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.

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.

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?

Quick Review: Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa

In some ways I’m sorry that I read this book now when I was so distracted because it was a good book and a solid ending to an entertaining series. It took me a month to get read it not because I wasn’t enjoying it but that I just had trouble concentrating long enough to get what I was reading. I’ve talked about my struggle to read while self isolating. I’ve been doing some thinking and realized that maybe it’s not just that I’ve had hard time concentrating during this time but I also have a hard time concentrating on reading on home. In the before time, I did most of my reading during my commutes to and from work. I would read at home but usually no more than a chapter or two right before bed. For me to read as many books as I did before, I have to change my reading habits on a whole to do it. This kind of makes me feel better. Also I have to remind myself that I need to stop holding myself to the standards of life before the pandemic because we are not living in the world anymore and may never again. So enough about that. Let’s talk about this book.

We we last ended our heroes, they have to race across the country to get to wish point before Genno, who has all the pieces of the scroll summons the Dragon and gets his wish. Unknown to Yumeko, Tatsumi and gang there is another person out there that has been pulling the strings and the task ahead of them is much tougher than they thought. Yumeko continues to shine with her brave spirit and kind heart. Despite the risk she always did what she could to protect her friends and complete strangers. This strength is ultimately what gets her and her friends through all the trials along the way. The ending was admittingly heartbreaking but powerful and maybe the most realistic way to end. Which is kind of funny when you think about because Yumeko is a kitsune, Tatsumi is sharing his body with a Demon and they are trying to stop the bad guy from summoning a Dragon to get a wish. If you are looking for a good fantasy novel based on mythology but want something not based on western stories, this is a good series to check out. The rich Japanese folktales that fill this series really gives it a lush setting that works so well with the fantasy it created.

Midnight Sun is Finally Coming Out.

In 2005, Stephenie Meyer released her first book, Twilight, and it took the world by storm. Kate and I are not ashamed to admit that we got caught up in. Over the last 12 years the Twilight series has gone through so much. Sequels, movies, backlash, Robsten stans and true the books are completely flawed but they also ushered in a whole wave of YA books. After the success of Twilight publishers went all in on Teen novels looking for the next big thing. It could be argued that book series like The Hunger Games, Divergent and so many more would never got the great light if Stephenie Meyer hadn’t been able to prove that books written for a teen audience could make money. So if the legacy of Twilight is remembered for anything it should be for that. Fans of the books may have remembered that around the time that back in 2008, Meyer’s was working on a companion novel named Midnight Sun. It was the events of the first book but from the perspective of Edward. Readers would finally get to see inside his head and truly know how he felt and struggled. We would get to know what he did when went to Alaska for a week to escape the temptation from Bella. The fandom was excited! It was not meant to be. The partial manuscript was leaked online and eventually Meyer’s herself released the unedited chapters and put a hold on writing. There have been rumors for years that she had begun working on it and even that she was ready to release it but again it didn’t happen. The release of the Fifty Shades of Grey novels is rumored to have delay her even longer. For the uninitiated, Fifty shades started out as a Twilight fan fiction from the male perspective that turned into a phenomenon of it’s own. Why do I bring all of this up now? If you haven’t heard, Stephenie Meyer’s announced today in the year of our lord 2020 is finally going to released the full novel on August 4th. Admit it, you’re kind of excited to read it as I am. I mean, there has been very little to look forward to this year so while this wasn’t something I we were desperately looking for it may be what we truly need in a year full of hardships and tragedy. So who’s up for a Midnight Sun read-a-long this summer?

What I’m Reading Now: Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa

So I’m an idiot. There are a couple of new books that have some out in the last week or so that I’ve been waiting for. I got a notice from one of my credit cards that I earned enough points for a gift card so I was waiting for the card in the mail. However, if I read it more closely I would have known that they sent me the GC in the email letting me know about the GC. Self isolating has not improved my comprehension skills. Anyway, this book seems like the perfect book for me to read right now. It’s loosely based on some Japanese mythology. There’s a kitsune, samurai’s and dragons. Besides, a power hungry crazy lunatic raising a dragon to take over the world, it is nothing like our current reality. I think this is just the book to get me out of my book funk!

So How’s it going?

So how’s it going out there ? You all staying safe and staying inside? What are you reading while self isolating? Me? Well not a whole lot. I thought when this started about a month ago (I can’t believe I’m going on my 4th week here!) that I was going to read all these books and that hasn’t really happened. I did finish two books and they were good and I enjoy them but since then I’ve really hard time focusing. I’m sure we are all feeling the same anxiety and stress of the times and it makes it really hard to concentrate. I’ve tried to start a few books but either I’m just not in the mood for them right (it turns out I have a lot of books that center around rebuilding after a global pandemic or disaster of some sort. A little bit to close to home at the moment.) or I just can’t focus long enough to comprehend what I’m reading and I end up reading the same paragraph over and over. Instead I’ve been watching a lot more on Netflix and TV. I find putting on a TV show or a movie is easier because I can be a little bit more passive. If I tune out for a bit it’s okay and still be okay. I don’t have to focus quite as much. I also wonder if the reason I’m having a hard time reading is that I used to do most of my reading on my commute to and from work. I’m obviously not commuting now. So maybe since my routine has been interrupted and I haven’t found a way to include reading in my new routine. Maybe I need to try audio books. Anyways, I hope that you all doing well and taking care of yourself. Let me know if you have any suggestions. Be safe everyone!

Quick Review: Chain and Gold by Cassandra Clare

In this new series in the Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters universe follows the children of Tessa, Will, Cecily, Gabriel, Sophie, Gideon, Charlotte and Henry as well Elias Carstairs who was introduced in the finals chapters of the Infernal Devices trilogy. The new group of you Shadowhunters are James and Lucie Herondale, Cordelia and Alaister Carstairs, Matthew Fairchild, Anna, Christopher and Thomas Lightwood and Grace Blackthorn. London hasn’t had any demon attacks in over a year so when the attacks come again they are not prepared. Especially since they are a demon they haven’t seen before. Now if you read any of the other Shadowhunter books, this will be familiar. It has a lot of characters with complicated plots and full of romance and drama. For fans this is was a fun read and everything you want in a Cassandra Clare. She continues to fill her stories with a wide array of characters. For a novel that takes place at the turn of the 20th century it is filled with diversity from race and LGBTQ. Something that she has had some push back from fans who have argued you wouldn’t have so many LBGTQ and Brown people in Edwardian England. Which is ridiculous because the British Empire was in full force and LGBTQ people have always existed. However you feel about Miss Clare, she has never shied away from diversity in her novels. So yeah, it was a fun read but I think it’s for fans only.