Kdrama: The Love Triangle

Always the bride’s maid, never the bride? Such is the fate of numerous men (and occasionally ladies) in Korean drama series. Countless kind-hearted, exceedingly handsome bachelors fall victim to the love triangle, forever relegated to melancholic longing for the one true love who instead chose the broken bad boy. Why is this Kdrama trope so effective, and is this stock narrative influencing culture in a bad way, or is it, in fact, strengthening the concept of social morality?

To establish the love triangle, one must first examine the nature of the female lead. She is typically modeled after the societal outcast, the lone-wolf, the unique and inspiring do-gooder. While easily relate-able, she is the ideal personification of humble beauty, steadfast devotion, and righteous demeanor. She is the perfect role model—a quirky misfit who has never known love, yet is happy in her life as the hardest working member of her beloved family. What makes her desirable is her pure heart, willingness to put others before herself and, at times, her social naivety. Inevitably, she will be caught between the affections of two dashing men, the perfect gentleman and the egotistic narcissist.


The Kdrama narrative typically flows in a predictable manner: The leading lady’s childhood best friend doesn’t know how to express his secret love for her when a hot-headed newcomer steals all the attention to win her heart. Or: the leading lady is forced into an odd situation in which she befriends the second lead who subsequently falls for her, but ends up with the guy she initially couldn’t stand.

When dealing with a lead actress of exceeding skill and popularity (such as Park Shin Hye), the female protagonist may encounter several variations on the triangle schemata. She may retain the outcast or golden-hearted innocent persona, and be pursued by two genuinely incredible men, or she may be a stone-cold ambitious woman who thinks only of her career, who is blind-sided by a care-free underling who lives his life to the fullest. Either variation is simply a product of role reversal. The love-triangle still exists, but the one who needs saving is not the bad-boy lead, but the leading lady. Regardless of whether it is the leading man or woman, the story revolves around the individual who is in need of emotional healing.

You’re Beautiful (2009) is excessive in it’s love-quadrangle narrative, in which even the comedic third character falls for the leading lady. Lead: angry celebrity with a rough past (Jang Keun-Suk) Lady: innocent do-gooder with a heart of gold (Park Shin-Hye) Second lead: stoic, rational hero (Jung Yung-Hwa) Third lead: super quirky, with childlike sincerity (Lee Hong-Gi)


Second Lead Syndrome
This poor guy is constantly losing the love battle. He is painstakingly cautions in expressing his undying love, yet his heartfelt actions scream “I love you, damnit! Can’t you see?” time and time again. His well-thought-out confession is destined to be cruelly interrupted, leaving the leading lady ignorant of his affections, and once he again gathers the courage to act, she has already fallen for the other guy. Fans still, with their hearts clutched in empathetic agony, cheer for him.  They admire the unwavering steadfastness of his devotion, adore the stoicism with which he accepts defeat, and swear to the bitter end that he was the one who deserved to get the girl. Had he just said something instead of sullenly pining by her side! Although his love is never realized, his strength of character remains untarnished. He is hence idolized as “best boyfriend material” for his sacrifice.

Bad-boy gets the girl
True, the second lead perfectly deserves the happy ending that was stolen from him by his undeserving rival. Yet while the lead realizes his feelings later in the game, his love develops on a much deeper plane. As a result of either past pain or a misguided upbringing, he has built up a cold exterior to protect his true self from the unforgiving world. His unwilling partnership (through either work, school, or random unfortunate situation) with the outcast woman is the only thing that can help him to overcome his hidden insecurity and feelings of alienation. The second lead realizes that he cannot interfere with a love born out of conflict and emotional growth, nor can the lead let go of the one he or she saved. It is not simply a case of bad-boy seduction, but rather a mutual growth which binds two hearts together. Thus, the bad-boy image slowly dissolves. Through love, he has become a better person; the lesson conveyed is one of inner strength and acceptance.

Hyde, Jekyll, Me (2015)  Jang Ha-Na is an innocent do-gooder with a heart of gold. Her new boss, Goo Seo-Jin has an icy cold demeanor and a secret other self named Robin who is playful and heroic. Ha-Na falls for Robin, but it is Seo-Jin whose heart needs healing.
Hyde, Jekyll, Me (2015) Jang Ha-Na is an innocent do-gooder with a heart of gold. Her new boss, Goo Seo-Jin has an icy cold demeanor and a secret other self named Robin who is both playful and heroic. Ha-Na falls for the adventurous Robin, but it is Seo-Jin whose heart needs healing.

What can one learn from the Kdrama love triangle? While viewers will inherently swear allegiance to either the lead or supporting actor, the fact remains that they can identify with both sides of the story. The message is simple: always strive to be your best self. Embrace the embarrassing moments, your past heartache, and your imperfections. Whether stoic and brave, or damaged and guarded, one can attain happiness and serenity in the beauty of life’s journey.


© 2015 Devon Lois Duncan. All rights reserved.


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