[One True Pairings] One Terrible Pairing
by Guest Beanie
Following from ChinguMode’s beautifully expressed idea of the One True Partnership, I thought I’d explore the other side of the coin: OTPs that are just wrong because it is not a relationship of equals; OTPs that are so unequal that many would never even meet in real life. And yet, because of the magic of K-dramas, we somehow find ourselves rooting for them. I present to you, the One Terrible Pairing.
The Income Gap, or the Power Gap in some dramas, is one of the most prolific fantasy romances found in dramaland. It’s usually the male lead in a position of wealth and influence; the rich and successful women of dramaland fall in love with teleporting aliens or naked firemen. But this trope exists for good reason: The target audience for romance is most often women. As a viewer, I watch rom-coms between male chaebols or CEOs or directors of companies, and a regular middle class girl like me, with a slight sense of discomfort and some guilt.
1% of Anything
“Sure, he’s young and in love with you now, but what about later on it life?” I scream in my head even as I squeal in delight, “As the years pass and your youth and beauty fades, will he not notice and hold your background against you? If things go south, his wealth and influence will most certainly work against you.” Exhibit A: the new 1% of Anything. We can all agree that personality-wise, the characters fit each other well; but the income and power gap between Jae-in (Ha Suk-jin) and Da-hyun (Jeon So-min) is substantial. It’s my guilty pleasure and I can wish myself into believing the pairing is possible, but in real life, I’d be pretty wary if the opportunity presented itself. (Not that I’m against it presenting itself?)
I loved Coffee Prince, but for most of the drama, Han-gyul (Gong Yoo) was Eun-chan’s (Yoon Eun-hye) employer as well as romantic interest. She needed the job so much that she pretended to be a boy. I know well that in real life, a person in a position as desperate as Eun-chan’s is not likely to be so lucky to find love with her chaebol employer.
And those were the relatively nice chaebols. Let’s not get me started on the not-so-nice chaebols. In Secret Garden, Kim Joo-won (Hyun Bin) uses his wealth and influence repeatedly and constantly to show up where Gil Ra-im works (Ha Ji-won) and/or force her to do what he wants, regardless of what she wants. Despite the body-swapping and the big (attempt at a) sacrifice at the end, I couldn’t bring myself to support this OTP and watched only for some sadistic reason I can no longer identify. Actually, I can. Hyun Bin. Go figure.
The male lead doesn’t have to be a chaebol. Sung-joon (Park Seo-joon) in She Was Pretty was quite terrible towards Hye-jin (Hwang Jung-eum) — she should have punched him when he humiliated her in public at that shoot — but he did at least earn his position as the boss. A classic Ugly Betty, the drama also constantly emphasizes Hye-jin’s average looks in comparison to Sung-joon’s above-average looks. Clearly, she has to get a makeover at some point. The message I got was that she didn’t need to look good to win his love, but she did need to look good to be his “equal.” And yet, my appreciation for Park Seo-joon started from this drama. I do not understand this disconnect between my heart and my brain.
She Was Pretty
Of course, the male lead isn’t always the problem. In Fated To Love You, I found Jang Nara’s (an actress I otherwise love) take on Mi-young in the early episodes (after which I dropped the show) unforgivable. This was the most oppressed-of-her-own-free-will woman I’d ever encountered on television. Yikes.
There are dramas where I wonder what made the writers think this was a good romance to begin with. Why did The K2′s Je-ha (Ji Chang-wook) end up with the clearly traumatized-and-in-need-of-help Anna (Yoon-ah) and not the cool and sexy Choi Yoo-jin (Song Yoon-ah)? It was a downright creepy romance, and the whole time, she felt far too mentally young to be his love interest. It felt more like a baby duckling latching onto its mama than a romance between equals. Another drama that I was uncomfortable watching for a similar reason was Goblin (though I loved it). Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun) was definitely far more mature than Anna, but Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) was simply too all-knowing and too all-powerful for me to support the pairing.
There are the strange OTPs that make little to no sense. It’s not just a case of the second lead being amazing and the first lead being not so amazing but awesome in his own way, such as in Jealousy Incarnate. These OTPs have a point — their love is so strong and so true that even Perfection himself could not get in the way. I’m talking about dramas like Reunited Worlds where it made zero sense for the thirty-year-old Jung-won (Lee Yeon-hee) to choose the undead Hae-sung (Yeo Jin-gu) over the very much alive and very sweet Min-joon (Ahn Jae-hyun). Hae-sung knew nothing of the new world and could hardly be expected to lead an independent life — surely someone would notice that Jung-won’s husband/boyfriend/lover is NOT aging like the rest of us. How is this healing and moving on with a partner? Though I suppose in a way, the point is the same: Their love was just that strong.
Finally, there are the dramas with what seem to me to be downright abusive OTPs. Boys Before Flowers and Playful Kiss are easy examples. I mean, in the original Japanese version of Boys Before Flowers, he attempted to rape her in an early episode. I can’t really comment on the Korean versions, which are hopefully different.
This is not meant to be a controversial essay; I just think these OTPs would be unlikely to ever meet in real life — and even if they did meet and fall in love, they’d be unable to survive the challenges of real life. The One Terrible Pairing that becomes my guilty pleasure. The wrist grab I forgive.
1% of Anything