would have been mocked mercilessly. As for me the viewer, I found all these characters sexy and again actively rooted for them to get with the girl in the end.

So what does this tell us about Korea and their culture? All four of these shows got high ratings on Korean television, and many of the actors are some of the most popular and highest paid actors working in Korea today. What is so attractive about the guy being “pure”? I’m all for this trend and wouldn’t mind seeing more of it. It also makes me like Korea more that they seem comfortable portraying men and women this way and doing so without falling into stereotypes and other harmful tropes. The more that I think of it, maybe this is why Kate and I have really enjoyed watching kdramas, beside the fact that we have become a little obsessed with the country and culture as a whole. It has given us a chance to look in and see a different perspective on storytelling. How we look at love and relationships here in the US or in the West is not always the healthiest. Not to say that Korea is perfect because we have seen some shows that have featured very unhealthy relationships and also some troubling social norms. For the most part, all the shows we have seen have been kind of a breath of fresh air and a much needed reprieve from our current reality. We both highly recommend all four of the shows I highlighted here. They are all available on Netflix and very bingeable.

Help Move the Quileute to Higher Ground

For those who follow along with us know that Kate and I challenged each other to reread the Twilight Series before the release of Midnight Sun. Yeah we both failed as we both of yet to get through Twilight. Oops. Some of the characters I always enjoyed reading was Jacob and this friends and pack members of the Quileute Tribe. They are based on the real Quileute Tribe that lives on the reservation in La Push, Washington. There has been a push on social media asking fans of the series to make donations to the Quileute Tribe’s campaign to move to higher ground. At the moment, their schools and many other important buildings are located near the Pacific Ocean and are risk of a earthquake and tsunami. If you bought the books and/or planning on reading Midnight Sun, please consider donating to the Tribe and help in their efforts to preserve their culture and to keep their tribe safe. For more information, visit their website, mthg.org.

Happy Midnight Sun Day?

It is Midnight Sun’s book birthday! And…Beth and I are both still stuck in the first book of our re-read. Speaking for myself, my enthusiasm for these characters and this story has definitely waned since I first picked up the novels. Bella is kind of an unredeemable bitch. Edward is a creepy stalker. Jacob’s goodness drops off as the series goes on and he picks up some of Edward’s tactics in order to get in there with Bella. But, I plan on finishing them since it is the pop culture homework assignment (and since I did finish last year’s…in October…and then never wrote the reviews…because I am not the best blogger.)

TV Review: The Baby-Sitter’s Club

I’ll admit that I wasn’t a big fan of the books. I know that I read a few of them when I was a kid but don’t really remember much about them beyond Stacy’s struggles with diabetes and Claudia being the artist. When I was a bookseller I often recommended it to parents because I may not have been to it as girl I knew so many who had and it had very few things for any parent to object about. While self-quarantining this last week, I decided to check out the Netflix series based on the books and was just so blown away. It is so happy and wholesome and exactly what I needed in times like this. This is very much the Baby-sitter’s club of our childhood and it’s also not. The characters are the same. Kristy is the president and bossy. Mary-Ann, her best friend is still smart and caring. Claudia is still the artist and fashionista. Stacy is still boy crazing and Dawn is still the cool California girl but they’ve been updated to today’s world. The very first scene we meet Kristy and Mary-Ann talking about a teacher and school and Kristy gives one sweet burn to Thomas Jefferson and it doesn’t let up. Each girl is fully fleshed up as they navigate middle school and friendship. They are all going through changes from parents divorces and remarriage, sickness, boys, first loves and other heartbreaks. Each girl gets their own episodes that they narrate and center in and we see how they are coping or not coping with all the changes going on in their lives. I feel in love with all five of them and want the world for them. I love their friendship and how they support each other. They fight and argue but even during times when they are made with each other or unsure of each other they are always there when they need each other. We don’t always get stories of girls friendships like this so when it’s like this we need to celebrate it. I can’t recommend it enough. Go watch it and bring some tissues.

Ally Box!

Greetings! About a month ago, I saw that Fulton Street Books and Coffee was putting together an ally box, containing books to help folks wanting to learn more about race, racism, and white supremacy in America. So, to further my education (and to be a better and more informed teacher) I signed up. The subscription is running for three months (and there are still some subscriptions available through Fulton Street Books website! Click through on that link above!)

In this first box, there are flash cards with key terms that you’ve seen popping up in the media and two books. They’re both books that are on my to-read pile and I am super excited about them. The first book is So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo. I think this will be an overview to some of the issues in the current moment.

The second book is The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. As someone who grew up in largely white communities, I think this one will probably contain a lot of information to help me better understand how I have benefited from our current systems that harm Black citizens and other citizens of color. Despite what I said about the first book probably being a good overview text, I think I’m going to start with the second one.

These look like they’re both going to be good reads, and I can’t wait to see what’s in the next box!

Quick Update: Why Bella is so Unlikable

These days it isn’t much of an hot take to call Bella Swan of Twilight unlikable. At this point it is pretty much excepted across the board but as I go back and reread the Twilight series for our Pop Cultural Homework I am reminded how unlikable her character is from the very first chapter. We meet Bella as she moves from Phoenix to Forks. Every thing she says about Forks drips with condensation and disdain. She talks as she is being punished and going into exile even though she is the one who chose to do this so her Mom can travel more easily with her new husband. She laments the fact that she’ll miss the sun and wonders how anyone can possibly live here. She goes on and on about how awful school is going to be because these small kids are just going to gawk at her big cityness. Girl get over yourself. You’re from Phoenix not Los Angeles. She dismisses everyone who says anything kind or encouraging to her living here. Every single person she encounters on her first day is nothing but kind to her and yet she can’t be bothered to acknowledge them. She doesn’t bother to learn any of their names or follow along with the conversation. She only decides to take part on the discussion to ask about the Cullens and once she gets her answers she tunes everyone out again. No wonder she and Edward are meant for each other because they are both so wrapped up in their own self absorption that they don’t have room for anyone else to exist. I know Kate and I will go more into this and more with our reviews but yeah I just really can’t get over Bella here. How did I read this series over and over again and not want to throw the book across the room?

As you an see my reread is going great? How are you all doing? Years removed from your first reading, what strikes you the most about Twilight now?

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT I SLEPT ON THIS BEAUTIFUL BOOK FOR SO LONG?? HOW? How??? It’s lovely and wonderful and good and heartbreaking and uplifting in all of the right ways. 10/10. If you’ve not read it, you should go read it (or get the audiobook and then Lin Manuel Miranda will read it to you.) That’s it. That’s the review. Done.

Okay, fine, I’ll say a little more. This is the story of Aristotle, who is a weird kinda angry teenager who goes to the pool and meets a weird kinda know-it-all teenager named Dante. They have very little in common, it seems, other than they are both kind of loners and they’re both Mexican. It’s the story of their friendship. It is about how their friendship grows and how they grow and how they deal with big life stuff. No magic (except the everyday magic of friendships, love, relationships, and personal growth), no monsters (except for the very real human monsters we’ve all met), just two teens living their lives and learning truths that feel like unlocking the secrets of the universe. Maybe it is that the world feels very dark and precarious right now, but reading a novel about just normal life stuff that had a good ending felt really great.

So, I still agree with the first paragraph. 10/10, would definitely recommend.

Giveaway: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (Book 1)

Are you thinking about re-reading Twilight before Midnight Sun comes out? Are you not sure where your copy is? Well, Beth and I got your back! We have a near-perfect used paperback edition that we are giving away! Because it is coming from Kate’s house, it will likely have other goodies like sheet masks and skin care samples! Maybe even cookies! To enter our giveaway, you just have to send us proof that you’ve given money to an organization supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, a local bail fund, Native American land sovereignty movements, efforts to address domestic violence in Native American communities (“American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence and physical assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities.” And….spoilers, but domestic violence on the reservation is referenced in the second book, if memory serves. Something that shouldn’t be a plot point, let alone a throwaway mention. But, I’m sure I’ll rant about that when I get to that book.) or efforts to defund and reform policing. It doesn’t matter to us which org you give to. There is a lot of work that needs to be done and a lot of people working hard who could use our support. If you don’t know where to start, here are some suggestions.

Black Lives Matter accepts donations and has suggestions!

The Okra Project is fighting hunger in the Black Trans community! 34% of Black trans folks report living in poverty. That is beyond tragic.

Black and Pink is an organization of LGBTQ prisoners and allies whose ultimate goal is prison abolition but who, in the short term, support LGBTQ prisoners.

NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund Huge and ground breaking societal changes tend to be largely unpopular when they’re first introduced. This is meant, historically and currently, that people on the front lines advocating for change find themselves in need of legal support. Here’s a good place to donate to support that work.

NDN Collective have a covid-19 response project (indigenous communities in the US have been hit really hard by the virus). They also have a bail-out fund for folks arrested defending their land and sovereignty.

To enter the giveaway, email proof of your donation to Kate at Katestacksxlifex at gmail. The giveaway is open until July 27th!